Now that we are talking about Gujarat 2002 riots it is a given that Modi-worshipers/apologists would once again raise the issue of 1984 anti-Sikh riots or cite similar examples with a convoluted logic that a heinous act in the past somehow dilutes the heinousness of a similar act in the recent past. It s a tunnel vision that doesn't even question why some people are relentless in criticizing Modi government and its handling of 2002 riots and if at all it could be genuine concern for justice and patriotism. To truly understand the angst, one needs to look at the first hand account of the journalist from Tehelka who caught on spy cam, several Sangh leaders boasting of their role in killings. These footage were later admitted as evidence and the journalist was asked by the court to testify.
The later experience of the Ashish Khaitan as narrated in Tehelka cover story shows us the second tragedy of Gujarat. It unnerved me as much as the video showing Bajrangi proudly proclaim how he had ripped open belly of a pregnant woman and dangled the fetus on the tip of his sword before burning it. The footage showing government prosecutor openly working for release of VHP, Bajrang Dal workers in jails across the state, was shocking but what was more shocking was Ashish’s account of the defense counsel, prosecution and even the Judge badgering and humiliating witnesses including him in a case monitored by Supreme Court. (Petitions for transfer of the particular judge had already been filed by victim and he was later transferred)
It is a scary scenario, I never imagined an Indian state could have been so thoroughly polarized on communal lines. I have written a previous post on Modi's unparalleled skill in misleading his adherents but never understood how he could radicalize an entire state, from a High Court Judge to a police constable and a society known for its business acumen and not aggressive trait people from states like Bihar, UP, Haryana are associated with in popular culture. However, similar anomalies can be found throughout history. I wonder if any political leader in Germany has gained even half as much support as Adolf Hitler did before he bit the bullet or if any Italian politician has been able to mobilize mass as Mussolini did. As a matter of fact, have we not seen how people in Iraq rallied for Saddam Hussein before he lost the war and was captured and executed. Recently fallen autocrats such as Gaddhafi and Hosni Mubarak were equally popular.
All of the above shared among other things, the image of being strong leaders championing muscular nationalism. Besides, there is something about political power that gives the person who can exercise it despotically, a temporary aura of of invincibility. Strong leaders emerging from the middle-class and reaching very top of a chaotic political hierarchy are seen as heroes by the masses, their misdeeds and despotism eclipsed by the glory. Leaders such as these use information systems to create an environment of paranoia, xenophobia and reactionism mainly through misinformation campaigns,powerful rhetoric and zero tolerence towards dissension.
In Narendra Modi's case in particular I have doubts if there has been any other political leader in the world who has utilized the traditional as well as social media to project one's personality in such a manner as to create a cult associated with it. If he pays utmost attention to his appearance- those designer-wears, hair implants, the assortment of headdresses (including reluctance to wear some), he is not just being his megalomaniac self, it helps him maintain his larger-than-life persona too. The situation uncannily resembles the plot of the short story, Emperor's New Clothes. In this children's story by Hans Christian Andersen, two weavers approach the king assuring that they make the most beautiful clothes for him but the material would not be visible to people who are unworthy of their office and foolish people. The emperor himself sees no clothes but pretends to, lest people consider hm incompetent or foolish.
Similarly, the courtiers and the townspeople pretend to see the exquisite designer-wear the king is supposed to be wearing during the procession. However, a child shouts out that the "Emperor has no clothes!" After that one by one, the people confess that they hadn't seen any clothe on the Emperor. Everyone present were simply pretending, unable to tell the truth, fearing scorn and punishment. In a thoroughly radicalized society, a member would require great courage to voice the truth, largely because s/he would not only be at the receiving end of the government's wrath but also face criticism by other members. Sometimes the prevalent sentiment in a society, especially an aggressive sentiment derived from exclusivist and supremacist ideology is so strong that people who normally would dislike it are anyway swept into the fold.
After all even those well-versed in history, love heroes. Everyone loves a hero (most of the times one groups's hero is the other group's demon) but what they love more is to see a hero fall. It is the moment when the child shouts truthfully that the emperor has no clothes. Tehelka and Ashish Khaitan's operation and the verdict in Naroda Patia massacre convicting key players of Sangh Parivar after admitting the tapes as evidence, is that moment. However, just like during the Tehelka expose, there is no outcry, no condemnation, in fact there is simply no effect even if there is a judicial verdict this time. Despite all allegations and counter-allegations, politicians across party lines seem to have an understanding on a single thing and that electoral prospect outweighs any and every principle and value. The Congress and the BJP in particular seem like two beasts with their horns locked but locked in a manner that they don't hurt each other ever.
However, there is one consolation to be had and that is how wrong the Gujarat Chief Minister and his adherents are. Modi has always seen India wearing Jinnah's glasses, he still fails to understand that the social dynamics in Indian culture is so intricate that the two-nation theory does not work out at all. Had it not been so, political parties with "minority appeasement" policies should have jumped at the opportunity. If the Congress can organize protest and run riot in the streets of Bhubaneswar, on an issue that its own government at centre is embattled in, it can at least take a stronger stance against a Modi. Unless of course, it feels such a move may not secure it Muslim votes (in last 10 years Muslim votebank has ceased to be). Then, it may also be apprehensive that attacking Modi might be counter-productive, and actually strengthen his position as it happened the last election. But then it might as well not fight election in Gujarat,conceding defeat before the contest has even begun is much worse than losing the election. As the grand old party of India, it must know that ! But then, this party has also indulged in some rather nasty games of petty politics. May be it is not scared of support that Narendra Modi enjoys, may be it needs the latter as a boogeyman to offset BJP advantages in rest of India.
Then again perhaps it is better that there are no politicians around to score browny points. After all, the ten year long crusade for justice had been launched by the survivors and members of the media and Indian civil society who continued to fight through the judicial system. Modi's team has always and rather brilliantly portrayed the CM as the face of the prospering face of Gujarat and proponent of muscular Hindutva ideology, those opposing him had had to be affiliated to parties like the Congress that indulged in Muslim appeasement for votes. The Naroda Patia verdict has shattered that image. If the riots involved members of two communities, the campaign for justice also involved far more Hindus than Muslims. Of course, it is not over, there are numerous lives lost to be accounted for,but this verdict has for the first time proved government proactive role in Gujarat pogrom of 2002. It is now for people to decide if they can see beyond the designer kurta.