Tehelka, the intrepid news magazine did what the Indian government should have done in the past five years. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal and reporter Ashish Khetan who took enormous risk to procure evidence on video tapes about the planning of the genocide perpetrated by the Gujarat state government in February Ã¢â‚¬â€œ March 2002. The tapes also record admissions of suppression of evidence and bribery by the public prosecutors to protect the guilty.
The culpable Gujarat state government (still in power), got away with it, because at the time their party (BJP) was also in power at the center in Delhi. In 2004 elections for the central Parliament, the Indian electorate exhibited maturity by defeating the repressive sectarian coalition in favor of a secular coalition dominated by the Congress party. However the Congress has been reticent to bring the Gujarat government to the bar of justice. It is afraid of being falsely tarred by the fascists, as antiÃ¢â‚¬â€œHindu.
That may not come to pass. In the past, when the Congress party was a large undefeatable behemoth, many in its cadre were extremist sectarians who had joined in pursuit of power and weakened the secularist principles from within. To the extent that in early 1990s, Narsimha Rao became the Congress Prime Minister, who by his calculated inaction allowed the demolition of the Babari Masjid, unleashing the demon of naked violence, aided and abated by the guardians of law and order.
Those chauvinists have left the Congress and joined the BJP. The Congress after a long time is again a secularist party and has garnered the votes in 2004 based on secularist values. There is always political danger in taking a principled stand. With the strong evidence provided by the Tehelka reporters, there is more political danger in not following the principles. BJP is widely perceived to be a fascistic party to the chagrin of many of its decent rank and file supporters.
BJP is widely perceived to be a party based on mass movement indoctrinated with the ideology that considers individual and social interests subordinate to the state. BJP’s version of the nation state is forged by the majoritarian supremacy based on interlaced religious, ethnic, racial attributes defined as culture. Those, it considers out side the pale are suppressed, often brutally as in Gujarat. Ordinary decent citizens not realizing the insidious nature fall for its seemingly benign propaganda.
Indian newspapers have reported for years that minorities, Muslims and Christians have been harassed in Gujarat since the BJP came to power. What was not well known is that BJP power brokers and their allies were prepared to unleash a state supported pogrom of death, burning and looting on the Muslims. They just needed an excuse. The burning of a train carriage at Godhra on February 28, 2002 provided the pretext. Local Godhra Muslims were accused of setting the carriage afire from outside.
Instead of taking time to bring the culprits to justice, Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat gave verbal license of unrestrained pogrom for three days. It has been known for years, the Tehelka reporter has provided the corroboration on the videotape.
In 2003 a forensic report from the Capital of Gujarat, Ahmadabad came to the conclusion that the fire was set from inside the carriage. In March 2006, a commission appointed by the Ministry of Railways, under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Justice Banerjee came to the same conclusion.
The Gujarat state Police and judiciary under pressure from the Modi government have stymied the investigation for years; so much so that the Supreme Court of India passed strong strictures and ordered a proper investigation in the only case filed, because the government could not stop it.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, V. N. Khare, referring to the Best Bakery Burning case, wrote on September 13, 2003, “Your rajdharma (governing principle) is to punish offenders and bring the guilty to book. If you can’t, you quit.” In the final judgment, the Justices Raju Doraiswamy and Arijit Pasayat, April 12, 2004 wrote, “The modern day ‘Neros’ were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected.”
The Supreme Court can only pass strictures on the cases brought before the court. The court has provided the strongest directive to the government of India to take the rights of the oppressed minorities with utmost seriousness.
It is the duty of the state government to follow. In this case the state government is the chief culprit. This puts the onus on the Union (Central) government. The constitution provides for the Union government to intervene when the state government is the oppressor and the state police and judiciary are badly compromised.
The investigations that the Gujarat government suppressed and the Central Bureau of Investigation should have carried out long time ago were done by Ashish Khetan of the Tehelka magazine at enormous risk. Now the evidence is on the tape and cannot be ignored.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
Independent observers have widely reported the brutal killing of about 2000 Muslims and the burning and looting of more than 100,000 Muslim homes. The government is the culprit so its figures are suspect. Many of the looters were photographed while the police were looking on. Many social workers, most of them from the Hindu community have taken enormous risk in helping the helpless in preparation of cases and have become voices of the voiceless.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
This is not a struggle among the Hindus and Muslims, as the bigots would like to propagandize. It is a struggle of decent humane Hindus and Muslims against the oppressive wing of the religion gone astray within Hinduism and Islam.
The greatness of the progressive Indian democracy is evident in that Muslims have done better in India than in many Muslim countries. The struggle against the state sponsored pogroms by the Gujarat government controlled by a fascistic Hindu party is led overwhelmingly by the secularist as well as deeply religious humane citizens, rooted in the Hindu ethos. The Supreme Court Judges, the brave community activists such as Teesta Setalvad, Ram Punyani, V. K. Tripathi, and thousands others come from the Hindu tradition. Editor and brave reporters of the Tehelka Magazine and many other national publications such as “The Hindu” have an overwhelmingly Hindu staff.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
While India is making great strides, some sectarian criminals in the provincial legislators have become an impediment to peace. Bal Thakary in the name of Hinduism has held the whole state of Maharashtra and its great city Mumbai hostage as his fiefdom. He has engineered riots where hundreds of people have been killed. Narendra Modi is still the chief minister of Gujarat and has used the levers of power to kill and deprive minorities of their constitutional rights.
Last week the Indian government awarded a well deserved national integration award to Professors Punyani and Bandukwala for giving voices to the oppressed. These well-deserved awards are not a substitute for justice.
The appointments of judicial inquiry commissions are used as sop. The retired judges do a meticulous job. T he inquiry takes a few years to complete. In time passions cool and the national memories fade. The government ignores the recommendations. The guilty not only go free, but also find encouragement to become even more brazen and bold in their evil deeds. It is time to bring cases before the courts to be pursued assiduously against all culprits, particularly those who have used power to spread mayhem and injustice.
Decent citizens of all religions and creeds should raise their voices against the terrorism by misguided individuals. The struggle for the soul of the nation becomes the highest duty when the state itself engages in planned terrorism, in our collective name. The religion we hold dear is besmirched when it is used to justify heinous atrocities. To raise our collective voices to bring the culprits in power to justice becomes imperative and the utmost duty. Those who keep quiet, or find excuses become supporters of the tyranny.Ã‚Â
Brave reporters of the Tehelka Magazine have blown the lid off a very well known secret. They have provided the evidence. If the government does not follow through, it will be terribly injurious to the foundational values of Indian democracy.