Vinod Mubayi

His picture is literally everywhere. On bus stops, railroad stations, airports, even on the back of airplane seats, not to mention vaccine cards, ration cards, and God knows what else. Big Brother is not only watching you; he is also your only succor. Few leaders in recent memory and certainly not in India have had as supersized an ego as to have a 100,000-seat sports stadium named after them while alive and in office. So, the Modi cult of personality on the lines of 20th century authoritarian leaders like Hitler or Stalin is not just blooming; it is booming.

Perhaps this is one reason among many why the Modi regime felt so threatened by the BBC documentary on the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 that occurred when Modi was Chief Minister. After all the hit to his self-image must have been seen by him as so huge that his regime took the unprecedented step of banning a documentary produced by one of the world’s premier media organizations. This is a man whose life seems to be carefully scripted; in nine years as India’s Prime Minister, he has never given a press conference lest a reporter ask him some inconvenient question. Did the BBC production reveal too explicitly the truth behind the carefully crafted mask? Was that why it had to be banned?

The BBC documentary cited a report of an inquiry conducted by the British government into the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. Although the Indian government attacked both the documentary and the UK government report, the UK Foreign Secretary at that time, Jack Straw, confirmed the findings of the report as accurate. The Caravan magazine obtained a copy of the UK report and reproduced it in toto. Their summary of its findings is worth quoting at length:

The report states that the violence was “planned, possibly in advance” by Vishva Hindu Parishad, a Hindu nationalist organisation. The report notes: “The attack on the train at Godhra on 27 February provided the pretext. If it had not occurred, another one would have been found.”

The report cites evidence for stating the violence was pre-planned: “Police contacts confirmed that rioters used computerised lists to target Muslim homes and businesses. The accuracy and detail of the lists, including businesses with minority Muslim share-holding, suggest that they were prepared in advance.”

The VHP and its allies acted with the support of the state Government. They could not have inflicted so much damage without the climate of impunity created by the state Government. Chief Minister Narendra Modi is directly responsible. His actions have not just been guided by a cynical assessment of political advantage. As an architect of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda which it has pursued since it came to power in 1995, he is a believer in the VHP’s ideological motivation.

The report also makes observations on the scale of the violence and points to the involvement of police in the rape of Muslim women. “A conservative estimate based on information from reliable human rights contacts puts the number of deaths at 2000 … The killing was accompanied in many areas by widespread and systemic rape of Muslim women, sometimes by police.” The reports states, “police contacts accept that implicit state Government pressure inhibited their response.”

As the poet Sahir Ludhianvi wrote many years ago “zulm phir zulm hai, badhta hai to mit jata hai/khoon phir khoon hai tapkega to jum jaye ga.” (blood will congeal when it is spilled). Perhaps the image of that spilled and congealed blood haunts Modi two decades after the events in question; although that is mere conjecture as he has not shown the slightest remorse in public for what happened while he was the heading the state government. Nonetheless, the rapidity with which the government banned any showings of the documentary in India and the harassment of and attacks on those who tried to even watch it privately certainly suggests a guilty conscience on the part of the Dear Leader. The Students Federation of India, SFI, the student arm of the CPI(M), tried to organize private screenings of the documentary at the Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the capital. The university authorities in both institutions obviously acting as lap dogs of the government banned all showings and the ban was enforced by riot police armed with tear gas cannons in Jamia and by turning of electricity and the internet at JNU. Students at Delhi University were harassed and some arrested for trying to watch it on their laptops or smart phones. Meanwhile, the government enforced a ban on screenings of the documentary on the platforms of the social media companies YouTube and Twitter, which then had to comply with the government’s order. In the internet age, however, such bans are largely futile and the government’s actions appeared instead to have stoked further interest on the part of the public to see the documentary.

Despite the frequent assertions of Modi having received a “clean chit” from India’s Supreme Court, his actions (or non-actions) during the Gujarat pogrom did not escape scrutiny. His visa to the US was canceled in 2005 for his conduct in the 2002 pogrom and not renewed until he became Prime Minister in 2014. What is also revealing is why the UPA regime led by the Congress party did not launch a more vigorous and sustained prosecution of the Gujarat government and Modi while it was in power for ten years.

It may be noted that throughout the Gujarat affair, the Supreme Court, after its early designation of Modi as a Nero who just watched Gujarat burn, has hardly distinguished itself n holding him and his cohorts accountable for the pogrom. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) it constituted well over a decade ago concluded that while there is evidence and many of the allegations of Modi’s complicity made in the Zakia Jafri Complaint dated 8.6.2006 are true and correct, in its own assessment, and that of the Chairman of the SIT R.K. Raghavan, this evidence is not prosecutable. This conclusion is very different from a “clean chit” that Modi, his cohorts, and now the lap dog media in India have been claiming for many years. Besides, the Supreme Court’s own Amicus Curiae Raju Ramachandran’s Report to the SC clearly stated that Modi should stand trial for offences under Section 153(a), 153(b) and166 of the Indian Penal Code. The Court’s failure to heed the recommendations of its own Amicus and its rejection last year of an appeal against Modi’s exoneration in one of the cases linked to the Gulberg killings in 2002 constitute a dark episode in India’s justice system. The Court’s latest act was to permit a panel of the Gujarat government to prematurely release 14 convicted murderers and rapists who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a CBI court outside Gujarat for their gruesome actions.

Meanwhile, the events of the last week do not provide much confidence in Modi’s so-called Gujarat model of development sedulously promoted by Modi himself, his followers, and the Gujarati and international business community. As the leading mainstream international newspaper, the New York Times (NYT) wrote on Feb 4:

“The fall of the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani could damage confidence in the country’s stock market and jeopardize the idea of India as the next major driver of global growth. Relying on his longstanding partnership with India’s powerful leader, Narendra Modi, he brought his private companies — spanning power, ports, food and more — into alignment with one politician more closely than any business titan before him. Now, in spectacular fashion, the fortunes of his Adani Group are crashing down even faster than they had shot up — a collapse whose pain will be felt across the country, rippling through its economic and political spheres. More than $110 billion in market value — roughly half of the Adani Group’s worth — has vanished in just over a week, like air from a burst balloon.”

After the presentation of the 2023-24 budget by India’s finance minister, the NYT sarcastically commented: “Ms. Sitharaman, the finance minister, was solemnly reading out the annual budget in Parliament, making no mention of the blood bath on India’s stock exchanges. Eventually, her silence, like that of her boss, Mr. Modi, came to seem otherworldly.”

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