Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Apr 10, 2002
Gujarat: Vajpayee's actions do not match tears
The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, in New Delhi... Defending the indefensible?
NEVER has a Prime Minister looked so helpless as Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee did last week, when he visited the communally ravaged Gujarat, a full month after the mayhem began. No doubt, he did very well in expressing his pain and anguish at the shameful events at Godhra and elsewhere. His performance was brilliant, and anybody watching parts of his speech telecast on the TV channels would vouch that whatever he said came from his heart.
But having conceded one's grudging admiration for a man who was honest enough to say that he would embark on his foreign visit with a heavy heart and a guilty conscience, when assessing what difference he made to the continuing uncertainty and fear psychosis in the State, the answer, is: "Nothing".
If any concrete evidence was required, it came a couple of days later, when the BJP youth wing turned its ire on the environmentalist, Ms Medha Patkar, and the Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi's police used the opportunity to turn their ire on journalists. The only surprising factor was that the Gujarat police had at all waited so long to crack down on the journalists for daring to report from Gujarat the gory events and without toning down by such vague terms as "one community" or "minority community".
Indians have accepted as their Prime Minister the moderate face of the Sangh Parivar: Mr Vajpayee, an acknowledged statesman who has the skills to preside over an ungainly coalition.
It is his task to ensure that this country continues to show the rest of the world that it is possible for a billion people of various religious creeds and different linguistic and cultural backgrounds to co-exist peacefully. He needs to instil confidence in his people that India belongs to all, and not to any minority of religious bigots Hindu, Muslim or any other; ensure that the constitutional guarantees do not just remain emaciated alphabet for a section of its populace; enforce the rule of law and instil a sense of confidence across all communities that the judicial system works in this country. And, above all, he must be courageous enough to sack a Chief Minister, if convinced of his guilt or failure to carry out his Constitutional obligation to protect the lives and property of his State's citizens.
But the grim-faced man who fought back tears as he addressed the 9,000 Muslim inmates of the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad was a pale shadow of the Opposition leader whose fiery speeches in Parliament over the years would have the Treasury Benches quaking.
The thousands who had lost not only their homes and belongings but, worse, their self-respect and dignity, did not need the tears of their Prime Minister. Yes, they were desperately seeking some balm for their wounds. But, more than that, they were seeking justice.
But what justice can a Prime Minister deliver, if he comes to listen to the complaints of the aggrieved, accompanied by the alleged perpetrator of the crimes that ravaged them?
It can be argued that no inquiry commission has yet indicted Mr Modi of complicity in fanning the flames that devastated Gujarat. It can also be argued that the National Human Rights Commission Chairman, Mr Justice J. S. Verma's indictment of the Chief Minister was based on a cursory look at the happenings in the State and not on any indisputable evidence. But how can anyone play the devil's advocate in a situation where the man at the helm has failed to enforce the rule of law?
Perhaps Mr Modi is the fairest of human beings, but what about his failure as an administrator. The cruellest joke is his claim that he brought the communal carnage that followed the Godhra outrage under control in 72 hours. No great investigation is required to tear this claim to shreds. And quite to the contrary, Mr Modi has punished the bureaucrats who risked their lives to bring the guilty to book. And he continues to do so, with the latest victim of his dubious brand of administration being the Additional Commissioner of Police, Mr Shivanand Jha, who had intervened to stop the assault on journalists at the Sabarmati Ashram, apologised and organised medical treatment for the injured scribes and cameramen. This police officer has been transferred!
An ominous signal from Gujarat that has emanated in the last week is that the goons have now turned their ire on peace activists who are trying to return the State to a semblance of communal tolerance. A few days ago, an ad agency in Ahmedabad, which had been given the job of creating several peace hoardings by a citizen's peace committee, was attacked.
The goons who marched into its office made the agency's representatives to deface their own work by throwing black paint on it!
The Hindu recently carried a brilliant cartoon by Surendra, in which the police are shown chasing away journalists and in the backdrop is a statue of Gandhiji.
After they have cleared the place of the journalists, the cops find, to their dismay, that along with them the statue too has disappeared from its pedestal. What more telling comment can one make about the peace efforts in Gujarat?
The inimitable R. K. Laxman has come out with a cartoon in The Times of India, which is one of the rare ones that make one want to cry instead of laugh. It shows a bloodstained Mr Modi sitting on the lap of Mr Vajpayee, who advises him: "Come on my boy, go wash your hands and clothes. They are bloodstained. And come and rule righteously (practice raj dharma)!"
Staunch supporters of Mr Vajpayee say that he can do only this much as even he dare not defy the saffron outfits for whom Mr Modi is a hero. Or, somebody else (read Mr L. K. Advani) is really calling the shots in the NDA.
If this is true, Mr Vajpayee has no business to remain Prime Minister. Is it worthwhile to hang on to power paying such a huge personal cost?
The BJP might be hell-bent on saving Mr Modi's chair, but in the process, it might end up pushing not only the minorities but a silent and communally equitable majority against the wall.
The BJP will have to decide if it wants to trade New Delhi for Modi's gaddi in Ahmedabad.
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