Modi can run, but he cannot hide
There is no respite for Narendra Modi. A decade after the Gujarat riots, there is no sign that the curtains will be rung down on his acts of omission and commission. Instead, as the latest judicial indictment of the Hindutva parivar shows, the chief minister’s culpabilities are becoming increasingly apparent.
One reason is that two prominent saffron activists – one a former minister and the other a leader of the Bajrang Dal, the parivar’s storm troopers – have been caught red-handed, in a literal sense. Till now, it was only the street-level murderers and arsonists who were netted by the police. But, the convictions of Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi have turned the needle of suspicion directly towards Modi. After all, an MLA and the leader of a saffron outfit would not have participated in the massacre of nearly 100 people without the certainty of protection from the top.
For several years afterwards, they did feel safe. After all, the local police found nothing incriminating against them, as they didn’t in the 2,000-odd cases of rioting, which had to be subsequently reinvestigated under the Supreme Court’s orders – a stinging indictment of how the administration had been suborned in Gujarat, which was why some of the cases had to be tried outside the state so that justice could be done to the victims.
It may have been Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s awareness, through party and intelligence sources about what had happened, which made him consider sacking Modi. But, Advani was among those who dissuaded him along with the chief minister’s apologist, Arun Jaitley.
If the 1992 demolition of the Babri masjid propelled the BJP to the centrestage of politics, the 2002 riots marked a reversal of direction. Vajpayee held the outbreak responsible for the party’s defeat in 2004. Yet, when the carnage at Naroda Patiya and during the other ‘stray incidents’, as Modi called them, took place, neither the Hindu hriday samrat nor his party seemed to have any idea of the damage they were inflicting on themselves.
Instead, they thought they were on a roll, since they were in power at the centre. Moreover, they believed that they had found in Hindutva or cultural nationalism – one nation, one people, one culture – a surefire mantra of success, which would enable them to achieve their ultimate dream of ushering in a Hindu rashtra.
But, the 2002 riots, of which Naroda Patiya, Best bakery and other massacres were among the most horrendous, turned all their hopes into ashes. First, some of the coalition partners – Chandrababu Naidu, Ramvilas Paswan, Farooq Abdullah – started drifting away. Then came the most unexpected of blows – the defeat in 2004.
Since then, the retreat has continued. One cannot remember that last time that the BJP had mentioned the Ram temple. As for Modi, Vajpayee’s admonition and the gradual closing in of the legal net around him after the Supreme Court decided to probe the activities of the ‘modern-day Nero’, as it called Modi, made the latter realise that his past was catching up on him.
The riots marked the completion of the first phase of his career as a saffron pracharak, which made him a believer in Savarkar’s description of the Muslims as ‘aliens’ since their holy places were outside India, and in Golwalkar’s categorisation of them as an ‘internal threat’. It was this belief that explains his insensitiveness when he called the post-riot relief camps as child-producing factories of Muslims, who flouted the small family norms with their four wives – hum panch, hamare pachis.
Although Modi rode to success in the 2002 and 2007 assembly elections on the shoulders of the Gujarati urban middle class, which had found in ‘militant religious nationalism’, according to sociologist Ashis Nandy, ‘a new self-respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community’, he seemed to have realised the limitations of violent communalism. Since this change of perspective could not have been due to genuine remorse it has been ascribed to his ambition to play a larger role. But, now a second realisation may have dawned, especially after the Naroda Patiya verdict, that the ghost of fascistic pogroms will haunt him all his life. He can run, but he
cannot hide. [IPA]