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“Spontaneous Reaction” and the Gaurav Yatra

by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA

Years have been passed. The crocodile tears of those who gave false promises to find justice have been wiped away. Hopes for justice have vanished. There is no smell of freedom in the dry soil. The conditions of the people get worse day by day. Apart from the ideological debates in the cyber space and the political vulgarism on the ground, there is nothing much to see in the way of improvements. The power of social control is still vested in the hands of goons. What the common politician tends to do is simply express articulated lies in order to fill in the blanks and protect the goons so they can stay in power. Whatever they say is applauded. This is how the rights and dignity of the ordinary citizen have been stolen.

Twelve years have been wasted with senseless arguments. But those who were victimized in the communal and religious carnage are still seeking justice for what happened in Gujarat in early 2002, after the contemptible and inhuman attack on the Sabarmati Express train. Known as the Godhra train burning, the incident led to 58 people, including 25 women and 15 children, being burnt to death near the Godhra railway station in Gujarat, India. As the victims were mostly Hindu the incident created an anti-Muslims situation in the area. However, it has been well documented that the Godhra train burning was a plot and deliberate attack by those who later engaged in communal cleansing while killing thousands of the Muslims in the area.

The Gujarat pogrom, also known as the Gujarat riot of 2002, ended in the loss of thousands of lives and the internal displacement of up to one hundred and fifty thousand people; unimaginable lootings by those who cut and burned innocents, in the name of religion and “revenge”. There are well-documented reports of Muslim victims being skinned alive before being burned. Women were sexually assaulted in front of their family members, and later burned along with them. One of witnesses told the media months later, that he had to remove three fetuses from pregnant women who were subjectively targeted in the riot.

The bitterness of the inhumanity of this riot has tarnished not only the image of Gujarat state alone, but that of the whole of India. It has been well-documented by large numbers of testimonies of witnesses, and confessions of some of those who engaged in this cruelty. But one man who saw all these things and still paid no attention at the time, is even now trying to maintain his innocence. He has dreamed of his vision for himself, with much of India seemingly believing in his dream. It is nonetheless, the dark side of his propaganda.

That man who witnessed the true history of Gujarat, the man who smelled the burning human bodies of Gujaratis, the man who ignored it all for weeks without visiting his fellow citizen when they were selectively attacked by Hindu fanatics, is non-other than Narendra Modi, who is the big cat, also known as the lion of Gujarat, with the dream of becoming the next prime minister of India. He then was and still is the Chief Minister of the State when the Hindu fanatics were peeling the skins off Muslims.

What we are seeing after 12 years of “spontaneous reaction”, is that the country, which is claimed to be the largest democratic nation in the world, is going to have a prime minister soon, who has little concern for ethnic harmony in one of most ethnically diverse nations in the world. In the last 10 years, there has been peace in the state, and not a single riot has been reported claims this man, the premier candidate of the Bharatheeya Janthaa Party (BJP).

However, Arvin Kejriwal who is Seventh Chief Minister of Delhi and also the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, reacted to Modi’s claim of development and described it as a shame. Tearing into Modi’s claim that no riots have happened in Gujarat in the past decade, Kejriwal said at least 12 big riots have occurred in Gujarat ever since as reported by the media. Therefore Kejiriwal called him a “property dealer” while challenging him to a debate on the “Gujarat Module”.

However, there is no surprise when a politician exaggerates the situation of the area in which he has the power of social control. The same Modi has an umbrella-like catch-all answer when a journalist asked about the malnutrition in the area. He went to say:

“We are the first state in the country to raise the issue of malnutrition. It came to our minds that Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious. So being a middle-class state is also a problem for me. A large segment of the population in my state is middle-class.” (quoted- Wall Street Journal – Aug 30, 2012 )

The same Modi, is going to contest for the post of Prime Minister as the BJP candidate in the next election. There are eyewitness who testified that Chief Minister Modi, deliberately ignored efforts to intervene to stop the riots. Some Congressmen, who gave protection to Muslims, were also burned to death during the riot. The police and other state security apparatus instead gave protection to the perpetrators.

Months after the riot, Chief Minister Modi, organized the Gaurav Yatra (Repute Journey), to get rid of political criticism against him. He sought the reputation while driving across the state, and then later he was able to win the election. It proved that the general mindset of the electorate is motivated with day to day life matters rather than thinking and taking decisions which affect people in the long run. After the victory of the election in late 2002, BJP-VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad ) organized many victory celebrations where most of them expressed their hatred for Muslims.

“Praise be upon God – F–k Muslims,” was one of cadres’ comments in front of a video camera. The same pattern prevailed throughout the state for a long period of time.
“We have to abandon Gandhi,” they exclaimed while justifying the cruelty against fellow human beings.

The reality in India remains unchanged, and prevails with same spark of religious and communal vendetta. The anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarabad late last year were just one incident, out of hundreds. Talking about the imperfections of the state which in reality tarnished India’s image will give a tough time to domestic and international politics if this dreamer succeeds. Twelve years after the Godhra train burning, the Gujarat pogrom insists that India come to terms with the emotional behavour that led to the train burning and to Narendra Modi coming to the verge of being elected Prime Minister of India. Until then India, the world’s largest democracy will remain a mere paper tiger. India’s problem is finding the norms of democracy and living by them.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa edits the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper, and he also an editor of the Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, bi-monthly print magazine. He is the author of the just released non-fictions, “Nagna Balaya” (The Naked Power), in Sinhalese and “The Conflation”, in English.  He can be reached at ilangamuwa@gmail.com

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Nilantha Ilangamuwa is Editor of Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives. He also edits the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily newspaper. He is the author of the recently released non-fiction books, “Nagna Balaya” (The Naked Power), published in Sinhalese, and “The Conflation”, published in English. 

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