A LOAD-SHEDDING OF JUSTICE- The Sardarpura verdict is the beginning of a long story
Last January, I found myself looking at the ugly, concrete makeover of the 'riverside' that has buried the banks of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. Standing next to me was a wealthy Amdavadi. When I asked him about Narendra Modi and the state's much-trumpeted progress, his answer was dismissive: "Look, this is Gujarat. We were always pretty hard-working, always good at business. The whole country's had a boost and this state was anyway well placed to reap the benefits. Emha Modi noe kai bahu mohtto haath chhey evhu nathi. It's not as if Modi has had a lot to do with it. Modi is just very good at taking credit for work others have done."
I remembered this when I read about the Sardarpura verdict. On the face of it, there is reason to be happy. Thirty-one murderers have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The court was in Mehsana, and not in those dens of secularism, Mumbai or Delhi. The police investigation that resulted in the convictions was also largely local, under the supervision of the special investigation team. Despite huge threats, witnesses came through in the heart of Gujarat. The work of the NGOs and lawyers working in isolation and under great abuse paid off, and the law — after much delay — delivered justice. There is some disappointment that the court chose to ignore the building blocks, the preceding rallies by people connected to powers that be that incited local farmers to butcher the very labourers who were working for them. But over all, there seemed to be reason for optimism until I called a few people in Gujarat. Their reaction was anything but positive. "This is good, yes, but it doesn't connect directly to Modi. In fact, he might even have encouraged it. A few more verdicts like this and he will take credit for bringing rioters to justice, while distancing himself even further from the crimes."
Maybe, maybe not. The evidence of conspiracy to carry out mass murder and ethnic cleansing will grow, coalesce and crystallize when it does. In the meantime, Narendra Modi's cohorts in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and their English-speaking Goebbelsguptas will now find it increasingly difficult to peel away their man from the responsibility for the murders, the rapes, the arson, the uprooting of families and the shameless cover-up that followed. This verdict is only among the first strands but, perhaps, along with the testimonies of the police officers, R.B. Shreekumar, Sanjeev Bhatt and others, it signals the ultimate unravelling of the whole carpet of vicious lies under which the Hindutwats have been trying to shove their 2002 pogrom.
It's important that this verdict arrives at a time when a huge campaign is under way to efface Narendra Modi's crimes and propel him forward as the future prime minister. Even as his cheerleaders shout on about his incorruptible efficiency, the true nature of the Modi-raj is now ever more openly on display. If you're a Gujarati who was involved in attacking Muslims in 2002, till recently you could count on the Namo machinery doing everything possible to protect you from punishment. However, if you were a Gujarati who was a victim of rape or violence in March-April 2002, you had to learn to live under an energetically enforced load-shedding of justice.
Around and under this evil darkness, things have shifted over the last decade. PR touts in Delhi once bragged at cocktail parties about having had the courage to call Modi a mass-murderer. These same power-pimps now proudly tell everyone the exact dates on which they met the 'great' man and the 'pro-business' gems he dropped. Until two years or so after the killings you could find traces of apologetic sheepishness among the wealthy Amdavadis — they knew a huge mistake had been made and they didn't quite know what was coming in retribution. Now, visiting the city, you can see a 'naaga-panu', a brazen nakedness, among the rich, the politicians and many of the tame administration. "Whatever happened, happened, but you can't touch us. This is Modi's Gujarat." The local middle-class took to dismissing the killings as 'chhamakla', tiny fire-crackers, stressing instead what Namo, their 'Annadata', was doing for them, as if a rocketing GDP for the top 20 per cent of the state could wipe out mass slaughter. Some of the older Muslim leaders — people earlier demanding full justice — are now willing to settle for an apology from Modi. Many Muslim businessmen who've benefited from the economic surge in the state also want to draw a line under the killings. While money has flowed in from the Gulf to repair Muslim businesses, other things have also seeped into Garvi Gujaratbecause of 2002. For example, Kutch, famous for the openness of its people, its villages famous for fantastic textiles and jewellery, is now increasingly coming under new Wahabi edicts. The most beautiful and independent of Muslim cultures is now being pushed under the full burkha, with young men standing around growling, "You're not allowed to photograph our women!"
Spending time in Gujarat, it becomes clear that Modi is no Nitish Kumar who has turned around a failing administration. Many clear-eyed people will privately tell you he is an unscrupulous operator who has piggy-backed on to a 'success story'. Others will point out that balanced against all the new Gujarati millionaires there are lakhs of people still under the BPL, balanced against the popularity of Modi among the Indian oligarchies such as the Tatas and the Ambanis, there is the environment that has been pawned to rampant SEZs, balanced against 'the phenomenal speed at which business can be done' there are many, many accusations of government corruption — too much smoke, people say, for there not to be a couple of big fires sizzling quietly somewhere.
Whether he's due the credit or not, Modi likes to lap it up whenever he can. And, like all big-time megalomaniacs from Hitler to Gaddafi, he likes to dress up when he's cornering the publicity. In this, Modi has apparently taken to a local photographer who he thinks makes him look particularly good. The story goes, 10 years ago this man used to drive an old scooter and quietly go about his photo-stringer's job. He is now the proud owner of a new bungalow and a nice car. But now his life isn't worth living: he's constantly at Namosaheb's beck and call. A call could come at the crack of dawn: "Narendra Bhai has received some new jhabbas (kurtas), please come now." Namo may not have a visa for America but he certainly has a cowboy hat that he puts on when he wants to impress NRIs. Perhaps he took the hat along with his gold Rolex when he recently went to hobnob with the Fascist-bandhu in China.
Shiny surfaces and loud bravado are hardly a monopoly of this Anti-Gandhi who rules Gandhinagar, but he and his team are masters of deploying them. One of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party spin-meisters was on national TV not too long ago. Clearly sent to Delhi because he was quite articulate in his typical Gujarati English, this man made the point that no other 'riots', Delhi '84, Bhagalpur before that, others, none of them have thrown up any justice for the victims, so why expect Gujarat to do so? Borrowing shamelessly from that other Gujarati-fascist manque, Donald Rumsfeld, basically he was saying: "Stuff happens. So what?" The thing is, even as Modi revels in images of himself in his emperor's new clothes, it's the new technology he so loves that could be his undoing. From the beginning, the deliberate, preplanned brutality of what happened between February and April 2002 was witnessed by journalists who could get the news out quickly via the internet and mobile phones. None of India's earlier riots or killings were as well documented. These reports and the few telling images won't go away. It's partly this witnessing by the hateful 'leftist' media that may prove to be Modi's namosis.
"There are two or three people," as Modi said to Karan Thapar on TV, "who keep bringing this up again and again." After which, Narendra Namosevic aborted the interview. Why? Because Thapar had the temerity to politely ask Modi why he wouldn't even consider apologizing to the Muslims of Gujarat for his inability to protect them. Looking back after the verdict from Mehsana it's probably a very good thing that Narendra Modisevic has steadfastly refused to 'say sorry'. An apology, however insincere, would have meant only an admission of temporary ineptitude and perhaps provided him with a patli gali of escape. The fact is, "the two or three people" of Naruammar Modaffi's spin delusion are present in far larger numbers. One of the man's favourite campaign slogans was, "Narendra Modi khhato nathi aney khaava deto nathi." NM doesn't eat (bribes) nor does he let anyone else eat. What is being repeatedly proven is that Narakendra Modisevic presided over the long cannibalistic orgy in Gujarat where nearly 2,000 people were eaten. To what extent he and others close to him also gave the hunting and roasting instructions and wrote up the menu remains to be proven.
Things won't subside. As long as there are two brave lawyers and three shrill but fearless NGO activists, truth will out, as the Sardarpura case indicates. When that happens, the time for apologies will be long past and the planners of the massacre will have no place left to go, perhaps not even China.
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