Gujarat Campaign “Fast” Lane

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

location_map_of_GujaratNEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: The three-day fast of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, which concluded this Monday (September 19), has raised many eyebrows as well as questions. It is difficult for secular observers and critics to accept reasons given by Modi for his Sadbhavna (goodwill) fast, aimed towards “peace, unity and harmony.” Modi apparently has taken this step with the hope that its political importance and media coverage will help change his own image from that of a communal, extremist to a secular Indian who believes in development of all. In his words: “Every chief minister has a national role. My work is to do something good on Earth. It is for others to give it words.”

Dismissing “news” about this fast being a reflection of ambition to become the country’s prime minister, Modi said: “I want to tell the world that sabka saath, sabka vikas (cooperation of all, development of all) is the way of development. Gujarat has got a name in development. I have worked for development of all. I have given this an ideological base.”

The three-day fast has certainly helped Modi gain substantial media-coverage and socio-political attention. Yet, except for his own political colleagues, the others are not willing to believe Modi’s claims about development of “all.” Besides, three days, even three decades, are not sufficient to forget the 2002 Gujarat-carnage, when the state government failed to provide adequate security to Muslims who were targeted by right-winged elements linked with saffron brigade, with which Modi is also strongly associated. The wounds of Muslim sufferers have not healed yet and will never heal for those who lost their near and dear ones and possessions. The sufferers have not yet received any compensation. There has been no news of Gujarat government having played even a minor role in rehabilitating the troubled Muslims. The criminals have not yet received adequate punishment. In other words, justice and prospects of a better future in Gujarat still remain dismal for Muslims who faced the 2002-carnage. 

Despite Modi having begun his fast on his birthday (September 17), he claimed: “I have never celebrated my birthday. This is the only day of the year I don’t meet anyone, I don’t talk to anyone, I don’t celebrate my birthday. But because Saturday and Sunday was convenient, that’s why I chose this day, this has got nothing to do with my birthday.”

Modi is not unaware of the fact that Gujarat-carnage is projected as a dark chapter in history of India and his political image. Amazingly, the very politician who at one time justified and also allegedly played a prominent role in fuelling the communal carnage now talks in a totally different tone. Refusing to take any responsibility, Modi said: “What moral responsibility for riots am I being asked to take? My government did its best.” He even said: “I have suffered in my heart for those who suffered and were victims of the 2002 riots. We acted with power and toughness to get life back in order.”
Indicating that Gujarat will not witness the 2002-carnage again, Modi said: “I want to assure the country and all communities that we will not go below the parameters of humanity. Every second of my life is devoted to the people of the country.”

Around 30-40 years ago, “there was complete communal disharmony” provoking “violence and curfew” on even small discords leading to, as Modi said: “When a child was born he/she learnt the word curfew before learning mummy and papa.” Now, Modi claimed: “There is no sign of disharmony. Gujarat has realized the strength of brotherhood. And this learning has not come through any preaching or advice, but through the fruits of development. Our growth has assured us that unity is our strength.”

While Modi may have accepted and started saying that “communal politicking” is not his political agenda, his opponents, including political rivals, riot victims and social activists still refuse to accept his rhetoric. Several civil rights activists, a group called Jan Sangarsh Manch (JSM) and a large number of riot victims gathered near a mosque at Narodia Patia to protest against Modi’s Sadbhavana-fast. They called their demonstration Sachi Sadbhavna (True Goodwill). However, even before the event began, the policemen trooped in and detained more than 50 activists for several hours on the ground that they did not have the administration’s permission to protest (September 18).

Not willing to be outdone by Modi, Congress leaders in Gujarat began their fast an hour earlier than him. They also strongly criticized Modi for wasting taxpayers’ by holding a “five-star” fast. “If there is a justifiable cause for fast by the chief minister, we can understand it. He is saying this fast is for sadbhavna, but his fast is based on farce, falsehood and corruption,” Shankersinh Vaghela said.

While Modi held his fast in an air-conditioned hall, Vaghela and Arjun Modhwadia held theirs called, Satyagrah (for truth against misdeeds of Modi government) on a footpath in front of Sabarmati Ashram. Describing Modi’s fast as “corruption,” Vaghela said: “What was the necessity to spend several millions of public money? If he (Modi) wanted to fast, he could have done that at home also.” Modi’s fast was a tamasha (show), Vaghela said.

Questioning Modi’s claims of development, Vaghela listed several allegations of corruption against Gujarat government. Besides, he said: “The state public debt has mounted to billions, about which the people of Gujarat are not aware. This is the kind of development he is talking about.” “We want to show to the people that this is a corrupt government,” Vaghela said.

Referring to Gujarat-carnage, Vaghela said: “Now, Modi wants to project himself as a messiah of the minorities by undertaking such a fast and wants to show that he is their protector.”

Irrespective of what their actual intentions are, with Gujarat to go for assembly polls in 2012, clearly both the parties- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress have begun their campaigns by making lots of voice about their “fasts.”

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Advani & Modi Face Legal Scanner

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

NEW DELHI:  Ironically, two dark communal spots on India’s global image have hit headlines nearly at the same time and in a similar pattern. One refers to demolition of Babari Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh on December 6, 1992, which was followed by nation-wide riots targeting Muslims. The other is the 2002-Gujarat carnage, when thousands of Muslims were attacked and killed in Gujarat by violent mobs of Hindu extremists. Legal cycle has cast shadows on the role played by two key politicians of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in both the cases. L.K. Advani is under scanner for having incited mobs for demolition of Babari Masjid. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been questioned for nearly 10 hours for his role in 2002-carnage (March 27).

Legal and political questions holding Advani responsible for the Ayodhya-issue and Modi for Gujarat-carnage may have still remained under the wraps, were it not for the role played by several women. Yes, the Ayodhya-ghost has raised its head again to haunt Advani primarily because of the detailed testimony given by a senior lady officer, Anju Gupta before a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh (March 26). Modi was summoned by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, following a petition filed by Zakia Jaffrey. Zakia’s husband, Ehsan Jaffrey (former legislator) was among more than 50 people burnt to death in the Gulbarga Society massacre of February 28, 2002.

In her petition, Zakia alleged that Modi, his government and administration had helped rioters during the Gujarat-carnage. She is still hopeful of the guilty being punished. On Modi being summoned by SIT, Zakia said: “I expect justice from God and Supreme Court, because it won’t let injustice happen. Since, it is Supreme Court it has been doing justice for years. I’m sure that the Supreme Court will deliver justice.”

By finally appearing before the SIT, Modi has defied speculations being circulated about his trying to escape law. He may have to appear before SIT again and also before the Supreme Court, as the case is pending there, sources said. To a degree, while Modi has silenced his critics he has provided his political colleagues some reason to express appreciation for his appearing before SIT and face such a long question-answer session. Of course, what Modi has faced before SIT is no match for what thousands of Muslims across Gujarat went through for several months in 2002. Just as the dead cannot be brought back to life, the wounds left by that carnage cannot be healed by whatever amount of compensation is handed over to survivors and even if Modi faces grilling sessions for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, that Modi finally faced the SIT certainly indicates that he has been to a degree forced to bow before the Indian legal process, primarily as the widow of one of the victims decided to knock at the doors of justice. 

Ironically, though there never has been any doubt about Advani’s role in Ayodhya-case and that of Modi in Gujarat-carnage, till date both have appeared to remain almost unapproachable even for the long arms of law and justice. The SIT summons has broken this myth for Modi just as that of Anju Gupta’s testimony for Advani. Earlier, Advani had been discharged on the plea that charges against him were based on mere suspicion. Anju’s testimony has totally changed the legal situation. She was then posted as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) in Ayodhya and was in charge of Advani’s security.

During her testimony, Anju claimed that Advani “looked euphoric” as he declared in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 that a temple would be built at the site of the demolished mosque. “Advani not only looked euphoric but also declared before the huge crowds at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 that the Ram temple would be built at the disputed site in the temple town,” she said. He “gave quite a provocative speech for which he was applauded by his other party colleagues and the crowds,” she said. Recalling what she saw on the day, Anju said: “There were at least 100 persons present on the dais along with Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara, Ashok Singhal, S.C. Dikshit, and I remember their faces so distinctly that I would be able to still recognize at least 80 of them.” “There was so much excitement among the crowds that they distributed sweets after the mosque was pulled down,” she said.

Undeniably, neither the Ayodhya-case nor the Gujarat-carnage can be expected to conclude soon. It may take a fairly long time, before the hearings, counter-hearings, arguments and related processes reach the stage of judgments being pronounced. The final stage, if ever reached, may still be checked by filing of more petitions, special petitions and so forth. Nevertheless, at least, BJP leaders are finally forced to acknowledge and accept that they cannot escape law forever: -17 years have passed since the demolition and eight since Gujarat-carnage. The ones responsible for those communal phases have been forced to be on the defensive, though late but definitely! 

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Gujarat Carnage: Modi Summoned!

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is in news again, but not for the reasons he or his party associates appreciate. Eight years after Gujarat-carnage, in which of thousands of Muslims in the state were killed and/or injured, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has summoned Modi. Created by Supreme Court in March 2008 to probe into 2002-Gujarat riots, the SIT has summoned Modi to appear before it on March 21. Modi, if he appears before the SIT, is expected to face questions over the murder of Congress legislator Ehsan Jaffrey. He and more than 50 other Muslims were killed by extremist Hindu rioters in Gulbarg Society, a residential complex in Ahmedabad (February 28, 2002). Modi and at least 60 others have been blamed and criticized for not doing enough to check the communal violence and protect the state’s Muslim citizens.  

“Yes, we have summoned Mr. Modi,” R.K. Raghavan, SIT head said. “On 21 March, we will ask him a few questions. Then we will send a report to the Supreme Court,” he said.

The Supreme Court is taking action on a petition filed by Jaffrey’s widow, Zakia. In her petition, she named Modi and 62 others, alleging that they conspired to “let Hindus vent their anger” after the Godhra-incident. The Godhra-incident refers to fire on Sabarmati Express, in which around 60 Hindus died. While fire’s cause was said to be an accident, extremist Hindu groups alleged that it was started by Muslim protestors because of which they reacted leading to Gujarat-carnage, with Hindu rioters targeting Muslims.

Following Zakia’s petition, the Supreme Court directed SIT to probe the alleged role of persons she had named as responsible for the riots, including Modi and 62 others. Though it is not clear, whether summoning of Modi will lead to any judicial action against him or not, according to Zakia: “I have not slept properly ever since the incident. Now, he (Modi) will also have sleepless nights.” “I hope justice will be given to us. It has been a long journey. I am very happy that Modi has been summoned,” she said.

Elaborating on the petition filed against Modi, Zakia’s son Tanveer Jaffrey said: “This is a step to file an FIR (First Information Report) against Modi. Until an FIR is filed you cannot say where the investigation will lead to.” Tanveer is hopeful, that “this will open up other cases too.”

“The summoning should have happened long ago as the chief minister of Gujarat and his government presided over the worst ‘pogram’ against minorities in independent India,” Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari said in New Delhi. The Congress felt that it would be appropriate for Modi to resign as chief minister.

The Congress in Gujarat has not yet too made too much noise about Modi facing summons. Justifying the cautious stand taken by his party, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Arjun Modhvadiya said: “The SIT must have strong evidence to issue a summon. We hope that the team carries out further investigations in right earnest and bring him to justice.” Modhvadiya, former leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, also voiced demand for Modi’s resignation inside and outside the House.  Modi should tender his resignation on “moral grounds,” he said as the summons were based on Supreme Court’s directives and on the basis of evidence collected by SIT.

Dismissing Congress demand for Modi’s resignation, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “The summons to Modi by SIT are a part of the legal process which shall be dealt with as per the process of law.”

The BJP is considering legal options to save Modi from facing a tough legal battle. “What our strategy is something that we don’t want to discuss on camera. But it takes long term planning in such cases,” Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said. The Congress was “day dreaming,” by thinking that Modi would resign following the summons, Vyas said. “The party may wish for anything but there is no reason for Mr. Modi to quit,” he said.

Survivors of Gujarat-carnage are fairly pessimistic on whether summoning of Modi would spell any major development in speeding action against the rioters. “What we are going to witness on March 21 is a high-voltage drama when the chief minister appears before the SIT to respond to allegations leveled against him by various witnesses. That is it. It is going to be an eyewash,” according to Mukhat Ahmad, a riot victim-turned-rights activist.

Dismissing the summons as a “hype,” a senior officer said: “What can deposition achieve? The SIT is not in a position to interrogate, grill anyone or Modi. Can it force him or anyone to say something that one chooses to hide? So what will this achieve except create a hype?” Asserting that Zakia’s petition cannot force legal action against Modi, analysts said: “There is no direct evidence against Modi.” A chief minister cannot be held as directly responsible as, they said: “There are no constitutional or legal liabilities on the CM or the political head of the state in a riot-like situation. The direct-action duty lies on the police head and local officers of the disturbed area.”

Nevertheless, all are waiting for March 21. Will Modi face the summons? If he does, what will be developments? Or will he seek a change in the date, citing some prior engagement, and thus evade the March 21 summons! 

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Aamir Khan Adds Gandhian Touch To His Campaign In Gujarat

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI:  Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has certainly taken a lead over politicians where his publicity campaign for his latest movie, “3 Idiots” is concerned. He has literally gone to the people, mingled with them and then surprised them by revealing his real identity. The silent message sent by this style of campaigning cannot be missed. The message stands out by the actor giving minimal importance to religious, regional as well as other socio-economic differences which are in contrast highlighted prominently by politicians when they try reaching out to the common people for their votes. This does not imply that the star has seldom given importance to communal tactics of Indian politicians. In fact, he earned a strong criticism in several quarters for having earlier criticized Chief Minister Narendra Modi for Gujarat carnage and supporting the Narmada Bachao Andolan (movement). Soon after Aamir criticized Modi in 2006, activists supporting Modi started persuading theater owners in Gujarat not to release his movies- “Fanaa” and “Taare Zameen Par.” They also demanded an apology from Aamir for his “anti-Gujarat” stand on NBA and his “anti-Narendra Modi” remarks. The actor had since stopped visiting Gujarat and had also refused to change his opinion on the two issues- NBA and Gujarat-carnage.

To a question on his stand, Aamir had said: “I had said that people killed in Godhra and its aftermath were not Hindus or Muslims for me. They were Indians, and whoever was responsible for the carnage was anti-Indian and anti-national. If that was the reason for this (ban on his movies), so be it.” On the financial losses that the ban spelt, accepting that they would be “huge,” he said: “And what about people losing their land and houses? I think that is a far bigger, deeper issue.” When questioned on whether he would apologize for his stand, he replied: “What should I apologize for? What wrong have I done? I am happy and proud of what I did.”

Against this backdrop, the nature of Aamir’s recent visit to Gujarat, the first since he faced the backlash, stands out. The actor apparently deliberately selected Lok Niketan Vinay Mandir, a small school in Palanpur village, about 135 km from Ahmedabad in Banaskantha district. The school is run on Gandhian principles, where the students weave their own khadi uniform. Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, the actor entered the school at around noon last Thursday (December 17). Initially, nobody recognized him, but when they did, the teachers and students were pleasantly surprised. After a discussion with the school principal, Aamir interacted with students from class seventh to tenth. He heard a student sing a song, talked to students about their dreams, played cricket with them and also shared food from a girl’s lunch box, cooked by her grandmother. When a student showed Aamir, the star’s photo that he kept in his pocket, he picked him up and kissed him. He gifted the school two golden rings, two cricket balls, six tennis balls, one volley ball, two footballs and four tickets of the film premier with air tickets. The school felicitated him with a khadi garland.

Earlier, when questioned on his plans against his ban of his movies in Gujarat, Aamir had replied: “There are many avenues I could take recourse to. There is the legal option, I could seek help from the film industry and the various film associations, but on this issue I want the people to decide. The people should decide if this is the kind of political party they want.” Criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using “brute force,” with “no value for human life,” he had said: “In life, nothing is in our control. The maximum we can do is to do what we believe is right. I strongly believe that each one of us has to fulfill our karma, to do what he or she feels is right. The BJP should do what it feels is right, the people of Gujarat and India should do what they feel is right.”

Undeniably, Aamir’s visit to Lok Niketan school was a part of his two-week nation-wide campaign to promote his movie. Among the other places, the actor has suddenly turned up at, include Kolkata (West Bengal), Jaipur (Rajasthan), a remote village in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and an unknown village near Faridkot in Punjab. The subtle message conveyed by his deliberately including a Gujarati-school run on Gandhian principles cannot be missed. He still remains hopeful and optimistic that secularism and Gandhian principles cannot be easily defeated even by communal atrocities, such as the Gujarat-carnage. While at the school, Aamir said that he wanted to “try and imbibe Gandhian values.” This was apparently his style of making people aware about the importance of Gandhian principles. A visit to the small school was not binding on the star. If he wished, he could have stayed out of Gujarat even now. But he did not. Rather, as is evident, he planned his Gujarat-visit to let the school run on Gandhian principles hit the headlines and gain substantial media coverage. The move has given his old critics (Modi-supporters) virtually no time or even reason to question his “campaign.”  

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