Letter to the Editor

The Tribune: Thursday, April 11, 2002


M.L. Sondhi

Mr. Pran Chopra’s articles “India beyond Gujarat-I & II” (April 3 & 4) are the handiwork of a seasoned craftsman. He has skilfully interwoven texts and subtexts, theoretical reasoning and contestable ‘facts’, in a manner deliberately calculated to confuse the unwary reader.

To reply to each point would require at least two matching articles. I will confine myself to what may be contained in a single letter. The main thrust of Chopra’s arguments are to defend Chief Minister Narendra Modi from demands of dismissal on two grounds: that his government acted promptly and responsibly in dealing with the Hindu rioters, and that such riots are common in India and there is nothing unique about the Gujarat events.

The clean chit given to the state government is on the grounds that the day after the Godhra incident, curfew was imposed and the Army called in the day after. That is factually incorrect. The first day of curfew was quiet, generally reported as one of fact-finding—not so much about what happened at Godhra, but as to where to locate Muslims dwellings, factories, businesses and neighbourhoods. The day the rioting broke out the Army was nowhere present: it did not arrive till a couple of days later. The excuse given was that it would take time for the Army to be redeployed from its positions at the Indo-Pak frontier. Moreover, it is well-known that ministers sat in police control rooms and countermanded orders given by conscientious police officers. Those who resisted political pressure have since been transferred. No Central Minister visited the state—Mr. Vajpayee managed it only on April 5. the two Central Ministers who have Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha berths from Gujarat—Arun Jaitley and L.K. Advani—have kept away from the scenes of carnage and the refugee camps, the latter unmoved even in his incarnation as Home Minister.

The comparison with violence in Andhra, Assam, Nagaland and J & K does not hold: what occurred in Gujarat is held by the concerned public to be state-engineered genocide of a particular community, to which state retaliation against the organised militancies and terrorists in Assam, Nagaland and Kashmir bear no resemblance. The Gujarat Muslim was not asking for a separate state, for independence from India, for even a change of government. Some Muslims indeed indulged in a despicable act of carnage at Godhra—and the guilty deserve punishment. But it looks as though the Gujarat government is out to polarise society and to exacerbate differences between the communities rather than heal them. Moreover, other state governments use structured police and military force to deal with militants and terrorists. Gujarat has used rampaging mobs against unarmed and innocent civilians. They have matched the barbarism of Godhra with a super barbarism, all in the name of Maryada Purshottam! Their greatest achievement is to bring Hinduism in general and the Ramayana in particular, into the greatest disrepute.

The reason there is a demand for the removal of the Gujarat Chief Minister, who is believed to be the chief law breaker.

Interspersed in Mr. Chopra’s seemingly objective and scholarly text are phrases recognisably borrowed from some less salubrious dramatis personae. In Part-I, he says that ‘reactions occur’ – a fact of life. Sounds similar to a recent quote from Newton? Narendra Modi used this phrase to justify the outbreak of riots (ed.). He goes on to cite an ‘overlap’ between three disputes (Indo-Pakistan, Kashmir, Hindu-Muslim) which, among other things, shows that “challenging India’s security with subversive communalism can be a costly game”. The logic is quite baffling, but the innuendo is unmistakable. The Gujarat syndrome awaits anyone who might be seen as ‘subversive communalists’ by the powers that be. He warns against the dangers of ‘minority-ism’ (apart from majoritarianism): from which political textbook did he pick up that phrase?

The mailed fist is further covered by Chopra’s de rigueur public support to NGOs and his advocacy of the same electoral reforms that Mr. Advani has been advocating for more than a decade (and their merits are controvertible enough not to make them the norm in all other democracies).

He is right to look behind current events for the deeper historical and sociological causes of the malaise but wrong to excuse them thereby. Most of this carnage could have been controlled by a sincere and firm administration. It was deliberately subverted to allow the law of the jungle to run its course.

Professor M.L. Sondhi
New Delhi

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