February 27, 2002 is a day which changed the social and political landscape of India forever. On this day the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express train returning from Ayodhya was burnt near the Godhra railway station in Gujarat, resulting in the death of 59 kar sevaks. If this was not tragic enough, what followed thereafter was one of the saddest episodes in our country’s history, along with the 1984 Sikh riots and the mayhem unleashed during the partition.
Many of the 94 accused in the burning of the S-6 compartment were from Signal Falia area of Godhra. Out of them 63 were acquitted last year.
Riots bring out the worst form of bestiality in human beings. The death of kar sevaks allegedly by the minority community saw gruesome riots unfold in Gujarat resulting in the death of more than 1200 people, mostly from the minority community though a large number of Hindus were also killed. The 2002 riots spread to districts like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Saberkanth
a on February 28. Violence extended to the rural districts of Panchmahal, Mehsana, Kheda, Junagadh, Banaskantha, Patan, Anand and Narmada as well, the day after. Bharuch, Rajkot and Surat too were gripped in the tentacles of riots.
India has seen these mindless killings before – the Delhi riots, the Meerut riots, the Bhagalpur riots, the Kandhmal riots and so on. But sadly in the end when the dust settles down it is the common man who is the worst sufferer – their lives are changed forever – having lost family, friends and loved ones, sometimes their businesses and livelihood.
Even after ten years of the riots the famous photograph of the tailor from Gujarat, Qutubuddin Ansari crying and begging with folded hands to the unreasonable mob to have mercy on his family breaks one’s heart. He was spared but unlike him so many others lost their lives. Have the ones who lost their family moved on after a decade? In fact, will they be able to ever move on? For some there may never be a closure. While some are still waiting for their missing members of their family – even if it means seeing their dead bodies; others are still waiting to be rehabilitated.
Many more have been doing the rounds of the courts for years - some of the guilty have been booked while trials in other cases have dragged on. There are some who say that no one from the state machinery has come to wipe their tears or offer solace while there are others who say that the Gujarat Chief Minister was directly responsible for the riot toll going up.
To be fair to him, with Narendra Modi at the helm, Gujarat has become a role model for other states over the years. It is a state where development and inclusive growth is a buzzword. Moreover Modi has a relatively clean image and often says that he has only one agenda – to continue the success story of his state. He is also somebody with his eyes on the top job in the country – to become the Prime Minister. That is where the trouble starts.
There can be no doubt that as far as the Bhatiya Janata Party is considered, Narendra Modi is one of their tallest leaders and a potential PM candidate, but will he be acceptable to all outside his state? Or will the 2002 riots continue to haunt him and ultimately be his nemesis in spite of his Sadbhavana Mission that is said to be a deliberate attempt at an image-makeover.
Some quarters maintain that Modi is a target of hate-campaigns mostly supported by the Opposition party while there are others who have no doubt in his complicity in the crime. Police officers in Gujarat have gone on record to say that the CM asked them to go slow on the rioters. It is relentlessly argued that if Modi had given the state machinery orders to act in time, many lives would have been saved. Nonetheless not a single FIR has been registered against Modi and no court had held him guilty. So are those who have already proclaimed Modi guilty driven by personal agenda?
This is a point of endless debate. But one thing which requires no debate is that with all the commissions, reports, the SITs, the court cases, Narendra Modi has not been able to shrug off the perception battle that has continued to haunt him ever since 2002.
When the then Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee had told Modi to carry out his
rajdharma, it was taken to be an indictment of the CM for deliberately fanning the communal fire. It has also been revealed that in a letter dated June 1, 2002 to Modi, Vajpayee had expressed his concern over the delicate communal situation in Gujarat and had raised his doubts over whether the riot-victims were being treated fairly.
Moreover, what has baffled many is the refusal of the man to say sorry for the riots that happened in his state. He has refused to show remorse - not for being directly involved in them, but for the fact that the riots happened under him. People argue that it would have proved to be the balm that the victims needed. But maybe Narendra Modi sees it from a different prism – to apologise may be perceived by many to accept that he was largely responsible for what happened.
Whoever or whatever may have been responsible for the Gujarat and other riots, the mindless killing of each other can never be explained by the rational mind. Violence in the name of religion can never be justified. As Mahatama Gandhi said – “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Post Script: The politics of the riots will go on for years. Even after 10 years, Gujarat riots still rankle in the minds of the Indian citizen - Best Bakery killings, Gulberg society massacre, Naroda Patiya carnage, Naroda Gam slaughter, Dipda Darwaja butchery, Ode village bloodbath and others are a scar that India will have to bear forever. It is 10 years now, but we can keep counting - the wounds may never heal unless there is earnestness from all sides to do so.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)