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What was Modi thinking?

The verdict on the 2002 riots is still not out but, the extensive media coverage that the riots received may have coloured our judgment. Many of us have already proven Modi and his allies as guilty.

Shobhika Puri

Flashback to 2002 to Gujarat. A train carrying over 50 Hindus coming from Ayodhya was burnt purportedly by the local Muslims. The Hindus retaliated and what ensued was expected, yet another communal riot between the Hindus and Muslims. Over 1,000 people, both Hindus and Muslims, were killed; over 500 places of worship were damaged; thousands fled their homes and many abandoned their businesses.

Coming back to the Gujarat of 2010. The state’s GDP is growing at over 10 percent, comparable to that of China. It is a front-runner in attracting industrial investments.

So, what has brought about this humongous change in less than a decade? Has it happened under the same leadership that had been globally criticised for its incompetent handling of the 2002 communal riots? Surprisingly yes.

The verdict on the 2002 riots is still not out but, the extensive media coverage that the riots received may have coloured our judgment. Many of us have already proven Modi and his allies as guilty. However, there are two kinds of charges that have been levelled against him. The first being that the Modi-led government instigated the mobs to massive killings. The other one is that the government did not act responsibly to stop the riots. It would not be prudent to comment on the first as the matter is sub-judice. However, there is enough evidence to prove him guilty of the second charge. How can a train fire lead to a riot killing thousands? What was the government doing? What actions did it take to control the situation?

There is this very interesting aspect of human psychology called self-serving bias. According to this, we tend to take credit for success and deny any responsibility for failure. This is especially true of politicians. If the claims of the government were true that they were proactive in handling the riots, then how come there is no mention of what steps they took on Modi’s website? A little Googling about the riots and Modi throw up all negative reports. Was it that the government was being modest this time or it did not consider this issue significant enough to merit mention? Surprisingly, even under the political achievements section, not much has been mentioned about the steps taken by the government to prevent or even control the riots. Some may claim that Modi’s decisive win in the elections after the riots, says it all. There is no denying the fact that Gujarat has progressed a lot since October 2001 when Modi took charge as the CM of the state with a shrinking economy and stagnant growth. However, we all know that a lot goes in winning an election, things better not discussed here.

Irrespective of whether Modi is guilty or not for the charges levied against him, he should not become complacent. Just because he has developed Gujarat, he cannot be exonerated of any other crime that he may have committed in the past. Some people, especially the youth of today, may say that we should let go off the past. How does it matter what happened in 2002 in Gujarat? What matters is what shall happen in 2010. Sound logic for some, but what about the riot victims? What about those people who lost their near and dear ones, those who saw their relatives being killed/burnt/raped mercilessly? What about those who lost their well established businesses? What about those who still get nightmares of the events which their eyes witnessed? Can anybody offer any logical explanation to them? They are still living in 2002 and are hoping to see the guilty punished, at least in their lifetime.

If Modi had acted proactively to prevent the riots, then he should not worry about his questioning by the Special Investigation Team (SIT). It is obvious that such actions are not taken alone but, orders are given to the state machinery that is bound to have proofs. In fact, he should support the investigation so that he can be acquitted of the charges once and for all. It is okay that he has done a lot of good for his state but, if guilty, then all this good should be taken as his penance for his wrongdoings. On second thoughts, why be so kind to him? All this good that he has done was his duty that should have been done anyways. So, if guilty, then the real punishment should be given by the court of law.

Whatever the final judgment, all involved with Modi should face the same consequences. This includes not only the state ministers but, also the Union ministers at that time like the then Home Minister LK Advani, who anyways is facing a trial for yet another communal disturbance, that during the Babri Masjid demolition.

Even though justice delayed is considered justice denied, it is still important to do justice because it sends out strong signals to others who are listening. It can act as a deterrent to those who may want to do so in future and shall revivify the faith of the common man in the judicial system of our country. After all, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer and an LSR (DU) and IIM Lucknow, Noida Campus alumna.)