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Vibrant Gujarat, 2002 pogrom and Modi's prime ministerial ambitions

Friday November 09, 2012 12:22:29 PM, Aijaz Zaka Syed

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Every time Narendra Modi’s Gujarat finds itself in the negative spotlight, his apologists have a stock response: “But look at the spectacular economic growth the state has made under his visionary leadership. Look at the economy. Look at the industrial growth, jobs, prosperity created by the vibrant Gujarat over the past 10 years!”

This yarn about the “vibrant Gujarat” has been going on for so long that it has begun to stink now. As eminent historian Achyut Yagnik pointed out a couple of years ago, Gujarat has always been ahead of the rest of the country in terms of industrialization, economic growth and development thanks to the pioneering spirit of its enterprising people who have been doing business with the world since long before the British hung up their boots and left. It has nothing to do with Modi or his miraculous reign.

Even if you accept the claim about Gujarat’s fabled progress under his blessed leadership, what does it prove? Does it somehow justify his crimes against humanity and absolve him of responsibility for the pogrom orchestrated by his administration and party ten years ago?

Under Hitler, Germany developed and prospered even faster despite the all-round destruction of the World War I — only to emerge as a clear and present danger to the whole of Europe and civilized world. It was in an economically resurgent Germany that millions of Jews and gypsies were sent to their death. But clearly, as our good friend Goebbels argued, a lie acquires the sanctity of truth when repeated with conviction and a straight face.

And like all good, old, free market believers with a nose for business, the British have concluded that it’s time to accept Modi’s truth and do business with him. Ultimately, as Lord Palmerston emphasized, England has no perpetual friends or enemies, only permanent interests. And this apparently holds true for their colonial cousins across the Atlantic as well.

So it makes sense that after 10 years of grandstanding over Gujarat and shunning Modi, it’s business as usual for the world powers. Goes out the window all the talk about justice, respect for human rights and upholding the rule of law. So what if some of those hacked and burned to death during the 2002 carnage happened to be British citizens?

Soon after the massive media and PR machine that has successfully built the cult of Narendra Modi went into an overdrive proudly splashing the images of a grinning British ambassador James Bewan with the chief minister, the Americans rushed in to embrace him. US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake says that Modi, who has been repeatedly denied permission to visit the land of the free because of the Gujarat 2002, is “now free to apply for another visa whenever he chooses.” The US official added: “We have very good relations with Gujarat. Obviously, it is a very, very important market for American companies.”

Ah! That explains it. In the end, it’s the almighty market that really matters for the empire and other lesser mortals. A Sunday Guardian report claims that the Gujarat CM met 25 ambassadors this year as he relentlessly markets himself with the help of big business and a servile, fawning media as the ultimate hope and future of the world’s greatest democracy.

In a world weary of the continuing economic uncertainty, everyone is desperate for crumbs wherever they could find them and Gujarat has plenty to offer. And it’s not just the West that is keen to accommodate the “visionary leader,” as a Gujarat government website describes him. The annual Modi love-fest held with great pomp in the name of “Vibrant Gujarat” using public funds is now attended by representatives and investors from some Muslim countries as well.

And if you go by the nightly debates on our television news networks and tweets and readers’ comments in the media, you get the impression the rich and middle class India cannot wait to replace the dithering, discredited Manmohan Singh with a “decisive and efficient administrator” that Modi is supposed to be.

If the Gujarat satrap wins tomorrow, he will have no one to thank but Singh and the numerous multibillion dollar scams that the Congress and its allies have gifted the nation over the past year or two with such fascinating frequency — almost on a weekly basis. The middle classes do not seem to be too troubled by the oppressive shadow of their hero’s inconvenient past that perpetually hovers over him no matter how hard he tries to shrug it off.

The fact that his hands are soaked in the blood of thousands of innocents seems to be of no consequence to his legion of admirers. One of his senior ministers and close associates Maya Kodnani has been handed a rare sentence of 28 years in prison. Another fellow traveler, Babu Bajrangi, has been given incarceration until death. The duo directed and executed with clinical precision (Kodnani is a trained physician!) the Naroda Patiya massacre in which 97 Muslims perished, including pregnant women and infants. They didn’t spare even fetuses in mothers’ wombs.

A citizens’ tribunal recorded that “(when) six-year-old Irfan asked for water, his assailants made him forcibly drink kerosene, or some other inflammable liquid, before a lit match was thrown inside his gullet to make him explode within!”

This is but just one tiny footnote in the long saga of incredible cruelty and depravity that went on for months even as the rest of the country and the world watched in helpless, morbid fascination. And we want the man who presided over this as our next leader?

How does someone with such toxic legacy and hateful agenda get to lead the nation of a billion people and a million identities? How did Gandhi’s nation end up here?

In democracies around the world, a whiff of a scandal or even a rumor is enough to ruin many a political career and prospects of office.
Senior Congress politicians like Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Lalit Maken have been denied tickets and dumped by their party for their role in the 2004 anti-Sikh riots following Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

And here we are dying to gift the highest office in the land to someone who didn’t just order and sanction the killing of thousands of innocent people and collective punishment of an entire community for an imagined sin, he remains singularly unrepentant and brazen about the whole bloody business.

Then there are those, including “moderates” like Zafar Sareshwala, who never tire of lecturing Muslims to “move on” and forgive and forget in the name of Modi’s stunning accomplishments. Now forgiveness is a noble thing but who are you and me to forgive and forget? Have you asked the victims if they would like to “forgive and forget” and move on?

Why do you think the victims of 1984 Sikh pogrom and other such numerous atrocities haven’t moved on after all these years? Because without justice and some semblance of retribution, it’s impossible to move on. Time stands still for the victims and their wounds turn into festering sores even though the world around them may have shrugged and moved on. Justice alone is the balm that heals the wounds inflicted by the past.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is widely published and read writer based in Gulf. The above article first published by Arab News.
He can be contacted at





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