Saturday, March 03, 2007
Feb. 28, 2007
Five years after the horrific riots in Gujarat, we are still unprepared to anticipate and deal with the danger of communal violence
Five years after the horrific Godhra attack that triggered the riots in Gujarat, an ominous reminder of that event came in the shape of another incendiary attack on hapless rail users: The terrorist attack on the Delhi-Attari special train, packed with passengers to Pakistan. Evidently, efforts to polarise communities and to provoke communal violence have not ended. The recent attack, however, failed in its objective to incite wider carnage, despite attempts by elements in Pakistan, and some extraordinarily shrill voices from the ‘secular’ lobby in India, to give the incident a communal twist and link it to Gujarat riots.
Despite the general sobriety of the Indian response to the attack on the Delhi-Attari train, it is evident that the dangers that manifested themselves in Godhra and the riots in Gujarat are far from a thing of the past. Worse, we appear, today, to be no better prepared for such incidents than we were five years ago. During and after my brief tenure as advisor in Gujarat — where I was called to quell the riots — I had emphasised that the state’s communal conflagration was far from unique, and that the then latest orgy of violence lay along a continuum of comparable incidents, commencing with the bloodbath of 1969 which left at least 660 dead. A question I raised then, and that remains as relevant now, is, what do we do in the interregnums of peace to ensure that such episodes do not recur? The short answer is: Precious little.
I don’t think that anything substantial has been done either at the level of the states or at the Centre, to create instruments and mechanisms in communally sensitive areas that would prevent the recurrence of these disgraceful events. A great deal of political heat and dust is generated immediately after the event — and on various ‘anniversaries’ and politically sensitive times, such as elections — but little is done to improve the nation’s structural defences against the dangers of recurrence.
The failure is not restricted to the organs of the state. During and after the Gujarat riots, the role of political actors, non-governmental organisations and ‘activists’, was nothing short of shameful. There was a lot of posturing, a great deal of tamasha, but little was done to bring relief to the victims. Group after group flew into Ahmedabad, went through the motions of ‘investigation’, held press conferences and brought out ill-informed reports, but nobody stayed long enough to deliver concrete services and succour to those whose lives had been shattered and dislocated. In certain political quarters, there was almost an implicit hope that the violence would continue, so that it could be exploited electorally.
Since then, a veritable ‘Gujarat riots industry’ has come into being, whipping up flagging passions at every opportunity, and manufacturing a range of ‘products’ that are marketed principally to foreign ‘buyers’. The role of most such ‘activists’ has not been to bring people together, but to create and widen cleavages. The most important thing in a post-riot situation is to apply the healing touch. But most political parties, NGOs and professional intellectual agitators appear principally to be interested in keeping the wounds of Gujarat open and festering.
One of the manifestations or ‘products’ of this ‘Gujarat riots industry’ has been the constant, ill-informed and often hysterical attempt to blame a great deal of subsequent terrorist activity in India on the Gujarat riots. Every time there is a major terrorist attack by Pakistan-backed Islamist extremists anywhere in India, we are told by a particular lobby that this is ‘because of’ the Gujarat riots. This is the most arrant and malicious nonsense. The Gujarat riots were a blot on India’s democracy. They must be condemned without qualification, and efforts to secure justice and to reconstruct thse lives of their victims must continue. But a falsification of history is unforgivable. Worse, it feeds into the terrorists’ mobilisation machinery, justifying the murder of innocents, and inciting Muslims to ‘avenge’ the atrocities of Gujarat.
Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorism in India did not begin after Gujarat 2002. The dynamics of this terrorism are rooted in Pakistan’s strategic ambitions and the Islamist extremist ideology that has been harnessed to mobilise cadres and recruits for this terrorist enterprise. It is significant that despite the prominence the Gujarat riots receive in the propaganda of terrorist recruiters and their fellow travellers, including armies of ‘useful idiots’ among India’s chattering classes who give currency to their fictions, not a single survivor or family member of a victim has yet been found to be involved in any act of terrorism in India.
Eventually, impartial policing will be needed to create a bulwark against communal riots. To the extent that the structure, authority and legitimacy of the police are being continuously undermined, the nation’s vulnerabilities to communal violence persist. Our attention should focus on creating the apparatus of law and order management that is our best insurance against communal violence. The tragedy and stain of Gujarat cannot be wiped out; but the power to ensure that such a thing never happens again is within our grasp. Even five years after the nightmare in Gujarat, it is not too late to begin to exercise that power.
The writer is a former DGP, Punjab. He served as advisor to the Gujarat chief minister in 2002