The fate of commissions of inquiry into riots in India runs to a predictable pattern. They either become political weapons in the hands of different parties, are pushed into the background to be used now and then or are quickly moved to a dusty shelf. And so the course taken by the Justice Vishnu Sahai Commission of inquiry into the Muzaffarnagar riots in UP in 2013 comes as no surprise.
For a start, it has become an easy political bait as the Commission absolves the local political administration of any blame. The Akhilesh Yadav government, it says, was not responsible for the fateful riots in which at least 62 people were killed and 60,000 rendered homeless.
The claims and counter claims about responsibility began almost as soon as the riots subsided. Now, after much meandering, the Commission has said that it was a local intelligence failure and police and administrative lapses that led the riots to spiral out of control. And top Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan has added his bit by saying that it was also the responsibility of the local media, which exaggerated the reporting of the riots. His logic is inexplicable when he says that in America pictures of dead bodies and bloodshed cannot be shown.
There can be no doubt that the Akhilesh Yadav government must bear responsibility for the manner in which a skirmish was allowed to escalate into such horrifying riots, and also why it was so tardy in its efforts to provide succour to the victims. The Centre cannot also wash its hands of the issue. In fact, while the homeless were herded into makeshift tents in the dead of winter, the state government held filmy soirees and people like Azam Khan undertook ‘study tours’ abroad. The BJP has leapt into the fray, accusing the SP of tarnishing its image, the Congress has accused the SP of playing politics and trying to save its skin and so the blame game goes on.
The effect of such political buck passing and the fact that it is only local officials and mysterious intelligence failures which have been responsible for so much havoc mean that many of the perpetrators will never be brought to book. This really undermines public faith in such commissions of inquiry.
They do not seem to be time-bound and are ultimately a waste of the taxpayer’s money. The fate of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the Bhiwandi riots and countless more are still embroiled in controversy. The latest one will only add to public disillusionment with the method of enquiries into instances of mass violence.