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Not just following orders

india Updated: Apr 06, 2009 23:19 IST

So Maya Kodnani may actually be behind bars sometime soon. A lot of us are surprised but perhaps no more surprised than Kodnani herself. For those who came in late, Kodnani is Gujarat’s Child Welfare Minister accused of participating in the 2002 violence against Muslims. Recently, the Gujarat High Court cancelled her anticipatory bail.

When I met Kodnani in 2003, she was — shall we say — put off. As she put it, “My government is in power…and yet there was an FIR on me. You wouldn’t have seen this anywhere.”

She got, at least, part of it right. We wouldn’t see it in a country where rioters and killers are risk-assured by the government of the day. Kodnani was one of several people I met across locations in Gujarat accused of instigating, leading and participating in the Gujarat riots. Those who led mobs, like she allegedly did, were all senior to mid-level associates of the BJP and its sister organisations. Their narratives left no doubt that they acted in accordance with what they perceived would meet with approval from the party. They certainly expected punitive immunity, and sensed it could put them on the fast track. If they had to fall for bigger fish, they knew they would be rewarded later.

Suresh Bhai (name changed), BJP leader and key accused in the Naroda violence, spent four months behind bars before he was granted bail. He said “big names” could not have been allowed to surface in the FIR. Political expediency demanded that the law be allowed to ostensibly run its course with junior leaders such as the likes of him. “I was an easy target…second rung.” He held no grudges against those “big” leaders or the party. “They have their limitations,” he said, “but people in the party should not forget.”

His lawyer explained, “This was his best opportunity to prove his mettle to the party. If he didn’t do it, someone else would have.”

Terrible? Sure.

But were all of those who led mobs in Gujarat doing it purely because they knew it would go down well with the BJP high command?

As I spent months among these people as an insider, it seemed to me that those who led these mobs would not worry too much about a few lives lost — of whatever caste or creed — if it served them well. I’m not sure they would have recalled their actions with as much glee though. So why was it so easy for these people to kill Muslims?

Some of the reasons are old and oft-repeated. A majority of them came from families that distrusted Muslims. All
of them had had a strong RSS background starting from their early schooling years. Key (remembered) influencers in their lives are RSS swayamsevaks and leaders met with in those years.

But a much less acknowledged fact is that this timely association with the Sangh quietly creates a thick buffer against guilt, ideological cover for murder several years after the fun and games in the shakhas are over.

It creates men like Suresh Bhai who said of the Gujarat genocide, “The killings needed to be brutal, even their women and children had to be burned…So that they remember forever Hindus too can do this, Hindus too can be fanatics. You are not the only ones who can be barbaric.”

Or men like (let’s just call them) Patel or Ambujbhai in Sardarpura (Mehsana). BJP associates again, they were also not just following instructions when they eliminated a sizeable slice of Sardarpura’s Muslim population with notable initiative and zest.

Not content with instigating a mob that burnt down Muslim shops, homes and any Muslims they could get at hand, they inserted a live wire (rod) into the pucca house where 33 Muslim labourers (including women and children) had huddled in to escape being burnt to death. Patels in the village said the 2,000 strong mob “knew” BJP legislator Naresh would come later to throw water on the house — which he did — electrocuting its inmates to a pre-planned ghastly end.

Ambujbhai shrugs off responsibility. “Gandhi ne bura khichdi packaia (Gandhi made a bad mess of things)… after Partition we should have sent the whole lot [Muslims] there [to Pakistan].” Ambujbhai and Patel have been associated with the Sangh since they were 10 years old. Suresh started attending RSS shakhas at 8.

And this is where the Nazi party comparison breaks down. These were not men who were ‘just following orders’. These were — and are — people who’re doing what their inner core is driving them to do. An inner core that was — and is still — being carefully orchestrated in your neighbourhood maidan where you thought kids were out having fun. It’s called social engineering.

No surprise, Mayabehn Kodnani too has strong RSS roots. Her father, from Sindh (now in Pakistan) was associated with the RSS even before Partition. She was brought up in Disa, a small town in Vanaskantha district of Gujarat, where she and her brother were sent regularly to RSS shakhas and training camps. (She went to the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the RSS.)

Interestingly, by their own admission neither Kodnani nor any of the others I spoke with had had any significant acquaintance with Muslims at all, leave aside discourse, or exchange of ideas with the enemy. Across locations, I found no first-hand experience of the virulent pan-Muslim ‘facts’ so passionately espoused: first aggressors; fundamentalists intent on increasing their numbers; anti-national; sexual predators; physically repugnant. It was astounding but true that an entire worldview about a community had been conceptualised, hardened and continuously propagated over time, based entirely on flows of ‘knowledge’ from a single source.

Is Kodnani actually guilty of leading a 10,000 strong mob that butchered over 200 people, most of whom were women and children? Though I have a pretty good idea, frankly I don’t care right now. Nor am I really celebrating her possible incarceration. If she goes in, she’ll be out in no time. Even if she stays in, there are others to replace her. The arms may be cut, but the hydra-headed monster lives.

Chitralekha is a Mumbai-based journalist and academic.