On Tuesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admitted that he had been wrong to condone the violent ‘recapture’ of Nandigram by CPI(M) cadres on November 7-11. On the same day in south Gujarat, another Chief Minister was making his own ‘paid back in the same coin’ statement. The similarities of shocking chief ministerial overreach notwithstanding, the difference, in terms of popular reaction, could not be starker. While Mr Bhattacharjee has been forced to apologise for approving a shameful ‘extra-judicial measure’, Narendra Modi was cheered on by a crowd that found comfort in a Chief Minister stating that a fake encounter killing conducted in November 2005 had been completely valid. Effectively, Mr Modi was not only claiming ‘credit’ for the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who had been accused of harbouring arms before being allegedly bumped off by members of the Special Investigation Team, but he has also provided statutory licence for extra-judicial killings in the future.
With Gujarat’s two-stage assembly elections less than a week away, it’s clear that Mr Modi is pulling out all stops to mobilise the state’s BJP electorate. Five years have passed since he returned to power on a communal-cum-development plank. The incessant tom-tomming of his credentials as a ‘Development CM’ (while keeping a relatively tight lid on Hindutva rhetoric) in the last few years may be wearing a little thin, especially with some quarters challenging these very credentials. But with anti-Modi stirrings within the state party and with rebel BJP leader Keshubhai Patel doing his bit to prod an electorate to choose an alternative leader, Mr Modi is taking no chances. Thus, the old ‘anti-terrorist’ weapon from the old ‘anti-Muslim’ arsenal.
But unlike pre-poll politicians — who include Gujarat’s Congress leaders as well as Mr Modi himself — we have the ‘luxury’ of seeing Mr Modi’s latest statement for what it is. The CBI reported earlier this year to the Supreme Court that the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh wasn’t the result of a chance ‘encounter’. The issue is still being heard in the court. Elections will come and go, but Mr Modi’s message that it’s more than all right to ‘take care’ of those accused of having ‘terrorist links’ may have struck a chord in a state where having a conscience is viewed by many as an obstacle to progress. That, however, should not deter the Supreme Court from taking serious note of Chief Minister Modi’s statement. For all purposes, he has proudly declared that it’s his duty to destroy one of the prime functions of the very State that he seeks to continue to represent this month: upholding the law of the land.