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Lifting the lid

If we have been amazed by anyone?s ability to sleep soundly at night after the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, it has been Narendra Modi?s.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 03:53 IST

If we have been amazed by anyone’s ability to sleep soundly at night after the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, it has been Narendra Modi’s. Not only did the Gujarat chief minister utterly fail to contain the violence unleashed against the Muslim community after the Godhra massacre, but he has also been unable to wash away the charge that he looked away while blood was being spilt four years ago. Now, with the Supreme Court recommending that 1,594 riot-related cases that had been closed by the police be reopened, Mr Modi comes closest to being held accountable for post-Independence India’s worst communal carnage.

In 2004, after a petition had been filed, the apex court had ordered a review of the 2,000-odd cases that had been wrongly closed. With the reopening of the cases, we already have a damning indictment of the state government. Not only could this mean Mr Modi finding it difficult to brush off accusations of serious complicity in fanning the riots, but it may actually remove any excuse that a community was not targeted by state authorities and those sympathetic or affiliated to the BJP’s brand of Hindutva. Adding weight to this charge is the revelation that the then president of the country, K.R. Narayanan, had written to the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asking the latter to immediately send in the army to Gujarat to stop rioters. With no such move made, one can only conjecture two things: that the prime minister didn’t take the president’s ‘advice’ seriously; or that the chief minister didn’t act on the
prime minister’s instructions. In both cases, the ball lands firmly in Mr Modi’s court.

There are already signs of culpability and cover-up. Forty-one policemen have been found guilty and face action. Arrests are sought for 640 additional accused. But the rot doesn’t stop there. Since being returned to power in December 2002, Mr Modi has gloated over the fact that he remains one of India’s most popular and able chief ministers. If evidence mounts that he had a hand in letting Gujarat’s Muslims be massacred, politics and governance will not provide him the shield that he has held on to for the last four years.

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 03:53 IST