Still clutching at cliches
Politicians don’t always mean what we think they mean. Take L.K. Advani’s famous remark when the Babri masjid was demolished. It was, he said, the saddest day of his life. Only when you read Mr Advani’s explanations, after that statement was widely quoted, did you realise that he wasn’t sorry about the masjid. He was sad because the BJP had lost its reputation for disciplined behaviour. So it is with the remarks that both the prime minister and his deputy have made about the Gujarat riots. The riots have been called a blot on India and have been condemned. But only if you look closely do you realise that all they are saying is that all riots are bad and shameful. This is true enough but hardly surprising: does anybody think that any riot is good and praiseworthy?
The point to be remembered about Gujarat is not that riots occurred or even that they were provoked by the massacre of kar sevaks in Godhra. The real significance of Gujarat lies in four factors. One: there is evidence to suggest that at least some of the violence was coordinated and organised by people with ties to the Sangh parivar. Two: the police — perhaps through sheer ineptitude but, more likely, through design — did nothing to protect the minorities. Three: the BJP capitalised on the climate of hate created by the riots to fight a deeply divisive election campaign. And four: the state is still unwilling to prosecute those who carried out the attacks on Muslims.
On all four issues, Mr Vajpayee, Mr Advani and the rest of the BJP have had nothing of consequence to say. This is what makes the Supreme Court judgment in the Best Bakery case so significant. The court has agreed that the Gujarat government had no interest in prosecuting the accused and it has called for the trial to be shifted out of Gujarat so that witnesses cannot be intimidated. Further, it has compared the attitude of the Gujarat government to Nero who fiddled while Rome burned. These are serious conclusions and disturbing remarks, coming as they do from the highest court in the land. The government must take note of them and should not hide behind such clichés as a blot on India’s record. The BJP is too obsessed with foreign origin. It needs instead to focus on social justice. We need an India Shining. Not an India Burning.