Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar has compared 2002 Gujarat riots with 1984 anti-Sikh carnage, alleging that both the massacres were carried out “with the support” of state machinery. Even, he stressed that there is a fundamental difference between “emergency” and “fascism”. Since he delivered this speech, he is grabbing headlines. Both the national political parties (read Congress and BJP) are taking advantages with these riots against each others. Suddenly, ahead of crucial five states assembly elections, Kanhaiya Kumar ignited the topic by stressing that there is a difference between 2002 Gujarat and 1984 anti-Sikh massacre. He alleged that Gujarat violence was carried out through state machinery while the other was caused due to mob frenzy. Anyway, whatever he stated is partially true but there are many theories by different minds and the entire issue landed in debate.
Recently, Kanhaiya Kumar met Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders and somewhere he is voicing their opinion and supporting their political agenda too. Dead Congress needs a revival voice as they have miserably lost in some recent elections. Moreover, media should understand whom they want to lift and whom they don’t. It is very unfortunate that people are giving importance to the statement made by a student leader. Political parties are getting recipes from him to come up with the issues.
Kanhaiya’s comments did not go down well even with those who have been his loyal supporters, ever since he was arrested in a sedition case over an event against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru during which anti-national slogans were allegedly raised. Anyway, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots was as much sponsored by state machinery as 2002 Gujarat massacre.
He had also stressed that there was a fundamental difference between “Emergency” and “fascism”. He further clarified, that there isn’t an iota of doubt that Emergency represents one of the darkest periods of Indian democracy. His organisation, the AISF, is strongly opposed and fought against State repression during Emergency. Both 1984 and 2002 were indeed State-led pogroms, for which justice is still awaited. He feels that the current Central government is relentlessly carrying forward its fascist agenda using State power, as was visible in the recent authoritarian actions against students and all voices of dissent across the country. What we now witness is unprecedented — a form of undeclared Emergency.
Kanhaiya is not the first person to compare or comment on both these tragedies. Many scholars and commentators have accused the state government of being complicit in the attacks, either in failing to exert any effort to quell the violence or for actively planning and executing the attacks themselves. The United States Department of State ultimately banned Narendra Modi from traveling to the United States due to his alleged role in the attacks. These allegations were centered on several facts. First, the state did little to stop the violence, with attacks continuing well throughout the month of March. Further, some attackers used voter lists and other documents obtainable only with government assistance in order to target Muslim communities and households. Moreover, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), as well as many politicians, including Modi, made inflammatory remarks and endorsed strikes, which further raised tensions in the state. According to Paul Brass the only conclusion from the evidence which is available points to a methodical Anti-Muslim pogrom which was carried out with exceptional brutality.
The media has described the attacks as state terrorism rather than “communal riots” due to the lack of state intervention. Many politicians downplayed the incidents, claiming that the situation was under control. The then deputy superintendent of police stated that the Rapid Action Force had been deployed to sensitive areas in Godhra. Gordhan Zadafia, the then state home minister believed that there would be no retaliation from the Hindu community. Once troops were airlifted in on March 1, Modi stated that the violence was no longer as intense as it had been and that it would soon be brought under control. The violence continued for 3 months with no intervention from the federal government till May. Local and state-level politicians were seen leading violent mobs, restraining the police and arranging the distribution of weapons, leading investigative reports to conclude that the violence was “engineered” and launched.
Throughout the violence, attacks were made in full view of police stations and police officers who did not intervene. In many instances, police joined the mobs in perpetrating violence. At one Muslim locality investigated by Ward Berenschot, of the 29 deaths, police firing into the locality caused 16 deaths. Some rioters even had printouts of voter registration lists, allowing them to selectively target Muslim properties. Selective targeting of properties was shown by the destruction of the offices of the Muslim Wakf board, which was located within the confines of the high security zone and just 500 meters from the office of the chief minister. According to Scott W. Hibbard, the violence had been planned far in advance, and that similar to other instances of communal violence the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh all took part in the attacks. Following the attack on the train the VHP called for a statewide bandh (strike), and the state took no action to prevent this.
The Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) report includes testimony of the then Gujarat BJP minister Haren Pandya (since murdered), who testified about an evening meeting convened by Narendra Modi, on the evening of the Godhra train burning incident. At this meeting, officials were instructed not to obstruct the Hindu rage following the incident. The report also highlighted a second meeting, held in Lunawada village of Panchmahal district, attended by state ministers Ashok Bhatt, and Prabhatsinh Chauhan, and other BJP and RSS leaders, where “detailed plans were made on the use of kerosene and petrol for arson and other methods of killing. The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind claimed in 2002 that some regional Congress workers collaborated with the perpetrators of the violence. State and police were clearly complicit in the violence, but some officers were outstanding in the performance of their duties, such as Himanshu Bhatt and Rahul Sharma. Sharma was reported to have said “I don’t think any other job would have allowed me to save so many lives.”
This CCT report also said that while Modi remained in power the reconciliation between the Hindu and Muslim communities would not be possible. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom Report in 2003 and 2004 called India a “country of particular concern”, and cited as one reason for this was the violence in 2002. They also wrote that even though India has a tradition of democracy, minorities are subjected to mass killings and intense violence periodically. It also made note that those who carry out these acts of violence are rarely held accountable for their actions.
The Supreme Court of India stepped in, transferring key cases to the Bombay High Court and ordering the police to reopen 2,000 cases that had been previously closed. The apex court also lambasted the Gujarat government as “modern day Neros” who looked elsewhere when innocent women and children were burning and later interfered with prosecution. Following this direction, police identified nearly 1,600 cases for re-investigation, arrested 640 accused and launched investigations against 40 police officers for their failures. As of April 2013, 249 convictions had been secured, 184 Hindus and 65 Muslims. 31 of the Muslim convictions were for the Train incident in Godhra. Gujarat riots were out of provocation and revenge, with the help of machinery, where as even 1984 too was provocation and government was aware of consequences. Tomorrow I will postmortem the anti-Sikh riots.
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