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Indian State on Trial


This story has been told before, but can never be  told enough.

On the 6th of December, 1992, a majority right-wing Hindutva putsch overcame the majesty of the Indian State.

With the full and open collaboration of the then BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, and the measly connivance of the Congress government at the centre, the fascists succeeded in overwhelming and demolishing out of existence a five-hundred year old mosque in Ayodhya.

That putsch was effected despite written commitment on affidavit made by Kalyan Singh, the U.P. chief minister, to the Supreme Court of India that the State would not allow any damage to the mosque.

As the mosque was reduced to rubble, the most front-ranking leaders of the BJP were caught in full view of cameras—of the BBC especially—hugging one another in ugly glee.  There was no end to the sweets that were distributed to mark the “victory” both over Indian muslims and over the State.

II

In the city of Mumbai, the “victors” celebrated the humiliation of the muslims by taking out cycle rallies.

In the inter-community rioting that this led to, 900 citizens lost their lives, 575 of them Muslims.

A Commission of Enquiry was set up  under the then junior judge, Justice Srikrishna (since few others offered their services).  It was thought a point in his favour that he was after all a “devout and practicing Hindu.”  Sadly for the killers and their instigators, Justice Krishna turned out to be outstandingly courageous and objective in his findings.

As word leaked about the determination of the Commission to be fair and above board, the Commission was  disbanded.  It must be said to the credit of the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that the Commission was reactivated in May, 1996.  Caveat: the terms of reference of the Commission were now expanded to include enquiry into the serial blasts that followed the communal killings!

III

Justice Srikrishna, however, was able to make all-important sequential connections between the demolition of the Babri mosque, the subsequent communal rioting, and the serial blasts that followed:

 ”The serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events
 at Ayodhya and Bombay in December,1992 and January, 1993. . . .
 The common link between the riots and the blasts was that of
 cause and effect.”

Further, the riots during Advani’s “rath yatra” (that had culminated in the demolition of the mosque  “were the distant thunderclaps portending the storm to come.”

Some other crucial pronouncements of the Commission  are as follows:

–speeches made  at the Ram Paduka Pujans (worship of Lord Ram’s feet/sandals), Chowk Sabhas (street square conclaves) were “downright communal,”  “warning muslims” that dissent on the Ram Temple issue would be considered “treachery” for which “muslims would be banished from the country”; (it is to be recalled that the issue remains subjudice till date).

–”Hindutvavadis politicized the issue pending in the court of law”;

–”celebrating and gloating over the demolition was like twisting a knife in the wound”;

–”police mishandled the situation. . . by their aggressive behaviour”;

–”police firing resulted in the death of a large number of muslims as compared to Hindus”;

–that on 1 Jan.,1993 the party organ of the Shiv Sena, Saamna, printed an article “openly inciting Hindus to violence”;

–that on 3 Jan., Shiv Sainiks surveyed muslim houses in Pratiksha Nagar and Antop Hill; (Gajanan Kiritkar and Ramesh More are named here);

–that on 9 Jan., “the Shiv Sainiks mobilized themselves for retaliating against the Muslims.  The Shakhas (congregational units). . . turned into centres of local command.
The attacks on the Muslims were mounted with military precision, with the list of establishments and voters’ lists in hand”;

Under “Immediate Causes.” Justice Srikrishna lists “demolition”, “aggravation of Muslim sentiments by celebration rallies”,  “insensitive, harsh approach of the police”;

And then:

 ”From 8 January, 1993, at least, there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders of the Shiv Sena from the level of Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh, Bal Thackeray, who like a veteran General commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by
 organizing attacks against Muslims.”

The Commission names other top leaders of the Shiv Sena, including Madhukar Sarpotdkar, in whose house the army found unlicensed guns  (something rather similar to what was found in Sanjay Dutt’s house in the serial blasts case).

IV

Quite the other day, court proceedings with respects to all those adjudged guilty in the serial blasts case  have concluded;  some ten unfortunate people have received the death penalty, and about double that life imprisonment.  The pursuit of the serial blasts case has evidenced exemplary political, investigative and judicial will. 

Which invites the question as to why to this day the report of the Srikrishna Commission remains not just unimplemented but unadopted.  And regardless of which political formations have been in the seat of power, centrally, or locally in Maharashtra.

It is to be said that some English Dailies are beginning to ask this discomfiting question, although noted columnists still seem to fight shy of mentioning the Pramukh of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray even when the Srikrishna Commission does so explicitly as a “veteran General who commanded his loyal troops” during the Bombay riots (see  “Shhh. . .Muslim!” lead article by Sagarika Ghose in the Hindustan Times, Aug.,3,2007, for instance.)

For the Congress especially matters must be seen to be complicated by the Shiv Sena’s  support to Pratibha Patil in the just concluded Presidential elections.  It must seem forgivable to argue that Bal Thackeray’s support to the UPA Presidential candidate may have had less, after all, to do with Maharashran pride, more with the Srikrishna Commission findings.  Some weight is leant to this view when one remembers that such Shiv Sena support had not been forthcoming to Sushil Kumar Shinde, another Maharashtrian and a Dalit to boot, who was the Congress candidate for Vice-President at the last elections.  Was it not an important consideration that at that time not the Congress-led UPA but the BJP-led NDA was ruling at the centre?

V

The Congress, we feel, must ask the following questions of itself:

1. Would its continued appeasement of the Shiv Sena be consistent with its oft-repeated claim that as the genuine party of governance it alone may be trusted to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law?

2. Would such appeasement sit well with the various attempts it seeks to make to remedy and improve the lot of the minorities, Muslims particularly, pursuant to the findings and recommendations of the Sachar Committee?
          
 Nor should it be forgotten that the Bombay riots into which the Srikrishna  Commission enquired are not the only instance where the victims have
 received short shrift. The abortive fate of the Srikrishna Commission has
 been preceded by similarly aborted Commission findings in, to name a
 few, five other noted instances.  These are:

a) the Justice Jaganmohan Reddy Commission (Ahmedabad riots, 1969);

b) the D.P.Madan Commission (Bhiwandi riots, 1970);

c) Vithayathil Commission (Tellicherry riots, 1971);

d) Justice Jjitendra Narain Commission (Jamshedpur riots, 1979);

e) Justice P. Venugopal Commission (Kanyakumari riots, 1982);

In all these cases, the Commissions indicted the RSS; and in all these cases justice continues to elude the victims.

3. Would the Congress-led UPA be able to escape  the accusation that, having received Shiv Sena support for Pratibha Patil’s candidature, it has no stomach to proceed with the Srikrishna findings?

4. Would the UPA’s touted determination to bring legislation to eradicate communal strife and killing have the least credibility if it continues to fail to show the sort of political will with respect to the Bombay riots as  has been in evidence in the matter of the subsequent serial blast cases?

VI

The UPA government needs to realize that selective justice may bring relief to a section of the population, but, if such justice is denied to other sections, such a course can only the more justly and forcefully dub it communal than any overt act of commission.

It is now generally recognized that Indian Muslims are poised on a threshold moment; with each day their willingness to participate in constructive measures to accord them due rights and opportunities as equal citizens becomes more evident.  At such a moment in the history of India’s composite polity, any tainted evasion of justice due to the victims of the Bombay riots—some of whom will indeed be Hindu as well—when such justice has been all-too loudly ensured to the victims of the serial blasts is fraught with potential disaster for the entire polity and for the locus standi of the State.

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