01 March 2002

BJP fiddles while Gujarat burns

1 March 2002
The Times of India

BJP fiddles while Gujarat burns


New Delhi: The wave of murders and arson attacks against Muslims and their businesses in Gujarat is a slap on the face of Prime Minister Vajpayee, whose grossly understated appeal for calm after Wednesday’s dastardly attack on train passengers in Godhra has clearly not been heeded by the Gujarat government.

While the official inquiry will establish the extent to which the attack on the Sabarmati Express was premeditated, there can be no doubt about the planned nature of the violence directed against Gujarat’s Muslims on Thursday. Property worth crores was burned down by well-organised gangs, which went about their business in the knowledge that the police would do nothing.

It was perhaps in anticipation of such a development that Vajpayee cancelled his visit to Australia. Intimately familiar with Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s reputation as a hardliner within the Hindutva parivar, the PM knew he could not be counted upon to act as an efficient — let alone even-handed — administrator at a time like this. Indeed, alarming signs were visible soon after Wednesday’s carnage, when the pronouncements of senior Gujarat ministers suggested restraint was the last thing on their minds.

Tragically, Vajpayee has overestimated his capacity to enforce peace through verbal appeals and physical presence alone. He has failed to realise that he does not have the moral clout of Mahatma Gandhi — and that only the exercise of the political and administrative powers he possesses can ensure that Gujarat does not burn.

When the VHP gave a call for a Gujarat-wide bandh, both Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L K Advani should have realised the incendiary implications.

Two years ago — in August 2000 — when the VHP gave a similar call after the killing of pilgrims in Pahalgam in Kashmir, Sangh Parivar activists torched Muslim property worth crores in Ahmedabad, Surat, Sabarkantha, Palanpur and Rajkot. In Surat alone, Muslim powerloom owners lost property worth Rs 10 crore.

Unlike the August 2000 vhp bandh, the Gujarat government this time did not formally endorse the extremist outfit’s call. But the manner in which the state administration has facilitated — through omission and, possibly, commission — the anti-Muslim violence of the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists makes the Modi administration equally culpable.

The physical targeting of Muslims and their businesses by the Sangh Parivar is likely to have disastrous consequences for the country. With the VHP and kindred groups like the Shiv Sena anxious to milk the situation, violence can spread to other parts of the country. At a time when Muslim Indians are already feeling alienated and victimised, the carnage in Gujarat will drive them to the wall.

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