March 2, 2002
The Times of India
Method behind Centre's laxity?
MANOJ JOSHI & SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
NEW DELHI: Was there a method in the casual manner in which the Centre responded to the communal tragedy in Gujarat? The Vajpayee government received news of the Godhra carnage early on February 27. Available Central paramilitaries in Gujarat were put on alert. The PM also cancelled his Australia visit.
If all this was an indication of how seriously the Centre was viewing the unfolding situation, what followed was inexplicable.
Early on the 28th, reports poured in of mobs targeting Muslims throughout Gujarat as the police stood by. Neither Vajpayee, nor Union Home Minister L K Advani - whose political base is Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar - saw fit to instruct their party colleague, Narendra Modi, to crack down.
Later that day, Vajpayee met RSS leaders to discuss not what VHP activists were doing in Gujarat but the Ayodhya issue; and finally, after some 70 people had been killed, the Cabinet Committee of Security met and decided only to place the Army on alert.
In the two-day stasis that gripped the Union government, defence minister George Fernandes' single-handed sweep through strife-torn Gujarat on Friday stood out. By all accounts, it was his presence that compelled the Gujarat police to initiate action against the mobs beginning Friday.
In some places, Fernandes waded amid hostile crowds and appealed to them to keep the peace. It's not clear why the defence minister felt compelled to do the home minister's job in the latter's constituency.
The events in Gujarat are a macabre replay of the November 1984 massacre of the Sikhs. Then, as now, terrible "revenge" is being visited on innocents for the heinous act of some members of their community.
Then, as now, the delay in the response appears deliberate: To allow hoodlums to ''punish'' the community. Rajiv's infamous remark about the earth shaking when a big tree falls, has been echoed by Modi: "The people of Gujarat have observed restraint in the wake of grave provocation".
In 1984, the civilian authorities refused to call in the Army till thousands of Sikhs were killed. In Gujarat, the Union government claims ''there were no Army columns in or around Ahmedabad'' for immediate deployment.
Considering that the state bordering Pakistan has a especially heavy deployment of the Army, this excuse does not quite wash