What message do Muslims get when neither the civil society nor the Election Commission does anything to stop Amit Shah, a former Gujarat minister, from contesting the state assembly seat this month? He is accused of being an instigator of fake encounters against Shourabbudin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapat during the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.
That the BJP has fielded Shah as a candidate only confirms the allegation that Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers were part of the plan to effect ethnic cleansing. Maybe the party is not shy of playing the Hindu card and it is testing the waters in Gujarat. The BJP’s image has already been damaged by the open rebellion of top leaders like Ram Jethmalani, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha against party president Nitin Gadkari’s allegedly dubious business companies.
Shah’s nomination could have favoured the Congress, but the party is apt in scoring a self-goal. It has adopted Shweta Bhatt as its candidate in the Gujarat polls. She is the wife of Sanjiv Bhatt, the police officer who spilled the beans on the riots by admitting in public that he and other officers were instructed by the chief minister not to take action against those who were murdering Muslims and looting and burning their houses and shops. The stock defence of the BJP, more so of Modi supporters, has been that Bhatt is the Congress stooge and his statements against Modi are at the party’s instance. At least some leaders in the Congress should have realised that the candidature of Bhatt’s wife would give Modi an ammunition which he would use.
Shweta probably tells the truth when she says that she was waiting for the election so that she could have a platform to expose the dictatorial rule that prevails in Gujarat. Many would corroborate her charge because they have gone through harassment and have even been roughed up because of their criticism of Modi. I feel that she would have been on a stronger wicket if she had not accepted the Congress ticket. She would have also carried greater credibility as an independent candidate.
On top of it her husband, Sanjiv, a serving police officer — although suspended — accompanies her to the returning officer to file her nomination. An independent officer with an outstanding service record, seen on television screens, sitting next to her wife when she files her nomination papers, is bound to cost him his unsoiled reputation.
The reason why the Congress offered Shweta the party ticket is not difficult to understand. The party wants to bring the anti-Muslim riots in the state to the fore. For some reasons, the Congress itself had pushed the carnage to the background. The party should never have allowed to let the killings out of focus.
Whether the party ultimately gets more voters or not is difficult to predict, but it would be doing some justice to thousands of Muslims who live in Gujarat in fear and have little scope for their development. A re-run of the killings and other excesses committed with the blessings of the Modi government may arouse the conscience of the Gujaratis who gave Mahatma Gandhi to the nation. Their support to the people whose hands are tainted with blood is pathetic.
Modi and a large retinue of the BJP leaders would try to polarise the state — their only agenda — but it is for the Gujaratis to reject them. The nation remains secular, but how odd it is that their ideological stance has been quite the opposite. They should know that the constitution enjoins upon us not to differentiate between the Indians on the basis of religion or caste. Were the Gujaratis to return to the mainstream, they would give confidence not only to Muslims but the entire nation which has put the question mark against them.
Not only in Gujarat, but all over the country, the Muslim community feels insecure and helpless. It has been seen that young Muslims have been picked up by the police on mere suspicion. Some have been set free and some still await justice. The law courts are responsible for their detention and the years they have spent in jail. Worse is that none has been held accountable. Mohammad Amir Khan, who, after being in jail for 14 years, was not found guilty by the Delhi High Court. He should at least be given some financial assistance as a rehabilitation gesture.
Even otherwise, Muslims have never been so demoralised as they are today after partition. There is despondency and lack of hope. The Sachar Committee report on improving their lot remains mostly unimplemented. Still what evokes hope and confidence is that there is overall communal harmony. It means that pluralism is asserting itself. The fact that there was no repercussion in the rest of India, after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, shows that both Hindus and Muslims have learnt to live in harmony.
I am optimistic that the day is not far when Muslims will be able to rent a house in posh localities in big cities. No doubt, some Muslims have been desperate and adopted terrorism for their expression, but the answer to this problem is not counter-terrorism as some fanatic Hindu organisations are doing. Both communities should understand that killing begets killing.
Despite all this, the opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, wants to anoint Modi as the next prime minister of India. Her loyalty to the BJP is understandable, but how can she inflict on the nation a person who was party to the killing of more than 2,000 Muslims? If the Supreme Court had not transferred the cases of “encounter” and other crimes to courts outside Gujarat, Modi and his team would have got away with their cover-up job.
The call by British envoy Sir James Bewan on Modi at Ahmedabad amounted to mocking at the critics of the chief minister. Bewan’s explanation was that the UK wants to have more trade with Gujarat. He is the envoy at New Delhi, not Ahmedabad. As the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit said in his letter to the British envoy: “Morality can never be compromised by any other consideration. This was something which Mahatma Gandhi resolutely fought for and ultimately sacrificed his life for.” Renewed opposition in America to Modi’s visa is understandable because it does not want to give the impression that Washington will follow London’s example. This message should go to all countries in the world.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.