India is inching towards a near inevitability liberal Hindus and Muslims have long dreaded. Right-wing hardliner and Hindutva poster boy Narendra Damodardas Modi is widely believed to be the next prime minister. A change of guard in Delhi will take place on May 16 when a decade-long rule of centre-left Congress ends and a right-wing dispensation assumes power.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party draws ideological strength from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, an umbrella organisation of hardcore nationalists who seek a majoritarian Hindu rule anchored on a rigid, myopic uniformity — not necessarily a representative of religious, cultural, linguistic and geographical diversities gelled together by a glue called the Republic of India.
Modi is the most hated politician in India. He is arguably the most popular as well. He has had a controversial 12-year record as the chief minister of Gujarat, a state his mentors in RSS proudly flaunt as a Hindutva laboratory where Muslims, Christians and tribals have been systematically persecuted in pursuit of a diabolic agenda to ‘purify’ it of non-Hindu population. A career RSS leader, Modi rose through the ranks to become the head of government in 2001.
The launch of his political career coincided with the burning of a train in which 56 Hindu pilgrims died on February 27, 2002 in Godhra. The train incident triggered a chain of events — mostly controlled, directed by his party and government — leading to widespread communal violence in which up to 2,000 people died, mostly Muslims.
Soon after the violence ended, Modi launched a Gaurav Yatra to restore the ‘pride’ of Hindus, who, ironically, were the perpetrators in those anti-Muslim riots. A rabid orator, Modi went around the state creating an atmosphere of hatred and distrust between Hindus and Muslims in areas left untouched by riots.
Later that year, elections held in a surcharged atmosphere resulted in his predictable victory. With Modi at the helm, Gujarat’s Muslims were beginning to face a powerful enemy: state-sponsored and state-designed systematic persecution that continues till date.
Since his election in 2002, dead bodies of Muslims appeared at alarming intervals. Between 2002 and 2008, a number of innocent Muslims were killed by Gujarat police under the guise of fighting terrorism. Most of these killings have turned out to be fake or staged encounters, carried out by eager cops either to impress this Hindutva Samrat (Hindu emperor) or to win bravery medals.
Each encounter had a pre-written script: Muslim terrorists out to assassinate Modi were challenged and killed in controversial circumstances. Even the first information reports — a document police must file after each encounter — were identical in plot, language and content. Almost three dozen cops, including six high ranking officers are in jail for cold-blooded murder of innocent Muslims.
Today, the issue is not whether Modi will become the prime minister. The bigger question is should he become the prime minister of 1.25 billion people of this secular nation? Should Modi be crowned the ‘King of Hindustan’. Here are five reasons why he should not:
Mass murder and justice denied
On April 11, Gujarat High Court will hear a petition of Zakia Jafri seeking charges of criminal conspiracy to murder her lawmaker husband Ehsan Jafri and 68 other Muslim men, women and children in a horrific incidence of violence now known as Gulbarg Society massacre. She wants Modi and 59 others to be tried for murdering her husband and others who had taken shelter in her Ahmedabad home when anti-Muslim violence broke out on February 28, 2002.
This incident and Jafri’s subsequent struggle to seek justice through India’s archaic judicial system forms a narrative of hopelessness Muslims face under Modi’s watch and guard. Ten years after Jafri was hacked and burnt alive at his residence, a Special Investigation Team or SIT appointed by Supreme Court ruled that it had no prosecutable evidence against Modi. The Supreme Court, without commenting on the report, sent it to a trial court. In December 2013, around a month after Modi was anointed BJP’s PM candidate, a magistrate in Gujarat accepted the SIT closure report, an order challenged by Zakia in the high court.
Since the SIT closure report in 2012, Modi and his supporters have cited this so-called ‘clean chit’ to argue that Modi’s detractors have carried out a campaign to tarnish his image. However, their suggestion that the Supreme Court gave Modi a ‘clean chit’ is far from the truth. The fact remains that the Supreme Court only supervised the SIT investigation and after following the judicial protocol, referred the report to a trial court. What is also conveniently overlooked by Modi supporters is that the Supreme Court had appointed an amicus curie or friend of the court to study the SIT closure report. The amicus curie, Raju Ramachandran, an eminent human rights lawyer, challenged the SIT report and recommended prosecution of Modi under various sections of Indian Penal Code. On April 11, the high court will consider both the SIT and Ramachandran’s report while hearing Zakia’s petition.
Clean-chit cover up
It is important to understand how the SIT, comprising of high-ranking serving and retired cops, concluded its investigation in Modi’s favour. A damning exposure of this SIT cover up was made in a recent-published book written by celebrated investigative journalist Manoj Mitta, an assistant editor with Times of India. Mitta’s book has accused the SIT head RK Raghavan of shielding Modi and disregarding a battery of circumstantial evidence against him.
Raghavan was in charge of Rajiv Gandhi’s security when he was assassinated in 1991. More on him later. The book makes a compelling case that Modi was aware of the build-up of a mob outside Jafri’s residence in the middle-class Muslim neighbourhood of Gulbarg Society. A large number of Muslims had taken shelter in Jafri’s home when the riots broke out. Jafri contacted several top officials and even rang the chief minister Modi’s residence pleading for help. The build-up happened over a period of several hours on February 28, 2002 and emboldened by the absence of any police action, the mob began attacking Jafri’s house late afternoon.
By 4pm, 69 people were killed. First to die was Jafri who was hacked to pieces before he was burned. In his testimony to the SIT, Modi claimed he was informed about the killings in a routine law and order meeting at 8:30pm that day. What is baffling is that the SIT failed to challenge Modi on this claim that he was informed five hours after the killings had taken place. The SIT also failed to ask Modi if he took any action against officials who withheld information about Gulbarg Society. During Modi’s questioning on March 27, 2010, the SIT asked him 71 questions. But a transcript of this grilling shows that the SIT did not ask even one question to challenge his replies, most of which appeared to be lies.
Also baffling is SIT’s inability to challenge Modi’s account on what happened a day before in Godhra where 58 Hindus died when a train was burned by a Muslim mob. A court convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others. The court, while accepting Gujarat prosecutors’ conspiracy theory, ironically acquitted the ‘chief conspirator’, a Muslim priest. A controversy remains on whether the burning of Sabarmati Express was a pre-planned Muslim conspiracy or a spontaneous act of mob violence, an incident cited by Modi to justify subsequent massacre of Muslims. On the day of this incident, a low ranking officer approved handing over of 58 bodies to Vishwa Hindu Parishad or VHP, a rabid outfit affiliated to Modi’s party and RSS. The transfer of bodies was cleared by the Modi administration and evidence of this lies in phone records proving close co-ordination between officials and VHP leaders on that day. The VHP then paraded these bodies through Ahmedabad, an act that inflamed passions and triggered attacks on Muslims. Mitta says the SIT chose not to pursue these phone records.
So why did Raghavan save Modi? Raghavan was Rajiv Gandhi’s head of security when he was blown up by a Tamil suicide bomber on May 21, 1991. Raghavan, who was only ten feet away from Rajiv moments before his death, admitted that a security breach resulted in the assassination and that the bomber managed to penetrate the ‘sterile zone’. This admission pushed him to relative obscurity and years later his career was resurrected by BJP government that came to power in 1999. He subsequently became the chief of India’s top investigative agency CBI and eventually the head of SIT. The SIT closure report and Zakia’s struggle is a telling commentary on how Modi has managed to subvert India’s criminal justice system. The SIT report is yet to pass judicial scrutiny of higher courts, Zakia’s only hope now.
Ishrat and stalking saga
On June 15, 2004 a 19-year-old Muslim student Ishrat Jahan was killed in an encounter by Gujarat’s notorious anti-terrorist squad or ATS. Ishrat, the ATS claimed, was part of a terrorist gang heading to Ahmedabad to assassinate Modi. Subsequent investigations have proved that she was not a terrorist and that she was killed in cold blood before automatic weapons were planted on her body by the ATS officers. A number of high ranking Gujarat police officers have been charge-sheeted and jailed, pending a trial.
Leaked investigation reports have suggested that Modi’s closest aide and former home minister Amit Shah supervised Ishrat’s murder. Strong circumstantial evidence unearthed by investigators has found that Shah was in touch with the accused police officers minutes after Ishrat was killed. Shah, who is an accused in another fake encounter killing of a Muslim, has since become Modi’s election campaigner manager. Several reports have suggested Shah used ATS to stage these encounters in an attempt to create a perception that Modi was on the hit list of Muslim extremists. It is hard to believe that Modi was not aware of what his home minister was doing.
That Shah brazenly misused Gujarat’s ATS and top cops to further Modi’s political agenda and for his personal motives was clear when a news portal revealed last year he ordered stalking of a young woman architect because his ‘Sahib’ or master was interested in her. The portal released audio recordings of Shah directing his ATS officers to mount an illegal surveillance on the woman who had no criminal record. On a number of recordings, Shah was heard telling his officers that his master Modi was interested in knowing all about her: where she went, whom she dated, which restaurant she ate in and which movie she watched. The ATS cops even followed her on flights, an indication of Modi’s unexplained obsession with the woman.
Mirage of development
After attempting to wash off the stain of Gujarat riots, Modi has launched a campaign to project himself as a messiah of development. Modi has argued that under his rule, economy of Gujarat state grew by leaps and bounds, a claim widely contested by internationally-acclaimed economists. While it is true that Gujarat recorded an impressive economic growth, even his supporters agree that Gujarat ranks low on social, health and education parameters. On the FDI, other states have done better than Gujarat. Moreover, his idea of development is opposed by many who accuse him of granting undue favours to corporates, often at the cost of the poor and the state exchequer. For example, he took land from farmers and gave it to industrial houses for pittance. In recent months, Modi has attacked Congress’ failure to tackle inflation, rising unemployment, shrinking of economy but has said little on what he would do if he becomes the PM.
The idea of India
Early last year, Modi unleashed an unprecedented campaign on social networking websites, newspapers, TV and other media. This American style campaigning has created a large army of Modi bhakts or followers in several states of India. But critics have sought to puncture Modi’s popularity claims by pointing out that his campaign managers sourced Facebook approvals from ‘like farms’ in other countries. They have also pointed out that a significant majority of his 3.6 million Twitter followers are either fake or inactive. They argue that Modi has carried out a massive con job to deceive Indians into believing that he is the answer to all the ills this nation is facing today.
It is well accepted that an overwhelming majority of India’s 150 million Muslims consider Modi as their ‘enemy number one’. Also, he is disliked by the nation’s another minority — Christians who make up for 2.3 per cent of India’s 1.25 billion strong population. Most importantly, he is despised by a significant number of liberal Hindus, who, despite his Hindu nationalist stand, find him against the very ‘idea of India’. For the first time since independence, a man so many Indians hate may become the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, a possibility that looks increasingly certain.
Bobby Naqvi is the Editor of XPRESS, sister publication of Gulf News.