The Gujarat massacre and after

Unfortunately, after ten years of procrastination, the investigation team absolved Modi of all blame and also declared that implicating state officials in riots was wrong

The Supreme Court of India granted bail to 14 criminals involved in the Gujarat massacres of 2002 on January 28, 2020. These were convicted after detailed hearings of several cases of murder that targeted hundreds of Muslims, including children and women. In 2002 there were widespread riots in Gujarat, and in this particular case of Sardar Pura the courts had convicted 56 people.

But first some background information on Gujarat is in order. The state of Gujarat is located on the western coast of India having a coastline of over 1,500 km. Most of this coastal length is lapping the Kathiawar Peninsula which is part of Gujarat and was previously called Saurashtra. The Kathiawar Peninsula — sandwiched between the gulfs of Cambay (Khambhat) and Kutch — is connected to the north with the mainland Gujarat. Gujarat has a population of over 60 million people and area-wise is the fifth largest state in India.

Kathiawar was called Saurashtra State from 1948 to 1956 before it was merged with Bombay. The government of India created the state of Gujarat by separating 17 districts of erstwhile Bombay state in 1960. In Gujarat’s 60-year history as a state, the Indian National Congress (INC) has ruled for nearly 20 years. From 1960 to 1967 the INC ruled Gujarat but in 1967 some senior party leaders revolted against Indira Gandhi and formed a separate faction called Congress Organisation or Congress (O); while the Indira-led Congress became Congress (I). Gujarat’s chief minister Kanhaiyalal Desai also revolted and became a Congress (O) chief minister and held that position till 1971.

In 1972, Congress (I) came to power again for two years. When in 1977 Congress (I) lost general election to a newly formed alliance of the opposition parties called Janata Party across India, it also lost Gujarat. The Janata Party held Gujarat three years till 1980 when Congress (I) took power again and held it for ten years till 1990. In those ten years of the Congress (I) rule over Gujarat, Madhav Singh Solanki was the CM for six years and Amarsinh Chaudhary for four years.

From 1990 to 1994, Janata Dal held power in Gujarat and then for one year Congress (I) came to power once again. Since 1995, for the past 25 years Congress has not been able to win state elections in Gujarat. Since 1998, the BJP is in power there and out of these 22 years Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister for 13 years — from 2001 to 2014, till he became the prime minister of India. Modi assumed power in Gujarat in October 2001. Four months later, mass-scale riots were orchestrated in February-March 2002.

For three days there was mass massacres and then for nearly three months sporadic riots targeting mostly the Muslim population of Gujarat.

On February 27, 2002, near Godhra a fire had killed nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims in Sabarmati Express coming from Ayodhya. Godhra is the headquarters of district Punch Mahal in Gujarat. The literal meaning of Godhra is the land of the cows. As an aside, Godhra is also famous for the first meeting between Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Mahatma Gandhi in 1917. After the train inferno, at least 1,000 Muslims were killed and over 3,000 injured in anti-Muslim riots.

The casualties were over 80 per cent Muslim. According to a citizens’ tribunal report the death toll exceeded 2,000. There were also dozens of cases of rape and arson targeting houses and shops belonging to Muslims. Behind all this carnage, it was alleged, there was Narendra Modi who unleashed the goons to go on a rampage. Police and other officials also became complicit and provided addresses of Muslim properties to the rioters. The alacrity with which they targeted the Muslims made it clear that the mayhem was preplanned.

Unfortunately, after ten years of procrastination, the investigation team absolved Modi of all blame. It also declared that implicating state officials in riots was wrong. Then in 2013, it was revealed that the investigation team itself had ignored vital evidence to weaken the case, so that it should not appear to be a case of state terrorism targeting Muslims in a planned manner. An example of this was the massacre in the region of Neruda Pitaya where a mob of 5,000 Hindu zealots killed over a 100 Muslims within a small area.

This was all planned by Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the World Hindu Council. Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the RSS which is also a part of the Sangh Parivar or the family of Jan Sangh. All these organizations are the standard bearers of Hindu nationalism. Bajrang Dal was established in 1984 in UP from where it spread all over India. Bajrang Dal runs thousands of militant training centres across India and builds enormous temples. Bajrang Dal is one of the primary hatemongers on the basis of religion.

The VHP was formed in 1964 by Golwalkar who led the RSS from 1940 until his death in 1973. In addition there was Shiv Shankar Apte who became the first general secretary of the VHP. KM Munshi, a senior nationalist leader, also joined hands with them. In 2002, it was Bajrang Dal and the VHP who sent armed goons to the Gulbarg area of Ahmedabad where they targeted unarmed Muslims including a renowned and senior Congress leader Ehsan Jafri who was 73 at the time of his murder.

When the riots erupted, hundreds of Muslims had moved towards the home of Jafri to take refuge. They thought a senior political leader would be able to protect them. He opened his doors to women and children but while trying to protect them he himself was assassinated. Jafri was not a Gujarati but had moved from Burhan Pur in Madhya Pradesh to Ahmedabad in Gujarat. His family had also suffered 33 years earlier in the riots of 1969. Jafri had the distinction of being elected a Congress MP in the general elections of 1977 in which Congress was routed all over India.

Now the Supreme Court of India has released the culprits who had been convicted earlier and were established as criminals. In all, 31 accused were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a lower court. The High Court which heard an appeal had upheld the life sentence of 14 offenders. Though the final verdict on appeals is still pending the bail has been granted in a break with precedence. It is noteworthy that in the prisons of India nearly two-thirds of the prisoners facing trail are from backward tribes or are Muslims. One-thirds of the prisoners are illiterate.

The role of the Indian judiciary has become highly questionable in this case. The released prisoners were not under trial detainees but convicted criminals held for murders. Earlier in 2019, the Supreme Court had granted bail to Babu Bajrangi who had played a pivotal role in those riots. He had been convicted of murdering over a 100 Muslims—including children and women—and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He had proudly confessed and narrated in gruesome detail his crimes in front of a hidden camera in a sting operation.

Given this character of judiciary in India the future of secularism appears bleak. The country that received a secular constitution from the Indian National Congress and persuaded a large number of Muslims to stay in India after the inception of Pakistan, has become a country where Hindu nationalism is dominating. But this turn of events cannot be blamed on the BJP alone. All bigoted and myopic religious and sectarian forces across the Subcontinent are responsible for this situation.


The writer is an analyst and columnist, based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Gujarat massacre in India