Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Jamadiul-Akhir / Rajab 1423 H
September 2002
Volume 15-09 No:189

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Investigation


Elections are impossible in Gujarat today
"Police invariably act in a communal fashion during riots"


Elections are impossible in Gujarat today

Over the last several weeks, the Narendra Modi government has been de-listing camps and cutting down on supplies to them. Muslims have been literally forced out of their last refuge, after having lost their homes.
M. Hanif Lakdawala investigates into the pittance doled out as compensation to the Muslims.

There is no end to Gujarat’s misery. It has been hit by both natural and social earthquakes. Following the massacre at Godhra in February and the carnage that followed, it seemed as if a lawless Government led by Narendra Modi was prepared to shake the very foundation of Indian secularism. Modi did not resign. Rubbing salt on the festering wound is the political conspiracy by a biased Governor granting Modi’s demand for dissolution of Assembly. But, for his pliancy, the Governor should have refused to dissolve the House. There is no right to dissolution. If Modi was concerned about democracy, all he had to do was to call the House, not dissolve it. In its Report of 1988, the Sarkaria Commission rightly instances cases of refusal of dissolution by Governors.

The BJP’s theory that more than six months must not lapse between an old dissolved legislature and a new ‘to-be-elected’ legislature under the five-year-term rule in Article 172 is not correct. The very fact that the two legislatures can co-exist shows that the six months rule (Article 174) does not control the ‘term’ rule in Article 172. In fact, the Draft Constitution of 1948 applied the sixth months rule to dissolved legislatures, but abandoned this strategy in the final text of 1950. Both an Allahabad High Court decision of 1987 and a Kerala decision of 1965 confirm that the two legislatures can co-exist and need not be arranged in tandem. Indeed, Gujarat needed its existing Assembly. Elaborating on parliamentary custom, the Halsbury Law of England rightly points out that if (a) there is a viable Parliament able to do its job; (b) a Government (or its alternative) has stability and (c) an election would be detrimental to the nation, a dissolution of the House should be refused.

Narendra Modi’s juggernaut moves on. He now wants to ”go back to the people” to gain their approval for his distinct brand of politics. His supporters in Delhi, as they prepare the legal and political ground for early elections in Gujarat, appear to be the very paragons of democratic practice. The latest UNDP Human Development Report deals with effective governance for human development and makes the important point that real governance requires fair and accountable institutions that protect rights and freedoms.

Would Modi then like to clarify whether all of Gujarat’s ”five crore” people enjoy their rights and freedoms presently? Modi and his supporters claim there is complete normalcy in Gujarat. Arun Jaitley, BJP’s general secretary the other day, reeled out in Parliament a list of statistics to prove how ”normal” Gujarat is: 90 per cent of people have gone back to their homes, only 12,000 people were in camps (interestingly, the Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami had quoted a figure of 13,000 just the day before on television, but as we are aware, in Modi’s Gujarat, people have been known to disappear without a trace). Compensation has been paid in the case of 771 deaths and to 2,012 injured. Cash has been given to 41,694 people, compensation to 32,000 people, and 13,300 people have been asked to expedite insurance claims.

If we were to examine these claims more carefully we would realise how inadequate, how decorative, this ”relief and rehabilitation” really is. Almost as soon as these camps were set up, there was tremendous pressure to shut them down - with state ministers like Bharat Barot openly campaigning to have them removed because, as he put it, ”so many Muslims” made ”my Hindu voters” feel insecure. Over the last several weeks, the state government has been systematically de-listing camps and cutting down on supplies to them. Many have been literally forced out of their last refuge, after having lost their homes, their source of livelihoods, their very place in the web of life, with former neighbours threatening to boycott them socially and economically. Yet, ironically, the fact that there are only 12,000 people in these camps is being cited as evidence of normalcy. As for the compensation paid to those affected, the less said the better.

Check out Jaitley’s figures of those who are said to have received compensation’ and pit it against the official figure of 1.34 lakh who were once driven to living in these camps, and you will realise how many have been cheated out of any settlements. Then look at the pittance doled out as compensation - sometimes Rs 2,000 for assets built over a lifetime - and the perfidy of citing these figures to claim normalcy becomes clear. Elections are impossible in Gujarat today. That state needs a good, long spell of President’s rule under a credible, impartial governor before it is ready for democratic elections. Democracy is not just about elections. It is about free and fair elections in which people can coolly evaluate parties and candidates for their respective agendas and programmes and the contestants too canvass support, not by appealing to religious-communal sentiments or symbols - but on a secular basis and within the constraints defined by the Election Commission and well-established political norms. Dissolution of the Assembly confirms Modi’s ability to reap the harvest of tragedy. Rising above such trivial issues as rehabilitation - this too recommended by that bothersome, but mercifully ineffectual, National Human Rights Commission-Modi’s sole objective is to achieve power at all cost.

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"Police invariably act in
a communal fashion during riots"

Vibhuti Narain Rai, Inspector General (Railways), UP, who will forever be known for his maxim: "Any communal riot can be controlled within 24 hours if the state wants to do so", created waves with his 1986 novel, Shahar Mein Curfew, about a Muslim family in a riot-hit town. He then came out with his study of police conduct in communal riots, sponsored by the National Police Academy (NPA), in which he concluded that the police invariably act in a communal fashion during riots. The NPA refused to publish the study. Recently, Rai created waves among his own fraternity by sending out an appeal that a special general body meeting of the Central IPS Association be held which should ask the government to act against those officers who allowed the violence against Muslims in Gujarat and/or encouraged it. During his recent visit to Mumbai, he spoke to Islamic Voice about the response to his appeal.

"Many of them supported me, but a few opposed it. Their opposition was not on a communal basis. They argued that you could not fix accountability on police officers in the circumstances prevailing in Gujarat, where those who had done their jobs as professionals had been punished. They argued that it was the political leadership that should be held accountable".

"I personally feel we have been cursing the political leadership for too long. It's high time we admit our own failure. Look at the 1984 Delhi anti-Sikh riots or the Mumbai riots of '92-'93. Both were failures of the state and hence failures of the police.

In my study on the role of the police in combating communal conflicts, I tried to find out how many officers had been punished for misdeeds during such conflicts. My conclusion "Almost none".

"I had expected a positive response to my appeal. I feel that the police are a very interesting family. The moment an outsider attacks them, an automatic defence mechanism begins to work and they dismiss it as motivated criticism. But since I am an insider, they could not dismiss my criticism. So they argued, what about the performance of the IAS officers in Gujarat? Should not the district magistrates be held accountable? These arguments don't hold much water. My concern is that my own organisation should function well. After Gujarat, we will have to admit that things are not right within us and demand that action be taken. If not, the officer should be expelled from the IPS Association. But they did not even call an extraordinary general Body Meeting".

"Rai feels that what happened in Gujarat was directly concerned with the legitimacy of an all-India service. I thought the majority of them would react. Barely 25 or 30 did. Inviting punishment on your own colleagues is difficult for any profession. And governments will never act against policemen. Citizens should use all fora - Supreme Court, National Human Rights Commission, Press, and take two or three important cases, like the 1984 Delhi violence, or the '92-'93 Mumbai riots. There should be a group, which takes them to their logical end. Unfortunately, this does not happen".

(As told to M . H. Lakdawala)

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