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'Gujarat no reflection on Hindutva, it's a riot, plain and simple'

'Gujarat no reflection on Hindutva, it's a riot, plain and simple'

Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 12, 2002
URL: http://www.indian-express.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=2514

Introduction: For Defence Minister George Fernandes, this week was tough. Few spared him for his what's-new-about-rape remark in the Lok Sabha. Then came his first questioning by the Venkataswami Commission probing the Tehelka charges. Yet, Fernandes smiled and settled down in his South Block office when The Sunday Express said it was time for another cross-examination.

At one time-all Fernandes's profiles begin with at one time-he was the rebel's pin-up boy. Today, the poster's curled at the edges. The man who led the historic 1974 railway men's strike, a watershed in terms of bringing down Indira Gandhi by 1977, is today lurching from one scandal-stop to another. The latest, his apparent cosying up to the Sangh. Although he was the first leader to visit Gujarat after the riots, and Orissa after the murder of Graham Staines, in both the cases he defended rather than admonished the Parivar. His continued protection of the Narendra Modi administration in Gujarat forced the resignation of his party's spokesperson Shambhu Srivastava. Does he want to the be the Prime Minister backed by the Sangh? I don't even know where I will be tomorrow, Fernandes smiles. Excerpts from an interview with Ajit Kumar Jha.

Q.: Let's begin with your speech in the Lok Sabha -your remark that women being raped, pregnant women having their stomachs cut, isn't something new. Even Home Minister Advani snubbed you. Why did you say that?
A.: The Home Minister referred to my talking in the larger context. I said if governments can prevent a riot, what about the 15,000 plus riots in the country in the past. Take for instance, 1984, where kids were burnt alive, women raped and people slaughtered. I was reacting to the censure motion by the Congress and the Marxists who argued as if this is the first riot in the country.

Q.: Will you give this explanation to a woman at the Shah Alam relief camp who has been raped during the riots?
A.: No, I will never do that. Why should I?

Q.: The Opposition says this riot is different from others. The state is an accomplice here, there is hard evidence for that. Chief Minister Narendra Modi didn't even go to the relief camps until the Prime Minister went there. What did you tell Modi?
A.: I spoke to Modi several times, told him to go and visit the camps and meet the people. During my Gujarat visit, when some people shouted Modi murdabad, I reminded them: ''Beete kal ki baton ko choro, aage ki socho.'' (Forget the past, think of the future). It's hard to believe that even those who suffered in the riots listened and soon began chanting Narendra Modi zindabad. This happened in three places.

Q.: Why are you bent on protecting Modi?
A.: Does change of one person change a situation dramatically? Is a mere regime that important in terms of its social consequences?

Q.: I'm surprised you are asking this. You were the one who in 1977 argued Indira hatao, desh bachao. Have you ever thought of advising the Prime Minister on a change of regime in Gujarat?
A.: Well, the PM himself made a statement that he was considering a change of regime in Gujarat. Only when it dawned on him that it might have a worse effect in terms of violence that he changed his mind once again.

Q.: Have you advised the PM to drop Modi? Or are you defending Modi just as you defended the Sangh Parivar when Graham Staines was murdered in Orissa?
A.: Now that you mention the murder of Graham Staines, remember, I was the first one to go to the spot. I met the DM and the SP, then went to the local church, met the Christian population of the area. Believe me, every question that I put to them collectively or individually, none of them blamed any outfit of the Sangh Parivar for the murder. The Wadhwa commission was appointed, which vindicated my statement. The truth is that I did not try to protect anybody. Whosoever committed the act, it was one of total madness, indeed a very heinous act. I hope they will finally identify the culprit and punish him.

Q.: In which capacity did you go to Gujarat: as the country's Defence Minister, as the the NDA convenor or as a Samata leader?
A.: As the Defence Minister I was not required to go but wherever the Army goes I go as well. Whether it is Siachen or Kargil, the North-East, Rajasthan or Punjab border, wherever the Army is deployed I go. After speaking to the Army in two batches I went to the police headquarters and the control room. I faced some difficult situations, my car was stoned, and I was caught in between two warring groups. I had gone earlier to Gujarat in 1969 in a similar situation. But this was more difficult.

Q.: In 1975, Jayaprakash Narayan, your political guru, started the Nav Nirman movement against a corrupt regime in Gujarat. If JP were alive today wouldn't he ask for Modi's dismissal?
A.: I quoted JP during my peace march in Gujarat, both to the youth and the old who had participated in the JP movement. I reminded them of JP having said: Mein andhere me tha, Gujarat ke naujawanon ne mujhe roshni dekhayee. But remember, JP wouldn't have been in the government.

Q.: So are you saying that if you were not in the government you could have asked for the dismissal of Modi?
A.: A government has to act, it cannot simply run by making recommendations. All governments have their limitations.

Q.: Do you prefer to be in the government and live by these limitations rather than be a mass leader as in the past and make a difference?
A.: I am in the government. I am bound by the code of conduct of the NDA government.

Q.: Why did you force spokesman Shambhu Srivastava to resign when he asked for Modi's dismissal?
A.: Shambhu Srivasatava was not forced to resign. He made a statement- Narendra Modi should resign-which had not been discussed inside the party. The party, therefore, took the decision that he had to go. You see, any kind of policy statement can only be made as a collective decision.

Q.: The issue is whether the Modi government has not directly or indirectly sponsored the attack on minorities?
A.: The resignation of the Modi government cannot resolve the situation. The Gujarat government has to and must act, not run away from the situation. The local police and intelligence networks have to come into play.

Q.: In 1999, you recommended the dismissal of the Rabri Devi government in Bihar when it failed to protect the massacre of Dalits by the Ranvir Sena. What's happened now?
A.: Bihar is no way comparable to riot-torn Gujarat. While in Gujarat communities fight each other in Bihar, corruption has destroyed the state. The human development report says that Bihar has gone back ten years. It is rapidly disintegrating.

Q.: Isn't the state disintegrating in Gujarat, at least for Muslims?
A.: In Gujarat, the Hindus and the Muslims must reconcile the situation and live together. If they do not, then the hatred will go beyond the borders of Gujarat.

Q.: Did you buy the caskets meant for the Kargil martyrs at double the price? Who were the beneficiaries of this deal? Or will you explain it as a case of simply bad decisions?
A.: No, we did not buy the caskets at double the price. It is a false allegation. There were neither any beneficiaries, nor was it a case of bad decisions. In fact, I did not know about the existence of such caskets. The caskets were ordered much after the Kargil war and the only reason was because it was only during the Kargil war that the bodies of the slain soldiers were taken for the first time to their near and dear ones. None of the caskets was used.

Q.: Why did you attack, discredit the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) -not only an institution but a watchdog of your government?
A.: I did not attack the CAG, I have merely challenged his conclusions. The CAG's conclusions were wholly wrong. Although the CAG did not say that money was made in the deal, but did say that the caskets cost $172 per casket. This is not true. If the CAG would have investigated properly he would have found out that I had nothing to do with the deal.

Q.: All NDA allies except Samata have distanced themselves from the BJP on the Modi issue. Samata has become the sole protector of the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva agenda. Are you aiming to be the PM with the help of the Sangh?
A.: What is happening in Gujarat is no reflection of Hindutva. If Godhra had not taken place, Gujarat would not have erupted. When we analyse action- reactions one has to be careful. It was a riot, plain and simple. It has acquired a Hindu-Muslim dimension. Finally I am not trying to protect anyone. I have no ulterior aim of becoming PM. I don't even know where I will be tomorrow.

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