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'I've done nothing that can be held against me'

'I've done nothing that can be held against me'

Publication: BJP Today
Date: April 1-15, 2002

The communal divide in Narendra Modi's Gujarat is at once a realisation of Jinnah's two-nation theory and the RSS dream of a Hindu Rashtra. Muslim colonies are derisively nicknamed after prominent Pakistani cities. Any road dividing the residential quarters of the two communities is invariably called Indo-Pak border. In the eye of a storm for his failure to contain the post-Godhra conflagration, Modi defends himself. Excerpts from an interview:

Q. The February 27 massacre at Godhra was despicable. But even the PM has termed retaliatory carnage in other parts of the State as a blot on India's face. Home Minister L K Advani also felt the pogrom sullied the NDA's record of governance. Your comments?
A. Godhra was deeply painful. Yet, it does not mean that in reaction, anybody can take the law in his hands. Regardless of the intensity of emotions, there are ways to ventilate them in a democratic manner. There has to be the rule of law. There is no place in a civil society for what happened (in the aftermath of the Sabarmati Express killings).

Q. There is a wide gap between your claims (of prompt action) and eye-witness accounts of the Government being a mute spectator for a good 48 to 72 hours after violence erupted during the VHP-sponsored bandh on February 28. What's your defense?
A. The situation was brought under control in 72 hours. There is no truth also in the charge that we delayed calling in the Army. The Godhra incident took place at 8 am. At 9.45 am, I imposed curfew there. My government opened fire at the Railway Station. If our purpose was to target a community, we had an opportunity at Godhra. But we didn't do that. The challenge before us was the safety of the surviving passengers. To keep the violence from spreading , I gave shoot-at-sight orders before leaving Godhra.

On February 27 night, nearly 800 people were rounded up all over Gujarat. The February 28 (VHP) bandh was spontaneous. There weren't any reports of people being forced to join it. Tensions started rising at 11 am and at 12.20 am curfew was imposed in Ahmedabad.

Q. You mean you imposed curfew during the VHP bundh?
A. Yes, the very first day. The police strategy to quell violence was based on past experience. We concentrated on hypersensitive areas. But this time, these areas remained calm and violence erupted in new pockets on the western banks of Sabarmati. Five people were killed in 600 rounds of police firing in Ahmedabad on February 28 itself. At 2 pm, I spoke to the Prime Minister. I told him that people in the middle and upper middle class colonies were out on the streets and I needed the Army and paramilitary forces to control them. In fact, at 4.30 pm that day, I told the media that I have sought the Army's help. The troops were withdrawn from the borders and deployed within 16 hours. In similar situations earlier, their arrival took between three and five days.

Q. But till now (March 5 morning), neither you nor any of your ministers has cared to visit the devastated localities. Only Defence Minister George Fernandes touched the trouble-spots which even Advani avoided during his March 3 visit to Ahmedabad.
A. This is not true. Advaniji took a round of the city covering all sensitive areas. I went with him. The Leader of the Opposition here (Naresh Raval of the Congress) went to his Sardarpur constituency after 72 hours yesterday. But a Cabinet colleague of mine was there within six hours. Now, the Government machinery is focussing on relief work. For the first time, my administration has raised from Rs 5 to Rs 15, the daily cash-doles for riot victims.

Q. The police failure to come to their rescue has completely alienated the Muslims from your regime. How do you intend reaching out to them? Fears are that they may not accept relief provided to them through official channels.
A. In Gujarat, communal riots and relief-work aren't a new thing. Earlier too, the government ran relief camps and worked through NGOs. We are more interested in making relief reach the people. It does not matter which channel is used for the purpose.

Q. More than material help, what the Muslims need is a sense of security. Are you capable of delivering on that front?
A. This task will have to be accomplished jointly by people and the government. To build confidence and trust between communities, the social, political and religious leaderships will have to combine their efforts.

Q. It is believed that your March 1st statement justifying the backlash to the Godhra killings emboldened the VHP-Bajrang Dal cadres who went on the rampage in Ahmedabad and elsewhere. What do you have to say about it?
A. I made no statement of that kind. One big newspaper reported that I quoted Newton's law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction. I have never quoted Newton since I left school. I cannot help if people allow themselves to be guided by them. predilections and fantasies. I'm willing to suffer if that helps the society. I plead with those opposed to me to wait till normalcy is restored in Gujarat.

Q. What's your personal assurance to the Muslim community?
A. Security and social harmony, that's my assurance to them. This Government is as much theirs as it is of anybody else.

Q. Don't you think the task of winning their trust is going to be difficult. So many of their kin have been killed, so much property lost to pillaging mobs and arsonists during the bandh backed by your party?
A. I have done nothing that can be held against me personally. Par Jo hua, woh galat hua. I got the police to open fire at the rioting mobs. The day people will know the truth, they will understand that my government will not pardon those behind the violence.

The society has its own way of responding to situations. Our task is to minimise and dilute (emotional) responses to foster harmony. We have to augment the positive side.

Q. Opposition parties do not believe you and have sought your dismissal?
A. My opponents will serve the people better by coming up with positive suggestions. In the US, nobody sought President Bush's resignation after the WTC bombings. But in India, each calamity is followed by demands of resignation - be it an earthquake or the attack on Parliament. We have so many istifa-promoters in our country.

Gujarat is a border state and the internal security problems here could acquire an external dimension. Our biggest worry is the madrasas. Godhra has a large number of such institutions.

In Bhavnagar, a madrasa became the cause of tension when a TV channel reported that an associate of Aftab Ansari had been a student there. To defuse the situation, we had to move 400 students and some Maulvis to safer places.

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