New Internationalist

Why let a genocide get in the way of naked ambition?


Photo by Paulrudd under a Wikimedia Commons Licence.

The Gujarat genocide of February-March 2002, in which some 2,500 Muslims were brutally murdered, hundreds of women raped, and more than 200,000 families driven from their homes, didn’t make headlines anywhere in the world. Not even in UK publications like the Guardian or New Internationalist that are usually really clued up.

Our national Indian news networks for the most part, did us proud. The news of the genocide reached every corner of India. Yet as I speak, political pundits tell us there is a probability that Narender Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister, who many believe was the key figure behind the pogrom and who was indicted by his own senior police officials, is his party’s key prime ministerial contender for the 2014 elections. The thought makes me want to throw up.

Consider this, an excerpt from an article by Harsh Mander, an ex-civil servant and head of ActionAid India in 2002, which appeared in The Hindu soon after the genocide:

‘What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be spared? Her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes. What can you say about a family of nineteen being killed by flooding their house with water…electrocuting them with high-tension electricity? What can you say?

‘A small boy of six in Juhapara camp described how his mother and six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his eyes. He survived only because he fell unconscious, and was taken for dead. A family escaping from Naroda-Patiya, one of the worst-hit settlements in Ahmedabad, spoke of losing a young woman and her three month old son, because a police constable directed her to `safety' and she found herself instead surrounded by a mob which doused her with kerosene and set her and her baby on fire.’

The list goes on.

I was part of a fact-finding mission, reporting on the atrocities against women. Our report– ‘The Survivors Speak’– (brilliantly presented by Dr. Syeda Hameed, currently on India’s Planning Commission) made sickening reading. Women were raped and set ablaze. Hundreds of them. They were often brought in unconscious, left for dead. Their rapists, not content with merely raping them, had shoved cricket bales up their vaginas. Doctors described the horror of extracting splinters and bits of wood from them. Their screams of pain will haunt us forever.

Yet the politician exposed by countless media reports for refusing to condemn the attacks against Muslims is, nine years later, a serious contender for next Prime Minister of India. His party is presently over the moon because the latest US Congressional Research Service report, produced to brief US Senators and Congressmen on India, has declared him a laudable example of effective governance. Modi hires some of the best public relations companies to burnish his image. And he has welcomed foreign and Indian investors with open arms.

A closer look at the Gujarat scenario would unearth unsavoury facts about these best governance practices. But a good PR job can effectively sweep all that under the carpet.

Secular forces for freedom are trying to file a public interest litigation to prosecute Modi.

‘Modi has shown no remorse, made no attempt at reconciliation or justice,’ says a despondent Harsh Mander. ‘His actions have deeply polarized the state of Gujarat. His philosophy is not in keeping with India’s values as a country. Fight him we must.’

Modi is funded by rich Indians in the UK, US and India who also channel money to influential US senators and congressmen as well as UK politicians.

It promises to be a long and difficult fight.

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