Gujarat's shame

Editorial :The Financial Times

October 15, 2012 6:19 pm

Gujarat’s shame

Narendra Modi is chief minister of Gujarat, one of India’s most dynamic and business-friendly states. But for 10 years he has also been an international pariah as the Hindu nationalist leader of a regional government accused of complicity in riots which killed an estimated 2,000 Muslims. As Britain prepares to restore contacts with Mr Modi, this shameful episode should not be airbrushed from history in the interests of diplomacy.

Mr Modi has always denied accusations that he turned a blind eye to the riots of 2002 and he has not been charged with any crime. But four years ago India’s Supreme Court denounced the Gujarat administration’s attempts to cover up its role in what are now known to have been, at least in part, organised pogroms. Human Rights Watch this year condemned Mr Modi’s government for its failure to investigate the violence and its persistent efforts to obstruct justice.

Barely two months ago, one of his former ministers was jailed for 28 years after being found guilty of involvement in an attack in 2002 in which almost 100 people died. Despite this, Mr Modi has never expressed any remorse or apologised for the killings.

It is possible to see why the UK government might be keen to move on, even though three UK citizens died in the violence. Commercial pragmatism has played a part. Gujarat’s economy is one of the most buoyant in India. It has become a destination for British and other foreign investment, and is potentially an attractive market for UK exports.

The timing is, however, highly questionable. It comes as Gujarat prepares for elections in December, which Mr Modi is expected to win. His majority could be enhanced by his new-found international acceptance. Recognition may also boost his chances for India’s national elections in 2014, where he is being cited as a possible prime minister. Mr Modi is now a far more serious contender than he would have been had he still been shunned internationally.

Realpolitik means governments often have to take a pragmatic approach in dealing with leaders with questionable records. But this does not mean they have to let up the pressure over human rights abuses or distasteful policies.

Britain and others have now decided to engage with Mr Modi. But they should also make it clear that rehabilitation is not licence for the type of supremacist-inspired nationalism that fuelled the 2002 massacres.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

The normalisation of Modi

Meghnad Desai

Economists make a distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. Things are as they are but they may not be as they ought to be. The reaction of most people to the news that the UK High Commissioner is going to visit Gujarat will be either joyous or scathing. The Indian political establishment cannot speak of Narendra Modi without getting into extremes. Yet Narendra Modi has made a significant move back to normalisation in the international sphere with that move. Whether it ought to be so is another matter.

The Gujarat riots of 2002 were horrible. We have recently had the Naroda Patiya judgement which left no doubt as to how callous some of the killings were. Perfectly responsible, normally quiescent Gujarati Hindus behaved in a bestial manner and have been duly punished. But the political establishment has been focussed on Narendra Modi and his culpability. For ten years there have been many people who have put in a lot of effort to secure a conviction for Narendra Modi for his part in the Gujarat riots.

These efforts have not borne any fruits so far. It may still be that something will turn up which will implicate him (After all, we are still waiting for the conviction of Congressmen, who were guilty of abetting murders in 1984 anti-Sikh riots). He himself seems pretty sanguine as he said in his interview with Nai Duniya. ‘Hang me if you find me guilty.’ He is defiant and lacks any remorse. I believe and have said so before that he should admit some sadness and some feeling of moral outrage at what happened on his watch. But that seems unlikely to happen. He is happy in his comfort zone where his hardened supporters applaud the massacre. I have met respectable middle class Gujaratis in Ahmedabad who after all these years are unrepentant.

Even so we have to register what has happened. The UK government has broken the ice and decided to normalise relations with Gujarat. This is still not a visa for Modi but that cannot be far off. Indian politicians especially the secularists who loathe Modi should have been prepared for this outcome. It has been in the air for some time now. I was spoken to by a MP, who knows India and is on the government benches, six months ago as to what could be done to normalise relations between UK and Gujarat. There is the question of investment and trade. There are also Gujarati Origin citizens of UK whose interests while in India have to be looked after by the UK High Commission.

In the end, money speaks louder than anything else. It is the investment and the trade which swung the balance. There is also a pragmatic calculation that the probability of Narendra Modi being a leading candidate for BJP leadership in 2014 is high. There is a non-negligible probability that he may be PM. Mid term polls show Congress losing up to 80 seats while BJP may gain some 20 or so. Modi is as yet ‘untouchable’ by many parties if it came to joining NDA. But as things develop, if Congress does not improve its act, the chances of BJP gaining ground are high. In that case if Modi has been ‘normalised’, NDA becomes attractive to many small parties. This is again an ‘is’ not an ‘ought’.

In 2007 Congress tried to play the riots card with the slogan ‘maut ka saudagar’. It did not work. It won’t work in 2012 either. Even before the latest move by UK, it was pretty certain that Modi would be re-elected; the only issue is the size of his majority. Congress has done nothing in the last five years in Gujarat to build up a serious opposition and Keshubhai is hardly news. So Congress ought to stop hoping that by reminding everyone of 2002 it will dent Modi’s strength. With this move by UK, Modi has become a serious contender for 2014 leadership unless his own mistakes or his BJP colleagues stop him.

The message for Congress is simple. Get serious about fighting 2014 on performance rather than playing the Muslim card or else suffer five years of opposition. The move by UK is a Foreign Direct Intervention (FDI) and is a game changer.

(courtesy : 'Out of Mind', "The Sunday Express", 14 October 2012, page 11)

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features