The conviction of 31 of the accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre case of Gujarat by a special fast track court has to be welcomed for two reasons despite the fact that the case has not yet reached its logical conclusion with all avenues for appeal exhausted. Ninety-six people, mainly Muslims, were massacred by the accused during the communal conflagration of 2002 in Gujarat. The convicted have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
The fact that some prominent Hindutva personalities of the Gujarat unit of the BJP were among those convicted would indicate the high-level of involvement of BJP personalities in the instigation, if not the commission of the massacre.
The conviction and heavy sentencing have to be welcomed by all right-thinking persons because the case clearly shows that the rule of law ultimately prevails in the country and that the courts will not tolerate massacres of members of the religious minorities by the religious majority.
The second reason for welcoming it is that it will send a reassuring message to the minorities that the law of the land makes no distinction between the religious majority and minorities while dealing with wrong-doings of a heinous nature.
I have pointed in many of my writings since the Indian Mujahideen (IM) made its appearance in 2007 that some of the Muslim youth belonging to the IM claimed to have been driven to jihadi terrorism by what they perceived as the unfair criminal justice system towards the Muslims. Hopefully, the Naroda Patiya judgement will transmit a clear message to the Muslim youth of the country that our criminal justice system is not prejudiced against them. More such judgements will help the Police in de-alienating the Muslim youth.
From what I have read in the media, there is no credible evidence to show any complicity of sections of the Mr Narendra Modi administration in the massacre. There might have been individual instances of negligence and reluctance to act firmly because of the involvement of some Hindutva leaders, but from this, one cannot allege any complicity of the Modi administration.
Mr Modi continues to be immensely popular among the Hindus of Gujarat and the Gujarati youth because of his contribution to economic development without large-scale corruption and improvement of governance. One has to concede that Gujarat remain the best administered State in India today. Mr Modi is bound to reap the benefits of his record in the elections to the State Assembly due towards the end of this year.
But the details of the massacre of Muslims as they came out from the trial, the involvement of some Hindutva top-guns in the massacre and the fact that the massacre took place under Mr Modi’s watch are bound to add to the feelings of disquiet about Mr Modi’s acceptability as a pan-Indian and all-communities leader in other parts of India where emotional attachment to Mr Modi does not play the same role as in Gujarat. Many people in other parts of India admire his record as an administrator and concede his remarkable contribution to the economic progress of his State. At the same time, they are reluctant to accept him as a national leader. How uncertain will be his pan-Indian acceptability became evident from some of the reservations expressed recently by Mr Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar.
The style of the online blitzkrieg adopted by his die-hard followers in India and abroad reminiscent of the methods of the Nazi stormtroopers, continues to add to the disquiet. I have been drawing attention to these Storm-troopers and their obnoxious methods marked by abuse, invectives and intimidation since last year. I have been repeatedly pointing out that these Stormtroopers, claiming to act on behalf of Mr Modi, have been doing a tremendous disservice to his future and may come in the way of the wider acceptance sought by him. I have repeatedly urged that he should openly dissociate himself from them and condemn their methods. He has not done so thereby giving rise to an unfortunate suspicion that he may be politically benefiting from them.
The echoes of the court judgement and the reverberations of the intimidatory and grossly abusive methods of the Stormtroopers will be felt increasingly across the democratic societies of the West. Mr Modi might have been welcomed in South-East Asian societies, but in the western societies the question marks over his head will remain despite the recognition by sections of the Western media of his undoubted administrative acumen and economic management.
Mr Modi has every right to aspire to be the next Prime Minister of India, but his acceptability will not improve unless he rids himself of the support of the online Stormtrooper elements. Till he does so, he will remain quarantined in Gujarat.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies