Trepidation

Now that the Indian general elections have come to a close, who’s to blame if a man who presided over a mass-murder in his state, took no action, victimised honest police officials and NGOs, and refuses to express any contrition over it, becomes the next prime minister of India?

There are plenty of people to blame. There is Atal Behari Vajpayee, PM at that time, who was saddened by the riots but not enough to actually take action. There are L K Advani and Jaswant Singh, who did not speak up then and are consumed now by the man that Jairam Ramesh called “Bhasmasura”. There are the corporates like Ratan Tata, Sunil Bharti Mittal and others, who took the man’s free gifts of land and resources and sang his praises in return. There is the media, which has been relentlessly bombarding us not just with the Messiah’s alleged inevitability but with how he would achieve Gujarat-level prosperity for India (never mind that indices suggest Gujarat is not doing much better these days than earlier, and is lagging other industrialised states on most social metrics — it’s the sensex that counts!). The Times of India here literally sold out its front page to the anointed one for weeks before the TN round of elections. Arnab Goswami showed that he can be a kitten when he wants to be one.

But most of all, I think, one has to blame R K Raghavan.

This man (a “family friend”, whom I have met a few times) chaired the Supreme-Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) which found no evidence of wrongdoing against our possible next prime minister. The spectacular shoddiness of his job is exposed in Manoj Mitta’s book “The fiction of fact-finding”. Excerpts here. Dilip D’Souza’s review here. Several other reviews on the net. I intended to write one myself (I bought the book a couple of months ago) but feel it would be redundant at this point.

But, basically, the SIT asked the man all the right questions, then swallowed all his answers even when they were contradicted by the public record, asked no followups, looked at no other evidence. And there is much else. Mitta persuasively argues that fact-finding commissions, SITs, etc, function — probably by design — to bury such cases, not to bring them to justice. (Mitta’s previous book, which I haven’t read, was about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. He cannot be accused of having an agenda.)

Mitta portrays Raghavan as incompetent in his previous investigation of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination (to the extent of allowing a vital piece of evidence, Haribabu’s camera, to be removed from the scene without doing the paperwork or informing his colleagues — the investigators saw the crucial photos for the first time in The Hindu!) But what he did as SIT head seems worse than incompetence.

If Raghavan had done his job as a halfway-competent police officer, this man would not have been able to brush off his past as he has done and we would not be faced with the prospect of a fascist, supremacist prime minister who is comfortable with the mass massacre of thousands if they are of the “wrong” community.

We will know in a few days who our next prime minister will be. As Arun Jaitley remarked, it will be either NDA or an unstable coalition. If the former, well, those who expect development will be disappointed. Those who argued that a history of overseeing the worst riots of the 21st century (with credible evidence of having, at least, condoned the riots) doesn’t matter because we need “development” will have to live with their consciences. And then there are those who actually subscribe to this man’s ideology. I think and hope that they are a minority.

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11 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  May 12, 2014

    Does democracy mean anything to you and other “intellectuals” who are literally the ward of the state?
    As a professor you are expected to do good research and also have an open mind that can accept new ideas or counter views. I expect nothing from you on the former front given your dismal research record, but I wish you were more receptive to the viewpoints of millions of your countrymen.
    Modi does not need your support to form the government but some student might definitely need your guidance/support to do well in his/her life. I hope that in your professional life you are not so rigid and are ready to accept that you can be wrong at times.

    Reply
  2. Madhav

     /  May 13, 2014

    Name calling is never a good substitute for intelligent, well-argued criticism. If after ~12 years of witch-hunting, aided by a supportive Central Govt., his detractors couldn’t find a shred of evidence to prosecute him, he is either very smart or completely innocent. Either way, as someone about to enter the job market and as someone with a concern for my financial security, I would take him anyday as opposed to his challengers. Its very convenient for the “intellectuals” with tenured (and permanent) govt. jobs to sit in judgement on the choices and “conscience” of the masses who do not have that luxury. If indeed you were a liberal, you wouldn’t be damning the highest judicial establishment of the land just because its judgements do not suit your prejudice. So, now stop being a sore-loser and a cry baby.

    Reply
    • Kaushik

       /  May 14, 2014

      Madhav,

      The juxtaposition of the first and last sentences of your post really amused the heck out of me.

      Reply
      • Rahul Siddharthan

         /  May 14, 2014

        Kaushik, stop laughing at the commenters, you clown.

        Reply
        • Anonymous

           /  May 14, 2014

          Kaushik, Rahul, he gave you some sort of ‘intelligent, well-argued criticism’ in the preceding lines – whether you agree or not.

          Stop omitting the sentences in between the first and the last.

          Reply
          • Kaushik

             /  May 14, 2014

            Anon,

            I didn’t really mean to mock the commenter or claim that the last line somehow invalidates his entire thesis.

            I’m just amused at the rather striking illustration of human nature in the post. We start our projects with lofty ambitions but end up quite a bit lower than we want without even realizing it. In my experience, this happens to a lot of people a lot of the time; it certainly happens a lot with me. I was just tickled to see it happen to the commenter in the space of 5-6 sentences.

            In any case, no disrespect intended!

  3. suresh

     /  May 16, 2014

    My father, a veteran of the Indian bureaucracy, once told me that in any inquiry commission appointed by the Government of India, the conclusions are decided more-or-less in advance. The whole “inquiry” is only a matter of tailoring the report to fit what has been decided in advance. My father’s favourite story is one where the head (a quite famous figure who headed various public sector companies) asked him openly even before anything had been done “What conclusions are we supposed to reach?”

    Long service with the Government of India has undoubtedly made my father cynical about the Government of India but I now have to reluctantly conclude that he’s substantially right. Of course, here and there, you might have the odd exception.

    Mitta claims here that Raghavan’s career had stalled following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination where his role came for some criticism. It was the Vajpayee government which “resurrected” his career by appointing him CBI chief in 1999. Given this, I can well believe that Mr. Raghavan had reached his conclusions well in advance. Why the Supreme Court chose to appoint him as SIT chief when there were all sorts of questions against him is not all clear. They too have a case to answer.

    I think, however, in blaming R. K. Raghavan and others, you are letting off “We, the people of India” too lightly. Modi flourishes because “We” have been only too eager to forgive and forget the likes of H. K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Thackerey, ….

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  May 17, 2014

      I think you are right. I forgot Thackeray, who was treated as a legitimate politician by the mainstream media right until his death, despite any number of things his followers did that should be called terrorism (destroying hospitals, vandalising libraries, and so on, apart from instigating communal violence). Some of Modi’s defenders in fact say communal violence has always been there and Modi is being singled out. If Thackeray or Bhagat had run for PM, there would have been national outrage; but since they were local politicians there was insufficient outrage, and this has allowed Modi to climb to the top with his supporters saying “look at these other people, he’s not worse than them.”

      Reply
  4. Jina

     /  May 17, 2014

    Rahul, I’m amazed how your clarity and rigour vanish at times like these. The burden of proof in criminal matters rests heavily upon the state. In this case, the prosecution has not been able to as much as establish a charge. It would be a trivial matter to fisk this very blog post of yours for its deviations from fact and unsustainable assumptions. But you as a scientist can do that much better. Simply go through what you have written and check them against news reports, other sources of information, striking out every inconsistency in your post. Very soon you will find you have struck out every sentence you’ve written. All the best

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  May 17, 2014

      Please read and fisk Mitta’s book instead. I have read it and also read several reviews. None has a criticism of his claims. Meanwhile, here is an extract from an article by William Dalrymple:

      The following day, a huge mob of Hindu militants, armed with petrol bombs, iron rods and swords, gathered outside the Gulbarg Society, a residential complex in an upper-class Muslim area, home to a former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri. Seeing that the police were observing the mob but making no attempt to control or disperse it, Jafri began calling round his contacts and begging for help. According to several survivors, Modi was among those he called. “After calling Modi, Jafri was totally depressed,” Imtiyaz Pathan, an electrician who had taken refuge in the house, told the Independent. “When I asked him what had happened, he said, ‘There will be no deployment of police.’ ” According to Jafri’s widow, Zakia, Modi taunted her husband and expressed surprise that he was still alive.

      Shortly afterwards, at around 3pm, Zakia Jafri watched in horror from her balcony as rioters marched her naked husband from their home and chopped off his fingers, hands, arms and head, then tossed the body on an open pyre. All the while the police looked on without intervening, telling victims, “We have no orders to save you.” An investigative magazine later caught several ringleaders on camera claiming that the chief minister had approved the attacks: “Modi had given us three days to do whatever we could,” one of them boasted.

      What happened in Gulbarg that day lies at the heart of the accusations against Modi. He denies all knowledge of events there and claims that he was not informed until 8.30pm, five hours after the massacre had finished. This version of events has been accepted by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team, which examined the matter at length. However, there are clear contradictions in the SIT report that make it hard to accept…

      To know those contradictions, and the failure — no, not failure — the deliberate refusal by the SIT to ask even the most basic follow-up questions to Modi on his version or to independently ascertain what happened, read Mitta’s book, Chapter 5 in particular.

      Reply
  5. anon

     /  May 20, 2014

    Actually it is the Congress that is to blame for the election results. They so cynically used “good” ideas to their advantage (or so they thought), that we are now going to have ramrajya. Economically, there is going to be no difference. We became “global” long back and it is the FIIs and the rating agencies that are going to decide whether the Indian economy does well or not (that is to say, whether we “behave” or not). India has reached a “consensus” politically, much like America had long ago. Let us not get worked up about the massacre of a few minorities. We can do nothing about it. Both Parties are guilty. And the middle class is very selfish. It will quickly move from Ram to Rahul again if its position is threatened. We have arrived! The market rules!

    Reply

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