Note: This column is authored by Mohan Mahapatra with commentary by Dr. N.S. Rajaram.
Narendra Modi after Godhra and Mahatma Gandhi after the Khilafat were forced to deal with the violent aftermath. But there are striking differences between the way the two dealt with them. Also, Modi had nothing to do with the Godhra train burning that triggered the riots while Gandhi was the leader of the Khilafat that was the cause of the Moplah Rebellion.
Introduction: The author in his provocative but well-informed article poses an important question: can one be held responsible for something that one had not anticipated? To highlight this he compares Narendra Modi’s handling of the post-Godhra riots with Mahatma Gandhi’s (and Congress’s) conduct immediately following the collapse of his 1921 Khilafat Movement and its horrific aftermath of the Moplah Rebellion. The important point to note is how Modi and Gandhi handled the aftermath—Modi took firm and immediate steps while Gandhi fled from the scene and let the British deal with mess he had created. This contrasting response cannot be ignored whether one agrees with the author’s views or not. (NSR)
Modi’s handling of the post-Godhra riots
The media—in its persistent bias against the Sangh Parivar and the BJP—has written in a terribly irresponsible and biased manner about the Gujarat riots. Innocent well-meaning people have fallen prey to its motivated propaganda. The Gujarat riots were plain riots— not any ‘pogrom’ or ‘massacre’. The state government (under Modi) far from being involved in the riots handled the riots efficiently and controlled them within 3 days. In contrast, the Mahatma, in the face of a catastrophe that he himself had let loose had fled from the scene.
The first point to note is that Godhra has always been a communal tinderbox and the 2002 riots were only the latest in a long string. There were riots in 1969 that went on in Gujarat for 6 months, and again in 1985 in which close to 10,000 people were killed. Both these took place when Gujarat was under Congress rule. In 2002, some 700 people including Hindus and police personnel lost their lives. The difference was the lurid reporting by a highly biased media that turned it into a holocaust of Muslims at the hands of the Modi Government. By crossing all boundaries of truth and accuracy, the media became the mouthpiece of communal entrepreneurs like Teesta Setalvad and her ilk. Here are some facts:
1) On 28 February 2002, The Hindustan Times reported that the entire police force of 70,000 had been deployed in Gujarat in view of apprehensions that riots may break out.
2) On Feb 28 The Indian Express reported that “(On Feb 27) the state government had deployed the Rapid Action Force in Ahmedabad and other sensitive areas and the Centre sent in CRPF personnel.” Both these reports were published even before a single riot had taken place.
3) Riots began in Ahmedabad on Feb 28 at 11 AM. The weekly news magazine India Today (18 March 2002) reports that Modi informally requested the Centre for deployment of the Army at 12-00 noon i.e. within 1 hour. The same weekly also reports that one column of troops reached Ahmedabad at 2-30 AM on 1st March and staged a flag march the same morning at 9 AM.
4) The same weekly in the issue also says that the then Defence Minister George Fernandes was in Ahmedabad at 2-00 AM on 1 March on Modi’s request and was bravely on Ahmedabad’s streets that morning at great personal risk.
5) The Hindu reported on 1st March 2002 that, “The Army units, frantically called by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi…started arriving in Ahmedabad…” This shows that some Army units reached Ahmedabad so quickly on Feb 28 that The Hindu had time to report their arrival on Feb 28 itself and publish it on 1st March!
6) Out of 18,600 villages, 240 towns and 25 district headquarters, hardly 60 places witnessed riots. One-third of Gujarat, i.e. Saurashtra and Kutch were completely unaffected by riots even in the first 3 days. After the first three days, riots were limited to Ahmedabad, Vadodara and some places near Godhra— and almost all were started by Muslims.
7) In the first three days, Gujarat police shot dead 98 rioters, majority of whom were Hindus. On 1 March, The Hindu reported that- “At least 10 people have been killed in police firing in Ahmedabad alone by evening (of Feb 28).” Then on 2 March, The Indian Express reported that “Police shot dead 20 people in Gujarat, 12 in Ahmedabad, on 1st March.” Then on 3 March, the Indian Express reported: “77 more people have been killed in Police/ Army firing (on 2 March).” Then on 2 March The Hindu reported that “Unlike Feb 28 when one community was entirely at the receiving end, the minority backlash on 1st March has further worsened the situation.”
8) The Times of India dated 18 March 2002 devoted a complete report titled, “Riots hit all classes, people of all faith” on Hindu victims of the riots and says, “Contrary to popular belief that only Muslims have been affected in the recent riots more than 10,000 persons belonging to the Hindu community have also become homeless.”
9) The Indian Express devoted two full reports exclusively to Hindu victims in Ahmedabad in its issues dated 7 May 2002 and 10th May 2002. The victims were not only homeless, they did not even have relief camps to live in, and hence had to live in temples.
10) India Today reports in its issue dated 20 May 2002, “A series of attacks by Muslims on policemen has further added to mutual lack of faith. Now strapped with the anti-Muslim label, the police has been slow in acting against Muslim fanatics.”
11) India Today (20 May 2002) also gives details of attacks on Hindus by Muslims. The same weekly reports in its issue dated 15 April 2002 that- “A young Hindu went to Himmatnagar (Muslim) area of Ahmedabad to do business and was found dead, with his eyes gouged out.” This issue also gives details of Muslim aggression.
12) India Today dated 22 April 2002 also reports that ‘Gujarat police saved 2,500 Muslims from certain death in Sanjeli, North Gujarat on 1st March 2002‘. It also says, ‘Like Sanjeli, 5,000 Muslims were also saved in Bodeli town in Vadodara district by the police‘ and ‘thousands of Muslims were also saved in Viramgam town from 15,000 armed Hindus’ by police and the Army. The UPA government- staunchly anti-BJP, has given figures of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed in the Gujarat riots, and 223 missing, in Rajya Sabha on 11 May 2005. A total of 790 Muslims were killed in the riots–more than thrice that number were saved on one day at a single place.
13) Throughout the Gujarat riots, there are only two instances of real anti-Muslim riots: the Ehsan Jafri case and the Naroda Patiya case. In the Ehsan Jafri case, the police shot dead 5 Hindus outside his house and saved the lives of more than 200 Muslims. There were 250 people inside Jafri’s house and the mob killed 39 with the police saving more than 200 despite being overwhelmingly numbered by the rioters who were more than 10,000.
14) There have been 4 convictions of Muslims for rioting after Godhra and Muslims were given various sentences. 4 Muslims were convicted by a Vadodara fast track court on 16 October 2003 and given life imprisonment. Ex-Vadodara Deputy Mayor and Congress leader Nisar Bapu was acquitted, but his son and son-in-law were convicted. This was reported in at least three English dailies, including The Times of India dated 17 October 2003. 9 and 7 Muslims were convicted in two separate judgments on 18 and 28 March 2006 by fast track courts in Ahmedabad reported by all major English dailies the next day.
From all these incontrovertible facts it is clear that Muslims were hardly helpless cattle hiding from the slaughter house that the media makes them out to be. The conviction of Muslims proves that Muslims were equally on the offensive, in fact more so since they lit the fuse with the train burning. Like their participation in the Khilafat that led to the Moplah Rebellion the train burning was only a preliminary test; if they had gotten away with it, more violent acts would have followed as happened following the Khilafat.
Almost all commentators begin their version denouncing Narendra Modi with the pious platitude that the riots took place in the state that gave the nation (and the world) Mahatma Gandhi, the Apostle of Nonviolence. They ignore the fact that Gandhi’s failures and the failure of his dogma of nonviolence has caused more bloodshed than many a war. More to the point, let us look at how Mahatma Gandhi reacted when he had to face the backlash of the collapse of his Khilafat Noncooperation Movement. We have already seen what Modi did to control the post-Godhra violence. Let us compare the two.
Most history books today mention the 1920 Non-Cooperation Movement, but barely note what it was for: the Khilafat Movement. As a result, most Indians believe that the Non-Cooperation Movement was the first great struggle for freedom launched by the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership. It was nothing of the sort. It was a movement in support of the theocratic goals of the Khilafat: in fact, it was called the ‘Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement.’ Its aim was to persuade the British to restore the Sultan of Turkey who had lost his empire following the First World War.
Here is an important point: the Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement had no national goals. When the First World War ended in 1918, Ottoman Turkey, which had fought on the same side as Germany, had suffered a massive defeat. The result was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire ruled by the Sultan of Turkey who had also pretensions to the title of the Caliph or the leader of all Muslims. Turkey’s defeat was seen as a major blow to the prestige of Islam, especially by many Muslims and their leaders in India. They formed committees to press the British Government to restore the Sultan in a movement known as the Khilafat. It failed.
Indian history books carefully leave out Gandhi’s misadventure with the Khilafat and its terrible aftermath. The reality is quite different. Its failure resulted in a massacre of tens of thousands of innocent Hindus all over India. It was particularly virulent in Kerala where a Jihad (Holy War against infidels) called the Mopla Rebellion erupted which took several months to put down. To make matters worse for Gandhi, Muslim leaders like the Ali brothers, whom Gandhi had sponsored and supported during the Khilafat, publicly humiliated him. Mohammed Ali said that a Muslim thief was better than Gandhi, simply because of the thief’s faith in Islam!
What was so terrible about the Mopla Rebellion to make Congress historians shy away from it? Sankaran Nair has this to say in his book Gandhi and Anarchy:
For sheer brutality on women, I do not remember anything in history to match the Malabar [Mopla] rebellion. … The atrocities committed more particularly on women are so horrible and unmentionable that I do not propose to refer to them in this book…
Gandhi goes into denial mode
More to the point, what was Gandhi’s reaction to the Mopla atrocities? At first he denied that the atrocities took place at all. But he could not keep up the denial in the face of overwhelming evidence including reports from his Muslim friends. He then rationalized. He called Moplas “God fearing” and said they “are fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner they consider as religious.” This was too much for Annie Beasant. That spirited Englishwoman wrote:
It would be well if Mr. Gandhi could be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the ghastly horrors which have been created by the preaching of himself and his ‘loved brothers’, Mohammed and Shaukat Ali [sponsored by Gandhi]. … Men who consider it ‘religious’ to murder, rape, loot, to kill women and little children, cutting down whole families, have to be put under restraint in any civilized society.
When we look at this dreadful chapter and how Gandhi behaved and contrast it with Modi’s quick response, we are forced to conclude that Narendra Modi saved the day with his prompt handling even though he had been in charge as CM for only three months, and the Godhra burning and the riots that followed came as a complete surprise. But the media and other propagandists twisted the story— ignoring and even erasing the conspiracy behind the train burning while charging Modi and the police with the conspiracy! So those at the receiving end of the conspiracy themselves are guilty of the original conspiracy!
The newspaper editors and others who call the Gujarat riots as a ‘holocaust’, ‘pogrom’, ‘genocide’ or ‘massacre’ should look at their own newspapers’ reports on these very things. Such wild charges trivialize true cases of monstrous crimes like the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany. If you want to know what a real ‘pogrom’ is, look at what is happening to Hindus in Pakistan, and lately in Bangladesh. Look also at what happened to Hindus (Pundits) in Kashmir. In all these the Congress surrendered to terrorists.
Conclusions: responsibility vs surrender
Unlike Gandhi who sponsored and led the Khilafat, Modi had nothing to do with the Godhra train burning which was a pre-planned conspiracy as the courts have established. Without the train burning and the hysterical propaganda that tried to shift the blame on to the Hindu victims for the train burning, there might have been no riots. There were outlandish stories in the media— claiming that a kerosene stove in one of the compartments caused the fire, followed by the still more outlandish story that the arsonists (Muslims) were provoked into burning the bogies by the misbehaviour of the passengers (Hindu victims) with a Muslim girl running a tea stall. How the arsonists could come up with hundreds of liters of gasoline (petrol) needed to burn down the bogies in a matter of minutes was left unexplained.
It was different with Gandhi— he sponsored, supported, led and even funded the Khilafat using the Tilak Swaraj Fund and promised “Swaraj within the Year” to the Ali Brothers. It failed and led to the Moplah Rebellion which was far worse than the post-Godhra riots. It took the army, British and Indian soldiers several months to put it down. So for the Congress, the media and the ‘Gandhians’ to hurl abuses at Modi is worse than the pot calling the kettle back. Modi was at the receiving end and his state, Gujarat was the victim of the Godhra train burning.
What did Gandhi do? Unlike Modi who stood firm and tried to bring order, Gandhi fled from the scene and let the British deal with the mess. It was Gandhi who had blood on his hands during the Khilafat and the Partition later where he and his party ran the election campaign on the promise of “No Partition” and “Partition over my dead body” and then went back on it and agreed to the Partition.
Please see Gandhi, Khilafat and the National Movement by N.S. Rajaram for details of Gandhi’s irresponsible and cowardly behaviour during the Khilafat and its bloody aftermath, which he was directly responsible for. Most importantly, while Gandhi fled from the scene of action, Modi took full charge and brought the situation under control. No one could have done a better job.
Imagine what might have happened had Akhilesh Yadav or Rahul Gandhi been the CM instead of Narendra Modi.
Dr. Rajaram’s comment on the sources
The author of this piece is kind enough to attribute his impulse to write this article to my book Gandhi, Khilafat and the National Movement, but the credit should really go to Sir C. Sankaran Nair’s Gandhi and Anarchy published in 1922 immediately following the Moplah Rebellion. Nair was from Malabar which bore the brunt of the Moplah Rebellion. As the subtitle of my book makes clear, Nair’s book was one of the ‘neglected sources’ I used in writing it. There is nothing original in my book while Nair was an eyewitness. An on-line version is available at http://members.tripod.com/nsrajaram/gandhi.html
The lesson to be drawn is that we cannot always control events and have to deal with unexpected consequences. How we deal with it is what really matters. The author has given a vivid account of contrasting behaviors.
Mohan Utkal Mahapatra is a retired financial planner living in New York. He lectures on history in his spare time.