On 7th of May 2013 SAHMAT and Communalism Combat together organised a discussion on the protest petiton filed by Zakia Jafri. She has been assisted in her legal endeavours by the Mumbai-based by Citizens for Justice and Peace .The interaction with senior representatives of the political class and journalists was held at India International Centre, New Delhi. People from varied walks of life participated in the discussion and put forward different viewpoints on the issue of communalism in general and in particular what happened in 2002 in the state of Gujarat and the role of the state administration in conspiring to allow violence to spread. The audience comprised of lawyers, journalists,teachers among others. A cross section of political parties also got represented with the presence of D.P. Tripathi, Brinda Karat, Mani Shankar Aiyer, A.B. Bardhan, Sitaram Yechury; all of whom participated in the discussion and made it more lively and enriching. Zakia Jafri, her son Tanvir Jafri and former DGP Gujarat, RB Sreekumar particpated in the interaction.
Ram Rehman initiated the proceedings by giving a short introduction that was one in a series of public hearings, protests and discussions organised by SAHMAT along with Communalism Combat and CJP since 2002. Teesta Setalvad initiated the discussion. She gave a brief outline of the evidences that were available but ignored by the Special Investigation Team (SIT). She then argued that the Gujarat pogrom was distinct from other acts of communal violence by the sheer depth of orchestration and connivance by sections of the government and administration. Setalvad in her arguments laid bare the fact that the Gujarat pogrom was preceded by several warnings given to the home ministryadministration by the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) that were laid bare by the affidavits of former ADGP Intelligence, RB Sreekumar. These signals were deliberately ignored by the government. She underlined the fact that SIT during the course of its investigations turned a complete blind eye to documentary evidences that pointed to the deliberate neutralisation of the neutralisation including evidence from the mobile records, PCR (police control room messages) and SIB messaged. She put forth the point that various methods were used to mobilize the crowds along communal lines especially the use of provocative hate speech and hate writing including by the chief minister, senior functionaries and frontmen of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In her short introduction she gave details of the pogrom and the incidents which preceded the actual period of killings. She appealed for debates or interactive sessions on these issue to enable the political class conscious of this menace. The fact that Zakia Jafri has fought bravely the Gujarat administration and has withstood all kinds of threats was also highlighted by her. Before concluding Setalvad also cautioned that the scope of discussion should be broadened to communal mobilisation and its portents across the country and should not remained focus not only on what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
D.P. Tripathi in his short speech elaborated upon the wider communalisation of the polity and administration in Gujarat, within which the communal mobilisation and 2002 carnage needed to be located. He congratulated Zakia Jafri on her bravery and courage. In this context he shared discussions he had had, in 1985 with former Gujarat chief minister, Madhav Rao Solanki who had predicted that the aggressive anti-reservation agitation would eventually take a sharp anti-minority, communal term. Solanki, an extremely progressive politician had predicted aggressive hindu mobilisation. He also reminisced about his meeting with Ahsan Jafri . This was way back in 1985. He concluded by arguing forcefully that it is the weakness of secular forces which has allowed phenomena like Bal Thackeray and Narendra Modi to rise and grow, and the communal mobilization of the sort witnessed in recent times in Gujarat and other parts of the country to take place.
Brinda Karat applauded the courage of conviction of Zakia Jafri and her family for waging this legal battle which is both significant and a rallying point for secular forces in the country. The absence of professionalism in the investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the conspiracy and widespread communal violence in Gujarat, was specially also highlighted by Karat. She underlined the point that SIT has functioned in a non-transparent and unaccountable manner deliberately concealing evidence that exposed the governance by Modi and his government. It has therefore been a struggle to bring these documents into the public domain. Now that these are available and have been analysed threadbare in the Zakia Jafri protest petition, the secular forces need to disseminate this information to explode the bubble of good governance that is being so brazenly claimed by the government of Gujarat. With more than ample evidence of Narendra Modi’s complicity in what happened in his state in 2002, he had no right to continue as chief minister nor harbour intentions of becoming prime minister, stressed Karat. Modi, she stressed, has violated all the minimum norms of governance but despite this he and his party continue to project him, unashamedly. Karat also appreciated the role played by Teesta Setalvad at great personal risk and deplored the attacks made on her. In her speech Karat also reminded all those present that it had been the Left parties who had taken a direct political stand on the issue, demanding his resignation. She also emphasised that the documents that are now part of the protest petition, have brought out some important facts about what actually happened in those days of February and March in 2002 in the state of Gujarat and these need to be disseminated widely. Karat also pointed out the urgent need to link the battle against communalism with movements for social justice. She also mentioned that secularism combined with a strong political class, executive and judicial system is an important pre-requisite for fighting the menace of communalism. She said that it is illogical to believe that the issue communal mobilization can be isolated from that of electoral reform. The two issues are intricately related to each other.
Kamaal Farooqui in his very brief speech raised issues related to finding ways to expose the SIT and also take the initiative given by this interaction to involve larger sections of the people. He said that it is surprising that the expose by Headlines Today did an expose of the SIT investigation the day the protest petition was filed (April 15, 2013) but this story was largely ignored by the mdeia in general. He also wondered whether there is a possibility of filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against SIT chairperson RK Raghavan for the unprofessional and biased role he has played in the investigation by concealing evidence and manipulating it. Intervening in the debate Teesta Setalvad expressed her anguish at the media’s lacklustre response to the serious issues of misgovernance and communal mobilisation, stating that it appeared to have been party to promoting Modi as the future PM of the country, consciously ignoring exposures to his role in Gujarat carnage. This deadlock created by sections of the mainstream media needs to be overcome. She said that it is surprising how there had been relative silence on the pathbreaking Naroda Patia verdict (29.8.2012) and its
implications for the BJP nationally. A ruling party MLA and former minister Maya Kodnani had been convicted to life imprisonment for distributing weapons and inciting mobs as well as being party to a conspiracy. Yet the media remained soft on grilling the party for this indictment despite the fact that the Judge had held that a cold blooded conspiracy had taken 96 lives. The media has been complicit in allowing the political consequences of that judgement to become defused.
R.B. Shreekumar in his turn profusely thanked Setalvad and CJP for their undying support extended to him in his fight against the Gujarat administration at a time when everyone had deserted him. Going into the details of the role Gujarat police played during the period of carnage in 2002 he bought out some little known facts. He stressed that there is truckload of evidence of involvement of against Modi apart from organizations such as RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP. Refering to the role of Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani he stated that it is surprising that it is only in one case that the planner(s) was arrested while in all others it were the foot soldiers who have been arrested.This, according to him does not send a correct signal. As a sidenote he mentioned that subversion is a masterpiece of Narendra Modi. He argued that the subversion was done by the people who were in judicial power, rather than by just the police administration. He argued that unlike the 1984 pogrom when not a single Sikh policeman testified in the case of Gujarat 2002 atleast three to four police officals have testified against the state government. All those policemen who acted as servants of the Indian Constitution have been harassed and victimised by the Gujarat government.
Congress Member of Parliament and former union minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer began by saying that very little in our politics is issue based. He talked about his visit to Porbandar before the defeat of Congress in Gujarat when his own partymen urged not to mention Modi’s name in the campaign. Listening to this one was reminded of a popular fantasy tale in which the main villian character whos name is Voldemort is often called as He Who Must Not Be Named. The Congress by not taking a clear and principled position on the issue of secularism was risking both taking the right stand and defeat. He advocated that on such a critical issue like secularism, it was adviseable to go down fighting rather than compromise. Even in Parliament he said that while the vast silent majority across party lines stood for secularism, it is the voluble minority that did not. Yet he felt that the minority supporting the divisive forces of communalism is not strong enough to challenge a country as diverse as India. In conclusion he said that the best gift that BJP could give to this nation is to adopt Modi as its prime ministerial candidate as that would allow all the secular forces to come together and fight the phenomenon unitedly. However, he also expressed his fear that such a move could also backlash.
Zakia Jafri spoke with powerful clarity about the horrors she and her family had to go through during the harrowing days from February 28, 2002 onwards. Commenting on recent remarks by Modi that he stood for both Hindus and Muslims, she said in response, “who were the mobs that attacked us that day, at Gulberg?” That is my only answer to him. She and other families who lived at Gulberg had also been affected in the 1969 communal violence and had to spend 4-6 months in relief camps. She described in detail the incident which eventually led to Ahsan Jafri’s death. In her speech she brought to light the gruesome details of his killing. Listening to her a cold shudder went up one’s spine. She said that her husband was confident that nothing would happen to him as he had cordial relatins with everyone living in that area. (Ahsan Jafri was a renowned trade unionist and lawyer). But subsequent pre-planned developments showed how wrong he was proven. Before ending Mrs. Jafri also spoke about the manner in which she left her home and went to safety that evening with fellow residents. She said that the Commisioner of Police never came to meet them when she reached his office at night that day after escaping from the horrors. Intervening at this point Teesta Setalvad said that killing of Ahsan Jaferi was not merely a vendetta against Muslims in general which was orchestrated in 2002 in several districts of Gujarat but his killing had also to do with Modi’s personal vendetta against Ahsan Jafri as he had campaigned against him in Rajkot days before (Fenruary 21-22 2002) when Modi had won the bye-election with a narrow margin of 14,000-odd votes, The minority community, especially women had responded to Ahsan Jafri’s campaign. This point has been raised in the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri.
Tanvir Jaferi talked about his father. He reminced about his childhood at his home and his relations with his father. He also thanked everyone present for being with them in their struggle for justice.
Sitaram Yechury congratulated Zakia Jafri and Teesta Setalvad for forcing the court to reopen and sustain this case. He pointed out that that this was merely a personal fight of the Jafris but this a crucial battle struggle at various levels; one being the conservation of the country’s secular fabric when the state of Gujarat has failed to provide protection. The failure of deliverance of justice whether it is in Gujarat or anywhere else in the country would spell doom for the republic’s secular ethos. He himself recalled what happened 28th of Feb 2002 in Delhi, parliament was on. Little news of what had been happening in Gujarat had percolated through as it was a budget day. Media attention was on budget and little on Gujarat. He recounted his experience of his visit to Gujarat on March 1 as part of a four member delegation which comprised of Amar Singh, Shabana Azmi, Raj Babbar (Sitaram Yechury was not a Member of Parliament at that point of time). Yechury narrated his experience of his interaction with Modi when he spoke to him on the phone during his visit. Yechury who had known Modi since his sojourn in Delhi asked him what he and his administration were doing. “Sabak sikha raje hain (teaching them a lesson),” was the chilling reply. He brought out the details of the atmosphere which was prevailing when he visited the state during those days in 2002. He also narrated his experience when he visited the Police Commisioner’s office on 1st of March. The situation he saw there was a revelation for him as he had not seen such a situation anywhere in peace time. He said that the gravity of the violence in Gujarat is still not known to the people. But it is due to people like Setalvad and Mrs. Jafri that truth came through in bits and pieces and is still coming in the public domain. History taught us lessons through the coincidences of dates, he said reminding us that it was on 27th February (1933) that the Reichstag (German Parliament) was set on fire and it was on the same date that Godhra (2002) had happened. January 30 (1948) the day Gandhi was killed and January 30 the same date that Hitler assumed power. The delivery of justice is crucial said Yechury. There is deeper struggle between the three visions of India viz. secular, secularism with social justice and theocratic state; and the result of this battle would show us how our country will be like. He in the end stressed that one cannot even think of isolating secularism from social justice and equality and that both go hand in hand.