It is widely believed that the current Chief Minister of Gujarat (click) – Narendra Modi (click) – had ‘justified’ the post-Godhra riots (click) by invoking the Newton’s third law of motion. In other words, the impression that is formed is that he said something to the effect that “as Muslims had killed Hindus travelling by Sabarmati Express, it was natural that Hindus also kill Muslims as a ‘reaction'”. That he said such a thing is taken to be such an unquestionable fact that prominent media houses publish news articles/editorials alluding to his alleged justification in the above kind of alleged words without feeling any need to quote him exactly or outlining the precise context in which he made such a statement. The instant impression that is formed is that he ‘justified’ the killing of innocent Muslims (including innocent men and not just women and children) as the Hindus were angry after the train Sabarmati Express had (been) burned (click).
Now, for long I was under the belief that the statement that so many sources allude to must have been made by Modi at some public rally or in a well-publicized and well-documented interview, e.g., like the one with Karan Thapar, in which he had chickened out on being asked a few sharp questions based on an en passant equation by Justice V. N. Khare of Modi with Nero (click). Here is the video:
However, because of reasons that will become apparent later on in this post, I decided to search the Internet for the exact circumstance surrounding his above statement. Now, I am a person who is quite skeptical of the motivations and methods employed by the Indian media, yet somehow I never came to doubt the above allegation. But on my attempts to search for a similar video or even a well-documented news piece substantiating the allusion, all I could come up with was this: a PDF document (click to download) hosted by a web site (click) put up by the ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’. The document was apparently produced by some Editor’s Guild and titled – “RIGHTS AND WRONGS: ‘Ordeal by Fire in the Killing Fields of Gujarat’ – Editors Guild Fact Finding Mission Report”, and authored by Aakar Patel, Dileep Padgaonkar and B.G. Verghese.
I pick from it the portions that seem to allude to Modi’s invocation of ‘action-reaction’ theory (which have been curiously added under an annexure – ‘4A’ on page 8 of the PDF document) [my comments are parenthesized and italicized]:
Zee TV Interview with Chief Minister Mr Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar on March 1 2002, by Sudhir Choudhury
The Correspondent begins by asking Mr Modi about the Chamanpura massacre in which the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri was killed along with at least others (sic; looks like, the FactTM©® Finding Mission was undecided on what number of dead to put along with Ehsan Jafri). The Chief Minister referred to reports that Jafri had first fired at the violent mob which infuriated the crowd further. It stormed the Housing Society and set it on fire. He refers to Jafri’s firing as “action” and the massacre that followed as “reaction”. His exact quote is: “Kriya pratikriya ki chain chal rahi hai. Hum chahate hain ki na kriya ho aur na pratikriya”. [My translation: “There is a chain of action-reaction going on. We wish that neither there be ‘action’ nor ‘reaction'”]
When asked about the widespread violence in Gujarat post-Godhra, he says quote; “Godhra main jo parson hua, jahan par chalees (40) mahilaon aur bacchon ko zinda jala diya, is main desh main aur videsh main sadma pahuchna swabhavik tha. Godhra ke is ilake ke logon ki crimnal (sic) tendencies rahi hain. In logon ne pahele mahila teachers ka khoon kiya. Aur ab yeh jaghanya apraadh kiya hai jiski pratikria ho rahi hai”. [My translation: “(Considering) What happened in Godhra the day before, wherein, 40 women and children were burnt alive, it was natural that (people) in this country as well as abroad were shocked. People of Godhra in that pocket have had criminal tendencies. These people had earlier killed lady teachers. And now, they committed this dastardly crime, and to that reactions are taking place”].
It is not my contention that Modi did not make such a statement, as there is no way I could reject or accept the above claim (I had searched a few times with different combination of search terms on both Google and Bing; it is possible, some other more substantive piece of evidence might exist that I might have missed). But even then what is important to know is what precisely was asked for him to have responded as above. I am afraid, “begins by asking…about” and “on being asked about” clarify nothing about what the exact question was. I mean, seriously do we expect a reporter/journalist to ask such an open-ended question as “please speak ‘something’ about Ehsaan Jafri’s murder” and “Please say ‘something’ about post-Godhra violence”?
From the first statement it seems, Modi’s observations (if indeed they were made the way he has been quoted to have made) were quite generalized, and were about some ongoing event (“chain chal rahi hai” and not “chain chali thi”). Also, he was seemingly telling that situation was difficult to control as violence against both the communities (Hindus and Muslims) was becoming a vicious cycle.
For the second quote, I feel, it is very essential to know what the words that followed were. It is possible that he followed it up with something to the effect, “…hence all Muslims should be killed” (an extreme but unlikely possibility) or that “…but despite this natural reaction, we are trying our best to control the situation so that no further innocent lives are lost” (a more politically correct thing to say?).
Now, whether pointing out how people react in face of gruesome sectarian violence in which people (of either communities) are killed amounts to ‘justification’ of such reaction is something I leave for the reader to decide. Personally, I do not see it as justification, nor as an endorsement.
So, despite what I would consider scanty evidence of Narendra Modi’s at best ambiguous ‘justification’ of the post-Godhra riots in which significantly more damage was incurred by Muslims than by Hindus, Teesta Setalvad (click), who perhaps is seen referring to the above purported justification by Modi more frequently than anybody else, had some interesting things to say about the people who must have burned the Sabarmati Express coach on 27th February, 2002, and along with it a few passengers. And mind you, what she said was even before the ensuing riots had begun:
Teesta Setalvad, head of Communalism Combat, a group that opposes religious extremism in India, said that “while I condemn today’s gruesome attack, you cannot pick up an incident in isolation. Let us not forget the provocation. These people were not going for a benign assembly. They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.”
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so much, given how I believe the Indian media functions), the above quote is next to impossible to find over the Internet. If you put the entire quote as search term, the only Indian media web site that hosts it is Rediff. It had these two articles – both by Rajeev Srinivasan (click) – Apartheid in India (click) and Blaming the Hindu victim (click). However, it seems Rediff has very recently offloaded both the articles. While, I had myself visited the former just the day before, the latter was inaccessible even then. So the only option left is to rely upon cached versions.. But the problem is Rediff is a small fish in the Indian media business, so will inherently be seen as unreliable by those who cannot believe that a courageous ‘social activist’ like Teesta Setalvad could ‘justify’ killings of young children because their parents had decided to indulge in unlawful activity like visiting Ayodhya to provoke Muslims. Moreover, because in both the articles the author was speaking of discrimination against the Hindus – the majority – so it is oh so very tempting to believe he is a Hindu fundamentalist and must have put these words in the mouth of Teesta Setalvad. So, I tried to search the Washington Post web site. In my early attempts I could not find anything. However through some moderately painful process, I zeroed down on an article that perhaps was the one referred to by Rajeev. I found it here – Mob Attacks Indian Train; 57 Killed; Victims Had Visited Disputed Temple Site by Rama Lakshmi (click) [somehow, the Washington Post web site takes very long to load]. Of course, as you would notice, it does not contain the above quote. The article is not available for free viewing, and what one sees is just an automatically generated synopsis of the original article. And as my (bad) luck would have it again, I do not have a credit card, so I could not buy the article! I was kindly assisted by a fellow tweeter and he emailed me a copy of the complete article that he had. I have uploaded it here (click). However, I noticed that it was possible to edit the copy, which was in .doc version. So, those who are still skeptical of what I say, can do one simple thing: copy any random line from the uploaded article and search (click) for it in Washington Post’s archives. Remember to do so in the left search field (and not the right one, which is for articles published till 1986). You will reach the same article where Rajeev claimed to have found Teesta’s quote (it is to be found in the last paragraph).
The reason I am laying out all the possible ways in which the reader can verify the claims in this post is simply because, what has been attributed to Teesta is quite uncharitable. And unlike some of the powerful media houses, to be taken even one-thousandth as seriously as them, I have to provide the best evidence I can.
Anyway, even if one is convinced that the Washington Post had indeed carried such an article, what does it signify? Of course, I am quite skeptical of the way in which the media functions, so I would never say that just because The Washington Post is firangi it can do no wrong. It is possible that Teesta never said such a thing.
But what are the implications if we assume that she did say all that? Some might argue that there is no significant implication because unlike Narendra Modi, she is not the chief minister of a large state in India, so her personal biases do not matter. Yes, that would be a very solid argument to support the Indian media’s almost total blackout of this ‘justification’ of Sabarmati Express train burning (and might I add yet again, with it of some odd 58 passengers). But it is significant to notice that implicit in Teesta’s statement is what she considered the fact that fire in coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express was human-caused. But when the Justice U. C. Bannerjee’s report was made public, which had come to the conclusion that the fire was accidental, Teesta was not the one to have opposed it despite her conviction that by “indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India” the passengers had brought the fate upon themselves? In fact, if I remember it right, she had even suggested on NDTV that the train-burning was also pre-planned by the Sangh Parivaar as trishuls (tridents) had been distributed before 27th February!
To be fair to Teesta, just like how in case of Modi I pointed out that the next few sentences after his “action-reaction” statement is what would convey the complete meaning, perhaps even same concession should be afforded to Teesta? But I am truly at loss as to what other words could have radically changed the meaning of her statement and the mindset that seems to come through.
Of course, she is not the chief minister of any state, and Narendra Modi is, but while latter has been called from ‘mass murderer’ to ‘Hitler’ to ‘modern day Nero’ by people belonging to the Indian media and those subliminally endorsed by it, the former remains a ‘human rights activist’, a ‘social activist’, who has won the Padma Shri award and heads the ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace‘. And that irony of secular India is a tad difficult to live with. But of course, all is not lost – that Teesta Setalvad had indeed ‘justified’ the Sabarmati Express train burning and the passengers in it in above words, is not yet established as fact. 🙂
Please note, that from this post onwards I might start including inline citations. However, I noticed that because of the WordPress navigation bar, on clicking any of the superscripted links, the linked target ends up one line above the visible portion of the screen. So, whenever you click on these citations, please scroll up a bit to reach the target. Thanks!
1. ^ “Ms. Setalvad also pointed out that the Editor’s Guild report on the media and press coverage at that time needed to be examined, especially in connection with the transcript of Mr. Modi’s comments on a television channel talking about the “action and reaction” theory.” (click).
2. ^ “It also confirms that Narendra Modi doesn’t have a monopoly on the Godhra-Gujarat action-reaction theory. Indeed, from Bhiwandi through Gujarat to Goa, there is a certain continuity to Vajpayee’s views on who lights the fire of communal hatred.” (click).
3. ^ “The Chief Minister had described the violence as an outburst of the Hindu community over the train burning and invoked the Newtonian law to say that every action had an equal and opposite reaction.” (click).
8. ^ “This week’s Muslim attack on Hindus has to be seen against that regional background and history as well as in the larger national context. The victims “were not going for a benign assembly”, Teesta Setalvad, the head of an anticommunalism group, told the Washington Post. “They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.”” (click)