Posted on September 6, 2008 - Filed Under 03-Gujarat's Bloody History of Violence | 58 Comments
At times it is necessary to look into the past to understand any event fully. The same is true for the Gujarat riots. The state undoubtedly saw riots after Godhra in which about 1,000 people were killed. Had the same number of people been killed in communal riots in, say, Nagpur city of Maharashtra, it would indeed have been considered as ‘large-scale riots’. This is because, Nagpur region is a region which has hardly seen any communal riots since 1927. But since the riots took place in Gujarat, the events have to be viewed in totality, in view of Gujarat’s history of communal violence.
If one looks at the past history of communal riots in Gujarat, one would understand that the Gujarat riots of March 2002 were absolutely nothing as compared to the past communal riots in the state. The state saw far worse riots in 1969 and 1985. In 1969, curfew was imposed for 65 days in a row, while in 1985 the riots lasted six months. It also saw riots of a large scale in 1980, 1982, 1990-1991- 1992.
Hindu-Muslim conflicts have been going on for the past 1300-1400 years. But in Gujarat, communal riots between Hindus and Muslims have been going on since as far back as AD 1714, i.e. since the medieval times. This was hundreds of years before the birth of any of the organizations of the Sangh Parivar. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded in 1925, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was founded in 1951, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in 1964, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980. Even today, conflicts continue between Muslims and Hindus in India, Muslims and Buddhists in China, in Myanmar, Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, in Algeria, in Philippines, in Morocco, in Chechnya etc. It is not the VHP or the Sangh Parivar that is common in all these places.
Hindus and Muslims have clashed in battles, wars and riots since as far back as AD 636 when Arabs invaded Thane (near Mumbai) and were repulsed. This attacks on India started in 636 AD within 14 years of establishment of Islam in AD 622 (beginning of Hijra, first people to become Muslim converted in AD 610, Khadija) and within 4 years of Muhammad’s death in AD 632-the Prophet of Islam. Even before AD 712, the battles were taking place in western kingdoms of India. In AD 712, Mohammad-bin-Qasim invaded Sindh and defeated its king, Raja Dahir. Even before this event, ever since the Muslims attacked Thane in 636 AD, they kept attacking western Indian kingdoms. A brief summary of this is given in the book (“Gujarat Riots: The True Story”) but is not available on this site. For just a brief and cursory (very very brief, and very very cursory) history of Islam in India, see this.
The great revolutionary and freedom fighter, Swatantryaveer Savarkar wrote in his book, ‘Saha Soneri Pane’ (Six golden pages of Indian history) that the Hindus kept on defeating and repulsing invading Muslims at India’s western borders for as many as 300 years at a stretch, i.e. from 712 AD to 1001 AD, when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India.
Riots are nothing new to India. For the past 125 years, since about 1880 riots have frequently occurred in all parts of India. But among all the Indian states, Gujarat was by far the most communally sensitive state.
If we take the history of Ahmedabad for last five centuries, the city was ruled by the Muslims and the Mughals for about 340 years the rest by Marathas & the British. Coming to the incidents of communal riots during this era of five centuries, the major incidences are:
(1) The 1714 Holi riots:
A Hindu named Hari Ram while celebrating Holi with his friends at his residence unintentionally sprinkled ‘Gulal’ a red powder on one Muslim, and the casual frolic was strongly protested by the Muslims. A mob got assembled near Jumma Masjid under the leadership of Sunni Bohra Mullah Abdul Aziz. The Afghan soldiers of the Muslim viceroy also joined the mob seeing the situation. A Kazi interfered for cooling down the angry mob. But the mob set on fire the house of this Kazi. The rioters thereafter looted the shops of Hindu Mohalla, Shops and set their houses to fire. The rioters could be controlled only by armed guards of a Hindu, Kapurchand Bhanshali.
(2) The 1715 communal riot:
The 1715 communal riots were due to looting of shops of the Hindus by the Muslim soldiers. The riot came to an end with replacement of Muslim viceroy Daudkhan.
(3) The 1716 Id riots:
Consequently during the third year also, communal disturbances broke out during Id in 1716.
The Bohra community, a Muslim sect, gathered cows and buffaloes for Id celebration. A Muslim Havaldar just out of pity released one of such gathered cows. The Muslim protested before the Kazi Khairullakhan seeing no outcome to their expectation, the Muslims resorted to riots arson and mass looting of Hindu establishments. The situation could come to normalcy with Hindu viceroy Ajitsinh’s concerted efforts.
(4) The 1750 temple demolition:
The 1750 riots by Muslims were provoked simply with an excuse that their Namaz was being disturbed due to noise of ringing of bell in an adjoining temple. The Muslims while returning from the Masjid after Namaztotally destroyed the temple and thus wounded the Hindu sentiments.
(5) The September 1927 Ahmedabad Riots:
Muslim prayer in a mosque and a Hindu song in a temple were the apparent cause of conflict.
(6) The 1941 riots:
Communal disturbances broke out on 18th April 1941. The Muslims diverted to Muslim League programmes after the incidence of these riots.
(7) The 1946 Rath Yatra riots:
1st July 1946 was a Rath Yatra day. Rath Yatraas usual was passing through Shaher Kotda police station area, on this auspicious day. There took a hot exchange between a Hindu Akhada man and a Muslim watching the procession. The incidence turned into breaking out of communal violence, viz. arson, cudgelling, stone throwing, stabbing etc. There was also a police firing and curfew was finally imposed to control the situation.
(8) The 1953 Ahmedabad Riots:
The Ganapati festival and Moharram were the occasions of riots in the city of Ahmedabad
(9) The 1965 Sikh incidence:
The 1965 riots were resulted out of the murder of two Sikh rickshaw drivers by some Muslims. The aggrieved Sikhs took out funeral procession of both these dead bodies. The situation got disturbed at Delhi Darwaja and got converted into a communal riot soon.
(10) The 1969 historic communal riots:
It was 18th September 1969, the last day of Urs. The violence crept up in the evening time on the ground that Jagannath Mandir cows going back to temple premises disturbed the Urs. It may be mentioned that movement of cows was a daily routine irrespective of Urs celebration taking place simultaneously. A hot discussion took place that provoked communal tension with a series of violent incidences killing, linking, and soon in various parts of the city.
The riots of 1969 were biggest of its type in Independent India having taken lives of thousands of persons.
(Source: VSK, Gujarat)
Among others were the 1985 bloody riots in Gujarat, the 1980, 1982 riots in Ahmedabad and Godhra, the 1990 and 1992 riots.
What follows is a write up by Hemant Babu published in Himal magazine dated 6 July 2003 reproduced by www.countercurrents.org :
… “A sign of this normalcy is the number of incidents of communal violence in the state as recorded officially. Judicial commissions of inquiry, the Justice Reddy Commission and the Justice VS Dave Commission, were instituted after two major riots, of 1969 and 1985 respectively. Both commissions referred in some detail to Gujarat’s history of communal violence. The Justice Dave Commission traced the history of communal violence in Ahmedabad as far back as 1714 when a bloody riot was sparked off during the Holi celebrations. The city then was still under Mughal control. Subsequent riots broke out in 1715, 1716 and 1750…
Hindu-Muslim violence continued in the centuries that followed, with the pace and intensity picking up in the second half of the twentieth century. When communal riots broke out in 1941, curfew had to be imposed for over two-and-a-half months. The Justice Reddy Commission identified as many as 2938 instances of communal violence in the state between 1960 and 1969, that is, an average of approximately three riots every four days during this ten-year period…
During this period, riots began to spread over a much wider geographical area of the sate, affecting towns like Veraval, Junagadh, Patan, Godhra, Palanpur, Anjar, Dalkhania, Kodinar and Deesa, all of which have been hit by the ongoing violence.
… But violence of a different, more systematic and sustained order was inaugurated in 1969. The Hindu-Muslim riots of that year mark a major break with the hitherto prevalent pattern of steady if unspectacular social conflict. More than two years of hectic Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist activity preceded the outbreak of these riots. Communal violence in the state acquired a more organised form against the backdrop of the India-Pakistan war of 1965.
… A riot of this magnitude, unprecedented in both scale and duration, had a foundational significance for the politics of the state and the techniques of mobilisation and orchestration that increasingly came into use. The discrete and scattered violence of the preceding period can be presumed to be manifestations of everyday class, caste and community struggles arising from socio-economic conflicts of a more or less local nature. To that extent, their individual histories and repercussions were confined to the respective localities of incidence. The 1969 riots had the critical mass that lent it state- and nation-wide visibility and gave it a prominent place in the historical inventory of community grievances. This riot could now be invoked at will, not just in Gujarat but wherever else tension had to be engineered. In effect, this was the first explicit politicisation of both communalism and public violence in the state.
Most importantly, the riots of 1969 took Gujarati society past the psychological threshold of normally tolerable public violence, and this not just of the communal variety. Once the barrier to the use of violence in inter-party conflicts was crossed, its repeated use acquired a tacit legitimacy as the social conscience became gradually more immune to the incremental doses of it that the polity administered
… The BJP’s active influence on the 1985 agitation explains many of its more curious features. The riots began on 19 March, the day after the newly elected Congress government assumed office, and was directed against a policy measure declared more than two months prior. In January, the Congress government had announced an increase in the quota of jobs in government and seats in public educational institutions reserved for backward castes. The riots lasted six months, much after the policy had been revoked by the government. … South Gujarat, which had previously been unaffected, now found itself on the riot map of the state. The social base of the violence expanded to include gangsters, bootleggers and professional killers. Various reports of the period quote doctors who described the stab wounds they attended to as the work of trained hands. The agitation finally degenerated to a point where sections of the state constabulary abandoned their uniforms and relinquished their responsibilities to join the riots.
…Gujarat again witnessed riots in 1992 when the disputed Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was razed to the ground a few hours after kar sevaks stormed the monument. Surat experienced intermittent disturbances over a six-month period. In 1993, more riots followed, after the blasts in Bombay, allegedly masterminded by the Muslim underworld. Perhaps these riots were attempts at forging a Hindu unity that, on the face of it, seemed impossible. Whatever the intention, there is no denying that the rath yatra precipitated a political crisis in which the existing intra- and inter-party equations began to break down. And, there is no getting away from the fact that, though not uniformly successful across India, the BJP from the 1991 general elections has secured more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the state…”
A staunch anti-BJP man wrote this article. The website that reproduced it; www.countercurrents.org is one of the most anti-BJP ones on the entire Internet. Yet, even in its horribly anti-Sangh Parivar article, the writer discloses some very important things. And one of them is Gujarat’s bloody history of communal violence.
We already have seen the bloody history of Godhra town of engineering riots since 1927-28. The following is the report of the Vishwa Sanwad Kendra on the comparisons between the 1969, 1985 and the 2002 riots:
“Comparative analysis of Government response to communal riots during 1969, 1985 and 2002
The communal tension in the state of Gujarat is not an unknown phenomenon. Prior to the present situation, all communal disturbances before Godhra incident, two major communal incidents took place in 1969 and 1985. To inquire into the factors leading to the communal violence in 1969 and 1985, the State Government appointed Judicial Commission to thoroughly inquire into all the aspects leading to communal violence and the response of the state Administration. Both the Commissions have come to specific conclusions and while coming to the conclusion they have come to specific conclusions and while coming to the conclusion they have also made specific observations.
On September 18, 1969, a major communal riot broke out in Ahmedabad City and subsequently spread in the other districts of the State. The incident which sparked the communal violence took place on 18th September 1969 at 3.45 pm in Ahmedabad near Lord Jagannath Temple. Hon. Justice Jagmohan Reddy inquired into the violence which broke out during the said communal disturbances. After 1969, a major agitation and communal riots broke out in 1985. Justice Dave Commission inquired into the incidents which took place during the course of anti-reservation agitation and also communal disturbances during February 1985 to July 1985.
The response of the State Government in the earlier incidents and the recent incident brings to the fore certain important facts which are as under:
In 1969, the incident of violence reported on 18th September at 3.45 pm. The army was pressed into service on 21st September 1969 at 16.30 pm in limited areas (three Police Station only) while army was deployed in the entire city on 22nd September 1969 at 18.00 hrs. In 1985, the riot broke out on 15/4/85 and the army was requisitioned on 16/4/85. By then, 177 deaths had already been reported. Compared to this, the army was requisitioned on the same day, i.e. on 28th February itself. It is very relevant to note that unlike the earlier occasions, army at this point of time is deployed on the border. Therefore, the deployment of army was difficult at a short notice. However, Hon. Chief Minister impressed upon the Hon. Prime Minister and the Defence Minister to deploy the army forthwith in view of the prevailing condition in the State. The Central Government also reacted very fast and army was airlifted to Ahmedabad the same night. The army was in action from next day of the incident, having completed all the formalities of nominating Executive Magistrates, allocation of vehicles etc.
The incident in 1969 occurred on 18th September 1969 but the situation was out of control, even on the 5th and 6th day. The violation incidents continued to be reported even after the 6th day. The disturbances in 1985 were spread over a period of five months from February 1985 to July 1985. However, in the present case, the situation has been brought under control within three to four days only.
In the present case, the curfew was clamped within four hours in Godhra (actually within 2 hours, at 9:45 am) on the same day. Compared to this, there was delay in ordering curfew in the earlier incidents. The grievance for such delay was reported before the Enquiry Commission.
The complaint about inaction from the Police authorities and the local administration were made before the Inquiry Commission. In the present case in Gujarat, the Law and Order Enforcing Authority has taken a proactive stand to curb the violence effectively. Police Authorities have fired more than 3900 rounds, they have used more than 6500 rounds of tear gas and arrested more than 2800 people. One should also take a note of the fact that 90 people have been killed in police firing (Actually 98 people were killed) which shows that police showed no lenient approach towards elements spreading violence, arson and looting. It is also very pertinent to note that the geographical areas under grip of such untoward incident was much larger in 2002, compared to the earlier incidents of 1969 and 1985.
The above facts clearly show that the Government had reacted to the situation very quickly, effectively and also with strong political will.”
(Source: VSK, Gujarat www.vskgujarat.com)
NDTV-Star News had broadcast a programme ‘The Big Fight’ live from Ahmedabad in December 2002, a week or so before the Gujarat Assembly elections. The participants were Harin Pathak of the BJP (BJP MP from Ahmedabad) and Shankersinh Vaghela of the Congress, and a victim of the Gujarat riots, Bandukwala. In that debate quoting an article from ‘The Hindustan Times’ of 1969, Harin Pathak said that the official death toll in the 1969 riots was around 5000, but it was actually three to five times the number. At that time, the Congress was in power with the great Gandhian Hitendra Desai as the Chief Minister. The actual number of people killed in 1969 thus ranges from 15,000 to 25,000. Contrast this with the 2002 riots with 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus and a total of 223 people missing, as per figures given a Congress Union Minister!
The following is a write-up by Devendra Swarup in weekly Organiser dated 16 May 2004:
“ Use of Mahatma Gandhi’s name and views certainly makes it emotional but does not seem in accordance with history. Perhaps, the respected judges ignored the fact that Gujarat has a long history of communal violence. During Gandhi’s life itself Gujarat had burnt in such violence. His pain at the 1924 riots of Ahmedabad is visible in his complete works; since Independence sparks of violence have been spreading in the Muslim-dominated areas of Godhra and Ahmedabad; Mohammad Ghazni was extended invitation to again prevent the reconstruction of Somnath temple which caused unbearable pain to Gandhi. Gujarat has had a long history of riots during the Congress regime that called itself the sole inheritor of Gandhi’s legacy even after his death. In 1969, during Gandhian Hitendra Desai´s rule as Chief Minister, Ahmedabad witnessed communal frenzy, in which more than 3,000 people were killed, i.e. much more than those killed in the riots of 2002. Hence instead of getting caught in the quagmire of ideology, it is necessary to probe into the causes of this endless chain of communal riots in the state.”
Here, however, Devendra Swarup says only 3,000 people were killed in 1969 in Ahmedabad. He has used this figure out of a sense of moderation and caution, and gives it only for Ahmedabad. The correct official figure is 5,000 and actual 15 to 25 thousand, as quoted by Harin Pathak, former Union Minister of State for Home.
The Times of India reports in its issue dated 12 April 2002:
“Ahmedabad: If it took a shocking massacre like Godhra to trigger off massive communal riots in the state in the 21st century, history shows that trivial incidents caused most riots in the 20th century. An inquiry report prepared by justice V S Dave of Rajasthan High Court, who headed a commission of inquiry to investigate the 1985 anti-reservation and subsequent communal riots, devotes a special chapter to the ‘history of riots and agitations in Gujarat’. Tracing the riots way back from 1714, the report points out at the causes of riots as festivals and religious celebrations, aggressions and changing of the secular complex of the ‘pols’, ‘khanchas’ and ‘by-lanes’ within the walled city due to migration to areas of greater security. On April 18, 1941, communal riots broke out and curfew imposed in most localities, was in force for two and a half months. As a result, the civil disobedience movement in the city engineered by the Congress was suspended till October 1941. Both communities suffered in varying degrees in Ahmedabad and elsewhere in the state. Tracing the records, the report observes an important consequence of the riots “after this sad episode, the Muslims of Ahmedabad turned their faces and embraced the programme of the Muslim League.” This was followed soon by the communal riots on July 1, 1946, during the rath yatra due to police firing. Curfew was imposed. Records suggest that the communal riots broke out at about 12.30 pm, in the sherkotda police station. One Sikandar who was a well-known Muslim gymnast, accompanied by three or four members of his akhada was watching the performance of a Hindu akhada which formed the part of a procession. Sikandar allegedly criticized the style of weight-lifting adopted by one Chitranjan Chintamani. This led to a scuffle, in which Sikandar and Chintamani were injured; Sikandar and some sadhus, both of whom were excited, were arrested and put in lock-up. This led to riots. This was followed by the 1958 riots and police firing at Khadia. The then district magistrate had eloquently described Khadia locality in connection with a firing on August 12, in the following words, “The worst area was as it had invariably been in the previous disturbances, the Khadia ward in Ahmedabad city.” However, it will be wrong to believe that the communal tension has always been between Hindus and Muslims. In 1965, the city witnessed the first-ever Sikh Muslim riot in the city, when two Sikh auto rickshaw drivers were murdered by some Muslims. On the following day during the funeral procession, some irate Sikhs broke open some Muslim shops and attacked them. The riots in 1969 have become a history by themselves. The report held “…that there was never any riot in the state of Gujarat of magnitude as was witnessed in September 1969, which took a heavy toll of human lives and property belonging to both the communities.” Justice P J Reddy commission which inquired into this riots found that at least 560 people died, while 561 were injured. These riots were sparked by a trivial incident on September 18, 1969, when a large number of people had gathered for ‘urs’ of the Bukhari Saheb’s chhila. At about 3.45 pm when a herd of the cows accompanied by their keepers had almost reached the temple gates, some Muslims objected as to why the sadhus of the temple had allowed animals to disturb the fair. An altercation followed between some Muslims and the sadhus in which some sadhus were injured. Incidents of violence, thereafter, happened in rapid succession in various parts of the city, taking a heavy toll of lives and property. This was followed by 1985 anti-reservation agitation which took the colour of communal riots and then in 1992 occurred post-Babri riots.”
An analysis on this article by “The Times of India” really discloses the full story. All these riots happened even without any cause as the Godhra incident. While in 2002, despite the mind-numbing roasting alive of karsevaks, an incidence which has no parallel at least in independent India, riots of far less magnitude took place.
The following is the report of www.geocities.com written by V Gangadhar :
“During the 1941 communal riots, the Hindus took a terrible beating and never forgot it. Khadia, within the walled city, became a stronghold of Hindus, but there was no militancy in the area. The 1945 communal riots were milder, but when India became free, it was hoped that Hindus and Muslims could live together in peace. This happened for some time…Yet Hindus and Muslims fought together in the Mahagujarat Movement which established a separate Gujarat state in 1960.
The Congress has always been the major force in the city. The socialists and communists could never get a foothold. The Congress split of 1968-69 had a major impact on the political, economic and communal future of Gujarat, which was the bastion of the traditional Congress-O led by Morarji Desai.
The year 1969 was a watershed in communal relations. The Hindu-Muslim riots killed more than 5,000 people and Ahmedabad became a vast burial ground. The riots were aggravated because of the conflict between the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi at the Centre, and the state government led by Hitendra Desai of the Congress-O…
Congress-O leader Morarji Desai was not personally communal, but he hardly did anything to control the situation. For the first time in the city’s history, the labour areas were affected. The killings here were most brutal. Since then, Gujarat has never been the same.”
This author V Gangadhar is another staunch anti-BJP man. The website, www.geocities.com is among the most anti-BJP websites. Laughable claims such as, “The Bajrang Dal killed 2 lakh Sikhs in New Delhi in 1983-84” are posted on this website. And yet, this website and this author help us to a large extent in realizing the history of violence in Gujarat.
Vadodara also saw horrible riots in 1982, just like Ahmedabad and Godhra. Gujarat also saw riots in 1990, between April and December, which saw nearly 1400 communal incidences, which left officially 224 people dead and 775 injured. Nearly 120 riots took place in Gujarat in 1991 between January and April which left at least 38 people dead officially and 170 injured. Ahmedabad again saw riots in October 1990 after L.K.Advani’s Rath Yatra began, which saw 41 people dead officially. Vadodara again saw riots between April 1991 and July 1991, which was a result of a petty incidence of a boy getting hit by an auto rickshaw. Surat saw bloody riots in 1992, which left about 200 people dead, after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya.
(Source: IPCS research papers, Volume 3, March 2004, written by B Rajeshwari)
The author B Rajeshwari is also a professor at the Jawaharlal NehruUniversity, New Delhi. She belongs to a staunch Leftist school of thought. A professor at the JNU is seeped in the vicious anti-Hindu mould, and despite that, this author does give some important information to us.
The above instances are enough for anyone to understand Gujarat’s history of communal violence. To see newspaper editors and freelancers writing ‘white lies’ on English dailies’ editorial pages that, “Narendra Modi is responsible for the worst massacre of Muslims in independent India” or “Modi killed 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat” etc etc is all disgusting. This is not only because of the factual errors, but because these people themselves know Gujarat’s history of violence. Most of the instances mentioned in this book (of Gujarat’s past violence) are taken from sources of these people only. And yet, they lie through the skin of their teeth.
Shridhar Patel wrote in weekly Organiser dated 22 December 2002:
“…Hardly any newspaper has taken the trouble to understand Gujarat.
Strangely enough, the one English-language newspaper to make that effort is the NRI journal published from New York“India Abroad” (May 17, 2002). Sheila Bhat’s article “Wounds of history” should be made compulsory reading for our hate-filled columnists. Sheila Bhat recounts how Gujarat’s pride was broken and how “Centuries of being under the exploiters’ yoke has left deep scars” on the Gujarati psyche. The last Hindu to rule over Gujarat independently was Karan Vaghelo who fled his kingdom in 1298. ‘From then on’, writes Sheila, ‘there have been small pockets under Hindu kings ruling as vassals of various conquerors but Gujarat was never independent from 1300 to 1947…The past is never, ever, far from the present…’ Our ‘intellectual’ columnists do not know history, much less Gujarati psychology. They know only hate. The truth is that in IndiaGujarat is a special case. Maharashtra can boast of a Shivaji who stood up to Muslim rule and bears no psychological wounds, Rajasthan has several Hindu heroes like Rana Pratap for one, South India had its great Vijaynagar Empire to be proud of but Gujarat with its open borders has been at the mercy of anyone who has chosen to come in with rape and plunder and pillage. If one does not understand that, one does understands nothing, either about Narendra Modi, or about Gujarat…”
Our newspaper editors are of course blind to the historical facts. They are blind to the demolition of the sacred temple at the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya by Babur in 1528 and they attach it no significance. They are also blind to the atrocities committed on Hindus by Muslims in the medieval period, and also the atrocities which the Hindus suffered in Gujarat at the hands of Muslims not only since AD 1298, but also in the communal riots throughout the 1940s.
In 1399, Timur killed 100,000 Hindus in a single day. Professor K S Lal, in his Growth of Muslim Population in India, writes that according to his calculations, the Hindu population decreased by 80 million between the years 1000 and 1525, probably the biggest holocaust in world history. (Source: Article by Francis Gautier on www.rediff.com dated 11 March 2003)
The Gujarat riots of 1969 were far more serious than the 2002 riots. The death toll, as a proportion of population was far higher and the violence had spread to many parts of the state.
Godhra (and its twin city of Dahod) is famous in the subcontinent as the birthplace of Aurangzeb, the fanatical Mughal emperor. It is also a well known trouble spot that has seen violent riots between Hindus and Muslims for over a hundred years. A large number of people of Godhra have links with people in violence-prone Karachi in Pakistan.
(Source: www.rediff.com dated 2nd March 2005 and also The Times of India dated 30 May 2002)
Even a staunch anti-Hindu fortnightly like ‘Frontline’ reports: “The Rath Yatra has often sparked communal violence in Ahmedabad, including the worst massacre in 1969.” (Frontline 13-26 March 2002)
The same weekly also reports:
The Hindutva experiment
DURING the last two months and more of mayhem, questions regarding the extent to which the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva ideology has permeated the public mind have sprung up. In order to understand how the BJP has been able to mobilise different sections of society from the Patidars (or Patels) to Dalits and other backward classes (OBCs), it is necessary to look at Gujarat‘s history of communal violence.
The earliest recorded riot here dates back to 1714 during Mughal rule – it occurred in Ahmedabad. It was sparked by a minor incident – the accidental sprinkling of ‘ghulal’ during the Holi festival, according to the V.S. Dave Commission report on the 1985 riots. Several riots took place during the Maratha rule, which lasted until 1817. During the British Raj, riots broke out in 1941, following which the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended. It also marked the time when Ahmedabad’s Muslims started supporting the Muslim League. In 1946, trouble broke out in the city again. in post-Independence India, there were riots in Ahmedabad in 1958, 1965 and 1969. The 1969 riots were also sparked by a minor event but led to one of the bloodiest riots in Gujarat.
(Frontline: 14-26 May 2002)
That is, a fortnightly as anti-BJP and anti-Narendra Modi as the Frontline admits the fact that Gujarat’s worst riots were in 1969 under the Congress Party, and not in 2002 under Narendra Modi.
The following is some text of Rakesh Sinha’s article in ‘The Pioneer’ dated 20 April 2002:
“Give a dog bad name and hang it
It is not for the first time that Gujarat has witnessed communal riots. Its history is replete with communal tension and feuds.
In September 1969, Gujarat plunged into one of the severest riots after Partition. The immediate reason for the riot was attack on two sadhus of Jagannath Temple by a mob of about 1,000 Muslims, who gathered to celebrate Urs on September 18, 1969, provoking organised violence in Ahmedabad and many other areas, including Baroda. Official figure counted 660 dead and 1,100 injured. The magnitude of riots could be gauged by the figure that 6000 families lost their houses, properties and belongings. The Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee’s report “Gujarat‘s riot X-rayed” mentioned the figure of dead people as 3000.
“Religious-quake” was witnessed during the riots. Incidents were reported but they did not unravel religious identities of the victims. The Times of India reported on its front-page on September 20, 1969, a father and son being burnt alive when the son was taking his ailing father to hospital. Incidents like these hit our humanitarian sentiment rather than religious or communal feelings, when they are reported with restraint. They do not transcend the communal hatred beyond the boundaries of the communally charged region or the State. This spirit was maintained by the media throughout the riot-span (for a month) in 1969. The 1969 riots were not transformed into a political battle to destabilise the government or to blame the ruling Congress or to settle scores with Hitendra Desai, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s short visit on September 25 was both preceded and followed by premeditated violence. Seventeen passengers were killed in the Janata Express near Ahmedabad the same day. But the institution of the Prime Minister was not trivialised or her stature was not questioned due to such horrendous incidents.
During 1969 riots, The Times of India reported, “Sabarmati Harijan Ashram too not spared” (September 23, 1969) as hooligans attacked the Ashramites and damaged the ashram…“
This article also shows that the 1969 riots were far worse than the 2002 riots. In reality, its not just the 1969 riots, but most of the major post-independence riots in Gujarat, such as the 1980, 1982, 1985,1990-1991-1992 riots which were worse than the 2002 riots and that too without any immediate cause as the Godhra incident.
The following is the interview given to “The Times of India” by the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi dated 30th March 2002:
“Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in an exclusive interview to The Times of India says his state is returning to normalcy. Excerpts from the interview:
Q.: In your view, was the burning of 58 kar sevaks in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra a planned attacked or a spontaneous one? Was there an untoward incident on the station platform which sparked the attack?
A.: If one looks at the nature of the heinous attack on the Sabarmati Express and the manner in which 58 innocent kar sevaks were burnt alive in a compartment of the ill-fated train, it would be apparent that it was a deep rooted conspiracy and a pre-planned, cold-blooded attack.
The train arrived at Godhra at 7:43 a.m. and within five minutes, i.e. at 7:48 a.m., it left Godhra. It was stopped at Signal Falia about 500 metres away and a mob attacked the compartment collectively. How can such an attack be spontaneous? Moreover, the train departed from Faizabad and arrived in Godhra after 36 long hours, and no incident was reported on the behaviour of the kar sevaks en route. But the president of the Gujarat unit of the Congress, Amarsinh Chaudhary, has alleged in a television interview that the attack took place because the kar sevaks did not pay money for a cup of tea at the railway station. Is it not ridiculous to justify a ghastly incident such as this?
Q.: There are reports that the Tableegi Jamiat of the Deobandi school of Islam has been fanning fundamentalist ideology in Godhra and that there were instances of members of the majority community being burnt in the past few years. Are these reports true? If so, on what dates were they burned and by whom and what is the action taken against the persons concerned?
A.: The long history of communal violence in Godhra is not an unknown phenomenon, but it has taken an ugly and serious turn in the last 25-30 years. Two families have been burnt alive in the same area in the past in a ghastly incident. And ten years ago, four teachers, including two women teachers, were mercilessly cut to death in a school in the presence of children.
While the then Congress rulers have registered court cases in a routine manner, they have failed miserably to punish the real culprits. Not only this, the main culprit named Asaraf was done to death while in a jail by other accused persons and the whole event was pushed into a corner forever.
Q.: Reports of the violence in Ahmedabad give the impression that it was well organised. The reports said armed mobs went around with voting lists targeting Muslims. An IAS officer, Harsh Mander, has given a chilling account of the violence in Ahmedabad. Why has the state not been able to tackle the situation? There are allegations that the police was partisan. Please comment.
A.: Those who are acquainted with Gujarat know that this state is very sensitive to communal violence. There have been serious communal disturbances triggered by petty and minor incidents relating to kite flying or a cricket match. In the past, communal violence has broken out in 200 places at a time and curfew has been imposed in about 300 villages and towns for months together.
Compared to this, the Godhra massacre was unparalleled in history, but we took all proactive measures to curb the violence within 72 hours. The police fired more than 3,900 rounds initially and the army was airlifted from the border area and deployed within 16 hours in the disturbed areas. There was no complacency on the part of the government or the police…”
Imagine a state where communal riots take place at 200 places at the same time, and many more villages and towns affected by violence, and curfew in 300 places for many months together! The Godhra town also remained in curfew throughout the year in 1980 and also 1985. As compared to that the violence in 2002 was absolutely nothing.
But despite knowing this, the media just doesn’t want to know. It has exhausted all its resources to attack and target one man- Narendra Modi, one party- the BJP. Instead of thinking objectively and appreciating the spirited work of the Gujarat government in controlling the communal violence, the media has irrationally and irresponsibly accused the BJP government of turning a blind eye to the riots. But someone who does not want to see the truth cannot see it. We will see the reason for this Ostrich approach in another chapter.