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Rohit Dhankar

Rana Ayyub’s “Gujarat Files: anatomy of a cover up” seems to be the current talk of the town. The book is mainly composed of transcripts of clandestinely recorded interviews in her long drawn sting operation, their back ground and Ayyub’s conclusions. Her passion to get to the bottom of things, her courage, tenacity and resourcefulness stand out and are being appreciated all round. We do need people in journalism like her who can try to find out facts from their sources even if at considerable personal risk.

This is not a review of the book, plenty of them are being written. Here I would share some thought streams that may have ran parallel to the reading of the book; intermingling, illuminating, supporting or countering the narrative as well as placing it in the larger perspective.

Reading in the era of trust deficit

As is well accepted the reader is always situated in an overall intellectual environment and the meaning s/he makes of, as well as conviction a book generates his/her mind, is mediated by his/her own understanding and the intellectual environment of the day.

We are living in an era of disturbing trust deficit. Politicians we stopped trusting long back, it is our predicament that we have to elect them and then be ruled by them; but I have serious doubts if we have any trust left in them. Yes, it is sad to say such things in a democracy; but the politicians of all hues forced us into this mind set.

The judiciary held its own for a long time, still holding. But finally it seems our intellectual are bringing it down. It is not the case that the judiciary did not commit mistakes and was not misled. And there are plenty of reasons to evaluate and critique its judgments. But the way aspersions are cast on all its judgments which go against the thinking of a certain set of voluble intellectuals has made judiciary more suspect then is good for a healthy democracy, and more than the judiciary itself deserves; as it is often because of no fault of the judiciary itself. For example, the oft repeated claim regarding Afzal Guru case that the Supreme Court said that there is no clear evidence of his complicity in Parliament attack, but he has to be hanged to appease collective conscience; which some smartly term as “Brahmanical collective conscience” to drive a wedge in the mind of the citizenry. Nothing can be far from the truth, the Supreme Court says no such thing, it clearly established Afzal’s complicity and help rendered. And still some so-called intellectuals keep repeating the lie with the catchy phrase “collective conscience”. Many such instances make common people who do not take on themselves to read these judgments very suspicious of the judiciary now.

The bureaucracy has received a serious blow in the recent case of affidavit change in Ishrat Jahan case and subsequent statements from bureaucrats and police officers belonging to IB and CBI and all. The police and intelligence agencies have no credibility left by now. Particularly in the cases Ayyub is investigating so diligently.

The media has become a complete cacophony and totally devoid of reason. It runs on political positions taken in advance. It is nothing but an image building and image destroying machine.

In such an intellectual atmosphere all that can be said about the ‘truth’ in Rana Ayyub’s book is already said by Justice Shrikrishna in the forward, to quote: “As to whether the material presented in this book represents facts, or mere perspective vision of the events, is for the reader to judge. …  It is for the State apparatus enforcing the Rule of Law and the Constitutional machinery as its sentinel to objectively assess the trustworthiness of the facts narrated here …”. The judge obviously leaves the issue of truth and facts open. A wise judgment for this book. But he also puts the responsibility on the reader and the law enforcement apparatus. Therefore, indicating that the material is not to be ignored.

Backing of a powerful network

Rana Ayyub makes it sound as if this long drawn and very dangerous investigation was her personal crusade and she was on her own in it; except some marginal support from Tehelka. She states that “[B]esides the planning, the execution too had been left entirely to me”. And then notes that she was encouraged by the Tehelka editors but the “the truth was that” she “was a lone soldier on the field”.

And in spite of this Rana Ayyub was able to meet every single police officer, bureaucrat and politician she desired to meet in connection with 2002 riots and her focal issue, a series of ‘fake’ encounters. She attributed this total success to her disguise as Maithili Tyagi and states “Rana Ayyub had to give way to Maithili Tyagi, a Kayastha girl from Kanpur, a student of the American Film Institute Conservatory who had returned to make a film on the development model of Gujarat and Narendra Modi’s rising popularity among NRIs across the world”. One wonders why police officers who were embroiled in fake encounter controversies at the time will take making a film on Gujarat model of development completely to heart and grant her multiple interviews. We need to think.

All this is not to demean Ayyub’s work and courage; it is only to point out that the support of hidden structures and networks perhaps played a crucial part in this investigation. It is clear just from reading the book that Ayyub had extensive contacts in the Gujarat police and bureaucracy before she started this investigation and that she, in all probability, had continuing support of a powerful network in this investigation as well, which she is reluctant to admit. She might have her reasons for her reluctance, and this, to my mind does not detract from the veracity of the transcripts, as she claims they are on tape. But still, having a strong network supporting sting operation, if it were there, remains important to note while reading the book.

We are in danger

Another thought stream that we need to pay attention takes on from the last one with some overlap. Imagine a young film maker often with a teenager of foreign origin meeting people who have been in very sensitive and responsible positions like Home Secretary, top positions in state CID, IB and CBI. These people had decades’ long experience of investigating crimes and gather intelligence on cases that included terrorism. Now a young film maker talks to all of them one by one, they not only know that she is meeting many of the others, but also help her introduce and make appointments. She meets each one of them multiple times and starts asking long drawn series of questions on their and their colleagues’ role in the 2002 riots, in many fake encounters and about their political bosses; questions that have precious little to do with a film on Gujarat Model of Development, whatever that might be. And none of these guardians of the law who are supposed to keep us safe suspect that something is amiss here. What kind of capabilities these gentlemen and women have? What kind of intelligence can they gather and analyze?

That forces one to come to the conclusion, not to suspect Ayyub’s transcripts, but that we are in danger is being protected by such people. Remember that they are posted in Gujarat, and may be from Gujarat cadre, but they are IPS and IAS officers. They must be of the same caliber as their other brethren throughout India.

Back to the claims

In spite of these two nagging doubts her transcripts must be correct. They may have been acquired with help of some powerful network and with some tacit agreement of the characters in them; but it seems they are essentially ‘true’ in the sense that express the views of the concerned officers and politicians. And that is very disturbing.

It becomes very clear how the officials think that the politicians in power have a nexus with part of the police force and how the upright officers are either sidelined or forced to play the role assigned to them. This is not the story of Gujarat alone, as Ayyub herself mentions, but that, rather than being a solace indicates even a greater danger. The police gets communalized, compromised and incapable of doing its job with a fair mind. It becomes a rogue force. In Rajasthan there is a saying indicating a situation where “the supposed to be protective fence start eating the field” (bad khet ko khaaye). The general public becomes the khet, which the police were supposed to protect; but instead starts harming, if one believes these officials.

Another point several officers make is “use and throw” of officers. They say that they were used to do some dirty work but were not protected by the masters when got caught. The real disturbing part of the use-and-throw theory is that the officers feel that it is the upper caste politicians and officers who use and through the scheduled caste and OBC officials. Perhaps one cannot come to this conclusion on the basis of the material supplied in the book as many of the ‘thrown’ officials also seem to be from upper castes and many of the politicians don’t necessarily seem to be from the upper caste. But this curse of Hindu society is making its way into the police and administrative services and fragmenting the nation.

The third disturbing issue that emerges in the book is wide spread belief in the police officials that sometimes criminals cannot be dealt with in the proper procedures of the law and they have to be eliminated through fake encounters. But such encounters should be done in a manner that they can be proved to be real. A little saving grace in this thought is that no innocent person should be harmed in this elimination of the criminals; as more than one officers say that it is alright that Sohrabuddin was eliminated, but why Kausarbi? It seems that the unlawful killing of those thought to be dangerous criminals by the police is an accepted way of functioning, at the least by some officials.

Should we continue to disdainfully ignore this view?

Another issue the book highlights but hardly understands its significance is the deep distrust of Muslim community some officers and Hindu community seem to harbor, if one goes by the book. The other side—attitude of Muslim community towards the Hindu community—is not a subject matter of this book, and actually no one seriously studies that.

I am trying to summarize views on Muslim community expressed by 3 or 4 officers below. I first want to state the view as it emerges in the book without endorsing or challenging. But will examine it a little later.

The first stark statement of this view is by G.L. Singhal. He says, “Especially in 2002 it was like this, Muslims were killing Hindus all these years so whatever happened in 2002 was a retaliation for all those years of being beaten by Muslims. And everybody across the world created havoc. They did not see the situation in which the Hindus were killed.”

Ayyub notes about another police officer Usha Rada that at “the restaurant the conversation veered from the Muslims who had been terrorizing Gujarat to …”.

Another officer, Pandey, says “there were riots in 85, 87, 89, 92 and most of the times the Hindus got a beating. And the Muslims got an upperhand. So this time in 2002, it had to happen, it was the retaliation of Hindus.” Pandey again, “See, whatever you say, the 80 per cent janta is of the majority, the Hindus, so you have to look after them. Like the Congress does. And why do you have to pander to the illegal doings of the Muslims. Muslims however much they do wrong, you want to support them. Hindus however much they do right, you go against them?”

Another officer, Chakravarthy, says “What [I] am saying is [that] normally when riots take place there is a cause and mostly local. Here was a cause that seemed to threaten the Hindu community at large.” He goes on “Since time immemorial History has taught Hindus that Ghazni and Babar invaded India and plundered Somnath. So this has been ingrained in the pschye (sic) of Hindus here. And riots have taken place in India since 1965. Thousands were killed earlier too.”

One can go on quoting similar views, several officers seem to share them. It is also mentioned in the book at several places that riots helped Modi win the elections. That, by implication, means similar views or sentiments are common among the Hindu population. Long back a very senior police officer, not in Gujarat, expressed similar views to me. I know him very well, and cannot call him bigoted in any sense of the word; unless whatever the track record of a person holding such views automatically makes one bigoted. These views are not confined to police officers alone. Common people who are not particularly religious seem to harbor them as well.

The common response and analysis of such views goes as follows:

  1. A proper understanding of history in general and of communal riots in particular does not support these views.
  2. People are made to believe such things by the RSS and BJP, they are being fooled and turned into bigots.
  3. Police is communalized. Hindu population is communalized.

And people who happen to have any inkling to such views are termed as communal, Hindu bigots, lately as fascists, and a danger to the society. To be dismissed disdainfully without thinking any further.

Another response to these views is an ideological and moral high ground: minorities in a democracy should be protected and should be criticized only if very much necessary and with a lot of sensitivity. Recently one well-known figure declared on the authority of Gandhi that he is pro-Muslim and that is how a sane citizen should behave in a democracy. Gandhi, noticed during Khilafat movement that when Hindus raised the slogan of “Bharat mata ki jai” Muslims invariably raised “Allah hu Akbar”. He suggested that here should be commonly accepted slogans for the movement and the first one should be “Allah hu Akbar”. In his ingenuity he explained that it is nothing but a declaration that “Allah is the greatest”. What is wrong in that? And wanted the people to believe that it is not a war cry to declare that no other God will be tolerated, as has been used in the history. This is seen as one among many instances of Gandhi’s endorsement of being pro-Muslim.

My question here is: justified or not, if a large section of Indian population is forming this kind of views about the Muslim community, and if the government officials are also accepting them in some measure; should we keep on simply declaring them bigoted and fools who do not understand or should we engage with this view more seriously? Should we be parroting “all religions are good”, “no religion teaches violence”, “riots are politically manufactured and religion has got nothing to do with them”; or should we look at the issue with a more critical eye? Should we continue blaming Hindu population for all riots and their causes? Should we continue declaring that it is the Hindus who have a bigoted mindset and it is Hinduism which is full of violence; or should we take the dialogue to the next level? Should we go into the details of each instance and try to understand its development more closely?

Rushdie notes in a video[1] that not criticizing religion used to be a right-wing polemics in America and Europe, and it is very worrying that it has become a left-wing polemics now. He calls it the “liberal spirit of appeasement” and political correctness. He also states that the left-wing argument for not critiquing Islam is that the Muslims are in minority, economically weaker and disadvantaged in many ways; therefore, their religion should not be criticized, it will put them in greater disadvantage. This analysis applies to what is happening in India equally well. Rushdie argues that ideas don’t become beyond criticism simply because they are held by disadvantaged people. It seem to me that Rushdie’s argument is right. We need to look into this problem more critically and come out of well-worn clichés.

Conclusion: we need to know more

Coming back to Rana Ayyub’s book: we need to know more. If one takes the veracity of her narrative at its face value: One, she has done a very commendable job of exposing the politician-police nexus. Two, the book shows the extent of communal divide and communalism in police officials. Three, it perhaps rightly hints that the encounters were fake and hide something much bigger underneath them. Four, it also gives hints that the riots were allowed by the government; however, no officer interviewed states that Modi gave direct orders either to go slow or to march against Muslims. But many of them say that such ‘indications’ came through untraceable circuitous routes, and seem to think that emerged from the politicians, including Modi. But how much of this can one take on face value?

This is also clear that Ayyub was supported by a powerful network which she is unwilling to admit. The kind of questions she asked could not have been asked without some agreement form the officers she interviewed. Her transcripts certainly are selected, they seem to be ‘true’, but there seem to be more in the interviews which she is not willing to share, at least at this moment. In the light of that more some of the interpretations may change. But there is no way to ascertain the full truth of her investigation unless she puts all the tapes in the public domain. However, the ‘truth’ that comes out in the book, and even if only half of it is solidly supported by evidence, is disturbing enough for a common Indian. And therefore, this evidence should be taken into account in investigation of this matter.

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[1] http://video.scroll.in/808824/watch-salman-rushdie-says-not-linking-islamic-terrorism-to-islam-is-to-misname-the-problem