Scraps of Justice for Riot Victims as Modi Woos China

We are a strange country where the courts that do their job of delivering justice are validated for having “created history”. Nine years and eight months after the Mehsana incident in which 33 Muslims were burnt alive in a house in Sardarpura village, 31 people have been convicted and given life imprisonment.

So, is it time yet to celebrate that justice has been done? The 1,024-page judgement declared that the killing of kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express was the motive for the massacre. If this were the case, then it is planned. Vengeance is a motive, and motives are not impulses. How could the Principal District Judge S C Srivastava convict them for murder, rioting and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and other sections of IPC, and yet imply that it was a spontaneous reaction by the villagers? Besides, on the previous night a mob of 1,500 had attacked a Muslim-dominated area. The Sardarpura house was a refuge where those attacked tried to protect a few elders, women and children. Why was this house specifically attacked? It was a shameful and vicious act. The Special Investigative Team appointed by the Supreme Court had mentioned a conspiracy where a mob had collected near the village temple and they were allegedly given trishuls.

The SIT’s own record in the other pending cases of 2002 isn’t quite without blemish, so if it imputes motives then there could be two reasons: At the time it deposed there was no pressure or the High Court, SIT, and the government of Gujarat are playing musical chairs. SIT chief R K Raghavan is quite pleased with the present verdict and in fact stated, “The conviction is a significantly large number.”

Has he or any of his officers spoken about the large number of victims? Is this merely a numbers game?

While the public prosecutor wanted a more stringent punishment since the victims included 11 children, one of the defence lawyers, B C Barot, dismissed this as a “reaction to an action”, a term we are already familiar with. Is this an independent judiciary we are talking about where the lawyers speak the language of the establishment and quote the chief minister who has been asked to appear before the inquiry committees for complicity?

Another surprising argument came from the other defence lawyer, H M Dhruv, who according to reports, “argued that there was no conspiracy and the incident was a consequence of unlawful assembly and said that the prosecution had not assigned any specific role to the accused”.

1,500 people do not merely constitute unlawful assembly. The 76 who were arrested for the Sardarpura murders also do not qualify as unlawful assembly. The people who they killed were holed up inside the house. There was no provocation. There was no action for them to ‘react’ to. Moreover, what role does the prosecution assign to the accused – Chief instigator? Frontline man? Kerosene carrier? Matchstick lighter?

There is a good deal of double talk for if, as the judgement mentions, the death of kar sevaks on the Godhra train was the motive, then what roles do the accused need to play? In a rather audacious argument, Mr. Dhruv said, “They are illiterate farmers and were influenced by conditions.”

One will have to see how this is used as a precedent in the other pending cases, such as the Gulberg and Best Bakery cases. Let us wait and watch how many illiterate farmers modern Gujarat has. It is also imperative to know what were the conditions they were influenced by or who influenced them. Since they are supposedly illiterate – one of them was the sarpanch of his village – how did they perceive those ‘conditions’? Did they not fear for their own lives and livelihood? Or, were they given an assurance that all would be well? Or, were these people the decoys who got trapped? As it was a mob, on what basis did the courts decide that the rest were innocent or there was insufficient evidence against them?

Apparently, according to an Indian Express report, the convicted are “mostly landed Patels…(and the) Muslims (they killed) were employed as their farm labourers and were their neighbours”. If indeed they have monetary clout, they can appeal against the verdict.

However, this could also turn out to be a diversionary tactic of transforming the obvious communal angle into a master-servant one, bringing in the economy. It is a smart strategy. In tandem with this verdict, the chief minister Narendra Modi was busy selling Gujarat to China as an investment haven. He was not marketing the fields and agriculture, so farmers are as good as cows to be milked or curdled. He was wooing Chinese investors to put in their money on the special $8 billion Dholera Special Investment Region. His pony trick was to deftly remove himself from the image of India as a bureaucratic bungle by going to the extent of saying that “Gujarat represents a different model of growth”.

This irony of this sort of separatism was lost on him for he went on to discuss the issue of Chinese troops on the Pakistani side of Kashmir with the political leaders in Beijing and was willing to pander to them: “I told them whatever your intentions, Pakistan is making use of you.”

There are no reports whether this elicited some muffled laughter or not. He has also conveniently discovered that Gujarat shares a border with North West Pakistan, and therefore his concern.

His hardsell of a financially sound separatism from India is as well-planned as of those who went on a killing spree. India has to take a tough stand on China on several issues, mainly the North East and to an extent PoK. It keeps its public view on Tibet on a leash.

China is on a moneymaking spree, as it has been for a few years now. Gujarat can be that ‘no-man’s land’ economic zone. Both benefit. Besides, Modi gets to be what he always wanted to – the permanent raja of a principality as well as messiah of Mammon. The Chinese understand numbers.

31 men being given life terms for riots in which 1,200 people were killed is not too much debit on his spreadsheet. In fact, it could be just what he was looking for: the sitting Peking ducks, while he ducked into his pet project of making Gujarat better than Shanghai by bringing Shanghai into Gujarat. With five crore Gujaratis in his pocket, he can get the cat to lick the cream even as the bloodied milk boils over.

(c) Farzana Versey


  1. FV,

    I guess you would have been satitisfied if the judge had gone ahead and convicted Narendra Modi to death, though Modi was not an accused in the case at all!

    Any comments as to why the five crore Gujaratis are happy living in Modi's pocket?

  2. F&F:

    Welcome back!

    Nah, I want Modi alive. Besides, I don't believe in 'capital' punishment, even if it is economic inducement.

    Any comments as to why the five crore Gujaratis are happy living in Modi's pocket?

    Have you ever thought about how happy the loose change and soiled notes in your pocket feel?


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