Modi's win is India's loss - View from Dubai
~ Who really represents the world's largest democracy?
Modi's evil regime or Mahatma Gandhi's Gujarat?
I can never forget the date of February 27, 2002. Dubai witnessed a historic accident that day. Yours truly landed in the emirate from India on February 27 for my new job with Khaleej Times. But there's another, more serious reason why I consider Feb 27, 2002 a turning point in the history of the 21st century.
That fateful day Gujarat happened to India. The fire that broke out on Sabarmati Express at Godhra, a sleepy town in the Western state of India, killed 57 people. Many of the victims were activists from militant Hindu groups and parties, returning home after taking part in yet another 'show of strength' by the VHP at the site where Babri Masjid once stood in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
That doesn't make the tragedy any less tragic, of course. At least two independent inquiry commissions subsequently established that the train blaze was an accident, ostensibly a result of the many stoves and kerosene carried by the Hindu activists.
However, the governing BJP and chief minister Narendra Modi, desperate for an electoral victory, leapt at the opportunity presented by the tragedy.
Blaming the 'conspiracy' on the Muslim minority in the state, the BJP leaders and activists - duly aided by their friends from numerous affiliated outfits and the state machinery including the brave Gujarat Police - were out on the streets within hours to avenge Godhra.
Ever a fiery orator, Modi demanded 'blood for blood' urging BJP cadres and Hindus everywhere to teach the 'Muslim terrorists' a lesson they could never forget. How our friends from the BJP and its many avatars like RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal et al played Holi with Muslim blood is the most shameful part of India's recent history.
Its six years since the Gujarat genocide. But I still can't forget the chilling and terrifying live images of the murderous campaign that went on back home in India. I lay in my hotel room in Bur Dubai, watching in horror and disbelief the never-ending nightmare playing out on television screen. Coming from Hyderabad, I am not exactly a stranger to religious riots. Like many other big cities in the subcontinent, the city of Charminar has had its fair share of religious tensions from time to time. However, what was going on Gujarat in that summer of 2002 was something totally different. India hadn't seen anything like this before. The murderous mayhem went on for over a month. With burning cities, towns and homes...bodies lying everywhere...and marauding mobs with guns, swords and everything else that can turn into a weapon against a helpless people on the streets, Gujarat looked like an endless battlefield.
I still can't shrug off that searing image of a man standing atop his house and begging for mercy with folded hands - tears streaking on his dusty cheeks and welling in his brown eyes as the demented crowds in the street below bayed for his blood. Ansari, a tailor by profession, was the fear personified. And his face became the face of Modi's Gujarat. Ansari survived to share his trauma with Indian Express, my former employer.
However, hundreds of others from Ansari's community weren't so lucky. According to official estimates, more than 2,000 Muslims were killed. But perhaps we'll never know exactly how many from the minority community were exterminated in the 2002 pogrom. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were driven from their homes to take shelter in neighbouring states or wherever they could survive. While the mobs hunted and killed Muslims like some dangerous animals across Gujarat daily in the full view of 24/7 television cameras, the Neros in power in the state not only cheered on the witch-hunt, they actually joined the fun with all the gusto that comes naturally to men when they turn into animals.
Hardly surprising given the fact Modi himself was the architect of this campaign. Those in power in Delhi were little different. After all, the federal coalition government then was also headed by the same party of which Modi has been a founding member. God knows this is no exaggeration.
In October this year - just before assembly elections this month - the whole of India and the world watched in morbid fascination on live television as the killers, who raped, murdered and burnt Muslims day after day in 2002, boasted how and on whose orders they turned Gujarat into a large inferno for the minority community.
The first person accounts, caught on candid camera by Tehelka weekly, of Godhra BJP MLA Haresh Bhatt and VHP leaders Babu Bajrangi, Anil Patel and Dhawal Jayanti Patel and others, revealed the truth behind the Gujarat 2002. Contrary to the claims by BJP and VHP leaders, the Tehelka sting - and the judicial investigation by Justice Nanavati and Justice Banerjee before that - proved that the month-long mass killing of Muslims was not a spontaneous reaction of the Hindu community to the Godhra tragedy. It was a genocide, pure and simple - planned and executed by top functionaries of the so-called Sangh Parivar and the state authorities 'with the sanction' of chief minister Modi. In fact, according to Bhatt, Bajrangi and others, the chief minister came and patted the back of those who had orchestrated and executed the anti-Muslim pogrom telling them that they had "done a good job."
Prominent VHP leaders like Bajrangi says in his proud statement caught on tape by Tehelka weekly: "Aur humne tabiyat se kaata... Haldighati bana di thi [and we killed at will, turned the place into Haldighati (a historical battlefield) ]... And I am proud of it, if I get another chance, I will kill even more..." Bajrangi goes on to explain how they dumped Muslims into a huge pit and set them on fire.
"It was a huge pit... You could enter it from one side but you couldn't climb out at the other end... They (Muslims) were all there together... They started clinging to each other...even while they were dying. They were hacked, burnt, set on fire; many things were done... many... We believe in setting them on fire because these bastards say they don't want to be cremated..."
Modi and his party have never made a secret of their pathological hatred of Muslims.
Today, thanks to the web of terror that Modi and his men have spun, Gujarat, the great land that once gave India its greatest leader Gandhi, reminds you of Hitler's Germany.
Sonia Gandhi's description of Modi and his men as 'merchants of death' might have been politically inexpedient. But by doing so, the Congress leader had been speaking the truth that many in India haven't had the courage to do. The evil regime that Modi has been presiding over for the past seven years goes against everything that India believes in and stands for. This is why Modi's electoral victory, for second time in a row, is so shocking and disconcerting. What does it mean? Many perplexed pundits have tried to explain the stunning outcome in Gujarat as the failure of opposition Congress party to offer a credible alternative to Modi and the governing BJP. Maybe they are right. Maybe Congress did fail to expose Modi before the people of Gujarat for what he is.
I know one thing for sure. Modi's victory is India's failure. His win is a slap in the face of my beloved and great country and all that it epitomizes: justice, religious tolerance, secularism and the rule of law. I am a proud Indian and I love my country. This is my home, even if I am thousands of miles away from it. This is where my parents and loved ones are buried. This is a great country. And it's exactly opposite of what Modi's regime and Hindutva stand for. This is the land where an Italian-born, Catholic widow can be picked up for the highest seat of power in the land.
This is the country whose greatest actor (Dilip Kumar) and the reigning superstar (Shahrukh Khan) happen to be Muslim. Its greatest missile scientist ever (APJ Abdul Kalam) and its most celebrated artist (MF Hussein) and most popular sportspersons (Irfan Pathan, Sania Mirza, Azharuddin and Patodi) come from the minority community. Ditto the country's greatest living journalist (MJ Akbar) and musical prodigy (AR Rahman).
There are countless such examples in every walk of life. But this beautiful land is today faced with an existential crisis that threatens its very identity as a tolerant, pluralist and just society where everybody is secure and equal before the law, regardless of his or her birth, faith and class.
This is time for the Indians to decide who really represents them and their country - the fascist and evil regime based on hatred represented by Modi and company or the all-welcoming and all-embracing India based on justice, equality and rule of law that was championed by Mahatma Gandhi and the luminaries of India's freedom struggle. If the Indians believe in Gandhi they would not rest until Modi and other thugs are brought to account for their crimes against humanity.
(Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)