Massacre of Christians: Orissa's Naveen no better than Gujarat's Modi

Across the Palk Straits by Kuldip Nayar

I knew Biju Patnaik, once Orissa Chief Minister, very well. He was corrupt and the Justice Khanna Commission nailed him. But he was administratively excellent. In a way, he is an architect of modern Orissa.

I know his son Naveen Patnaik very little. He is not corrupt, but administratively zero. His performance is in proportion to the competence of the Chief Secretary and Home Secretary he has.

His own ability does not go beyond his stock phrase: the law will take its own course. There is nothing wrong with that observation if it is followed by action. He just does not know how to act, much less when to act. One admirable trait of Biju was that he was secular.

A church that came under attack in Orissa’s anti-Christian violence: At least 60 Christians have been killed over the past two months in Orissa in a brutal backlash to the murder of a revered Hindu holy man, a national bishops' body said October 17. AFP

The mishmash of communities that Orissa represents had in him a person who honoured religious identities, tribal diversities and did not allow them to come in the way of his secular administration.

Naveen is out of the depths when he has to face claims of different communities in the state. He is not communal, but does not lose his sleep if the minorities are under pressure.

A person used to luxuries has little time for mixing with people or meeting them, an opportunity which his father revelled in.

Naveen cannot even speak Oriya. Till the other day, he could not even read and write the language. His plus point is that the other leaders in his own party or the opposition are zeros. And he shines in comparison with them.

Naveen is the chief minister for the second time, for almost eight and a half years, not because he has a large following but because the party in the opposition, the Congress, is hopelessly divided and is still driven by the people who have grown old in ideas and in age. They do not pose him much challenge because they are more sullied in the eyes of the voters. Compared to them, Naveen looks taller.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendera Modi is Naveen's hero. The partial ethnic cleansing of Christians does not prick his conscience because he believes that he did all that he could like Modi. It is more than a coincidence that the killings and burning of Christians which took place were on the pattern of the post-Godhara massacre. There the Muslims were victims and here the Christians.

The manner in which the riots in Orissa started seemed to have been copied from Gujarat. An RSS mahant is killed on September 23. The following morning sees a procession of thousands of people led by the Bajrang Dal. They had all the weapons to kill and the material to burn houses and churches. It was obvious that the preparations had been made well in advance. The police are silent spectators. When the mob attacks Kandhmal where the Christians live, the Bajrang Dal has the field and the administration connives at the whole thing.

This was the way when thousands of Muslims were attacked by Hindu extremists. In Orissa it was the mahant who provided the spark and in Gujarat the burning of a train compartment in which the kar sevaks were travelling near Godhara. Here also the police were mute witnesses. It has been proved in Gujarat with the help of documents and the records at the police stations that there were verbal orders not to act. It looks that similar kind of instructions, not to interfere, were issued to the Orissa Police.
The conspiracy at both places was that the central forces were not used. Naveen asked Delhi for more forces but Delhi, in turn, told him to deploy at least the ones he had. He acted after a few days, just as the Gujarat administration woke up after the killings in the state. Nobody would have come to know about the rape of a nun if The Hindu had not published the full story on its front page.

Naveen's explanation for the police negligence was "a clash of interests" between ethnic tribes. And all he said was that the rape was "shocking and savage." All rapes are. How and why the Orissa government did not know about the nun's rape till The Hindu published it? If someone in the government did not want the information to go out, he should have been arrested and tried by this time. Once again, like Gujarat, the riot victims, numbering more than one lakh, have been in refugee camps with all the handicaps.

The authorities are so callous that none from the side of the chief minister ever visits them. Naveen has made a proud announcement that their number has decreased to 20,000. He has not said that they are the people who have refused to move from the camps because they have no confidence in the police if and when they return to their homes.

Hands of both Modi and Naveen are stained with blood and so are of the BJP leaders who have backed the two governments. The inept centre is busy considering a ban on the Bajrang Dal. In fact, by this time the Naveen Patnaik's government should have been dismissed on the basis of the state governor's report which, if published, would bring tears to the eyes of the people.

The untold atrocities are beyond description and the authorities' attitude still cursory. Even the instructions the centre sent to the Orissa government were more of an advice than a directive. Article 355 enunciates the Union Government's duty to protect states against internal disturbances. The Manmohan Singh government did not do so because it is just afraid of the BJP and India was shamed throughout the world.

When the President of France told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his face at Paris that there was a "massacre" of Christians in India, the latter had very little explanation to offer.

In the meanwhile, the Christians and their churches were attacked in other BJP-run governments, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Conversion is not defendable and so is the re-conversion. Both Hindu and Christian leaders would have to sort it out. L.K. Advani who met Christian leaders should take the initiative.

The tragedy of what happened in Gujarat was that Modi got away because the government at the centre at that time was that of the BJP. Naveen should not be let off the hook. But the problem with the Congress, which rules the centre presently, is that in view of the coming general elections it does not want to take any stand lest it should, in the process, rub Hindus on the wrong side. I do not know which Hindus the Congress has in mind because the community as such has been abhorred by killings in Orissa.

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