The contrast is simply too stark to escape unremarked. Gujarat went up in flames during the VHP-sponsored bandh on February 28, the day after Godhra; on September 26, the bandh called by the VHP after the Akshardham Temple outrage passes off peacefully, except for a few relatively minor incidents. And the explanation won’t be fudged. It was not, as Modi has insisted, thanks to the ‘pseudo-secularists’ who ‘did not use a particular language to describe the event’. No, Modi can take all credit for the calm that has held in his state in the precarious moment after terrorists attacked the Swaminarayan temple. Just as he must own up to the blame for the complete failure of his administration to prevent the carnage the last time. To put it plainly, the Modi government’s achievement in Gujarat can also be decoded as a terrible confession.
As this paper has reported, it was visibly different this time in Gujarat. The police reached within minutes the area where an attempt was made to damage a shop, the army patrol followed, joined within minutes by top police officials. Across the city, an alert police didn’t allow crowds to gather, dispersing them before they became threatening. Traffic was diverted, police officers warned of suspension if they didn’t do their duty, and borders between Hindu and Muslim localities patrolled. Suffice it to say that all reports of the days, months, after Godhra paint an entirely different picture. Of the absent state that fled or deliberately stayed away from the scene of the crime, alternating with the complicit state that looked away or blinked while the mob ran amok. Modi has shown that when the government wills, it can. It was this political will that was missing in the gruesome aftermath of Godhra.
Of course, Modi didn’t do it all alone, neither then, not now. His government, like all BJP governments, is a creature not just of the party, but also susceptible to the tug of the umbilical cord that ties it to the larger parivar, and particularly the VHP and Bajrang Dal. After Godhra, party worthies who should have known better and VHP rabblerousers who cannot know better had clearly underwritten the Modi government’s abdication and culpability as the killings raged. They have rallied together now behind its strategy of restraint — from Home Minister L.K. Advani who immediately dashed to the site, to the VHP which has reportedly made policing easy by withdrawing its cadres from possible confrontations. But there’s a bottomline here and it is this: no government can have a credible alibi for allowing riots to rage. Any government can ensure peace, if the Modi government can.