Saturday, February 15, 2014

Brilliant book of Manoj Mitta on Modi and Godhra should be read by Modi admirers as well as Modi baiters


Manoj Miita's The Fiction of Fact-Finding Modi & Godhra(HarperCollins; Pages:259; Price: Rs 599)is a brilliant book, which pleads with great passion and lucidity the moral complicity and legal culpability of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots. It would be a pity if the book is read only by those who are opposed to Modi ideologically, and it will be a pity if the fanatical Modi supporters were not to read it. For the Modi fants must know the moral ambiguities of the Gujarat riots and the role of Modi in it even i the Modi followers believe that he did not have anything to do with it, or even if they believe that the killing of Muslims was somehow justified in the aftermath of the burning of the rail coach carrying the VHP kar sevaks at Godhra railway station. This is a book that should be read by Modi himself and all the members of the BJP. They are sure to feel uncomfortable reading this book and it will do them a lot of good, morally. It will be best if Modi himself were to read it. He may understand himself better. He may feel like Warren Hastings after Edmund Burke's indictment, or he may feel like Robert Clive when he was arraigned. The reading of this book will make Modi a better man in the sense that it would be act of moral courage on his part to read a critic who argues his case with passion and clarity and reason.

Mitta is not neutral and he is not objective in the sense that he turns around the facts to sustain his argument. He is meticulous in gathering his facts from wherever he can, from the interviews of Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh, from the memoirs of L.K.Advani and Jaswant Singh. He relies on R.B.Sreekumar, and he shows the chinks in the Supreme Courta-pointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) under R.K.Raghavan not doing its job thoroughly enough. He shows how Modi was not questioned with rigour and how he was not cross-examined for the answers he gave, how his answers were accepted at face value.

Interestingly, he traces like a good psychological sleuth the passive role of R.K.Raghavan in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur, and there is more than insinuation when he connects it to the feckless findings of the SIT.

He draws a parallel between the results of the Lok Sabha election of 1984 and the assembly election of Gujarat in 2002. He compares the speech of Rajiv Gandhi on November 19, 1984 at Delhi Boat Club and Modi's speech at Bhaicharaji on September 10, 2002.

Mitta is also candid in telling about the people whose help he had in writing the book, including Teesta Setelvad. We know where he stands.

But the book makes compelling reading because it makes the reader to step back and look over the facts all over again. I was not convinced but I respect the facts that Mitta has placed before the reader. The facts presented by Mitta are plausible but they are not beyond reasonable doubt. The question might come up that if there are so many others can be indicted on reasonable suspicion, why not Modi. It is a difficult question and there is no reason why Modi should not be indicted because of the evidence that is available.

The troubling aspect of the book is that Mitta does not scrutinise his sources and he does not display healthy scepticism to what they have to say. It is this that makes the argument, sincere, moral and passionate -- fallible, vulnerable because there is no reason to believe that Mitta is opposed to Modi on ideological grounds though he does declare his human rights and secular perspective in the matter -- because no version is to be trusted without verification. The only facts that are incontrovertible are that 58 people were burned to death at Godhra and nearly two thousand Muslims were killed in the riots followed apart from around two hundred who are said to have been killed in police firing. The explanations for these deaths are far from clear because legally, and even morally, speaking, every single death and its exact cause has to be established. It is humanly impossible. That is why, moral judgments remain a problem. Modi is morally and politically guilty of the Gujarat riots but it cannot be said without doubt that he caused the Godhra carnage so that there would be riots and that would enable him to win the election. There is reason to suspect all of this, but suspicion is not sufficient.

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