It is now 19 years when Gujarat 2002 riots happened. The public memory of the nation has forgotten the event. Until has come a book Under Cover My Journey into the Darkness of Hindutva by Ashish Khetan to bring back the memories of the calamity which had overtaken the Muslims of Gujarat. In fact to be exact it was like reading the riot act. This cover to cover read is a riveting account of what had happened prima facie during the Gujarat riots, which was chronicled and taped under cover by the writer after putting his life at stake not for once but on many a times and the dread to his life has not as yet ceased.
The writer no doubt by any standard has taken journalism to be the next benchmark which qualifies him to be one of the most committed journalist in the country and his commitment to the values of humanism and law took to its next stage when he stood before the courts to testify to his recorded-material and spent hours and days before the courts to bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst holocaust on Muslims of Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the CM. The perpetrators confessed on his secret-recording machine as to how they had put Muslims to swords and flames and the book gives a chilling account that probably every organ of the state was compromised to the pogrom of Muslims. Police, Legislature, Bureaucracy, Executive and media et all stood to the dictates of the BJP government in 2002 in Gujarat. If not there was Ashish Khetan the likes of Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani were never to have been behind the bars.
A few years back I could lay hands on the book Guilty Men of India’s Partition by Ram Manohar Lohia, the tallest socialist, and was just gripped by the startling similarity of the riots enumerated and witnessed by RM Lohia back in 1947 with the only difference that rioters of 2002 boasted of their non-human banal acts, without the slightest remorse, which thanks to technology were recorded, and their crimes against humanity is now for the generations to see. But now after around two decades, the only haunting reality which rivets our supposedly biggest democracy or demon-o-cracy, is that there is not even the remotest possibility that the real perpetrators will ever to be brought to justice.
In the chapter Walk Alone it comes to fore that the entire effort of Piyush Agarwal, the pseudonym taken by writer, from all the last 16 years, served for a naught as his sting-operations which he doggedly stood-by in the courts of law too , were discarded as inadmissible as “in view of the non-compliance with the provisions of Sub-section (4) of Section 65-B of the Evidence Act, the electronic documentary evidence contained in the DVDs and CDs ( provided by writer) is not admissible in evidence and cannot be looked into,” had observed the Gujarat High Court on April 20, 2018 in its 3422 page judgement.
The biggest constraint, however, of the book is that the writer on many a times refer that Muslims had put to fire the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 at Godhra station which killed 59 Hindus, and in one of the chapters The Godhra Conundrum discussed as to how the Gandhinagar Forensic Science Laboratary (FSL) of Gujarat upheld in May 2002, that the train had got fire by the “flammable liquid (was) thrown by someone inside the coach” which had immediately let to the arrest of 134 Muslims from Godhra, under draconian laws, and thereafter which all led to the worst genocide to Muslims in the whole of Gujarat. But, why did the writer not match his prowess to sting the survivors who were inside the ill-fated coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express , particularly so when the retired Supreme Court Justice UC Banerjee Committee report in 2005, had found that Sabarmati Express was burnt from inside! And surprisingly the book does not make even a passing reference to Justice Banerjee’s findings.
Gujarat 2002 of ethnic cleansing of Muslims was destined to happen as preparations were all afoot, proven by the confessions on secret-tapes, as the marauding Hindu crowds were returning from Ayodhya, UP, after the xenophobia had been created against Muslims with an eye to polorise Hindus for BJP, in February 2002 UP Assembly elections in which BJP, even while running the government at Center was routed, but thanks to BSP formed its coalition government in UP. BSP supremo Mayawati in December 2002 campaigned for Modi and did not issue a fresh notification to CBI after it dropped the conspiracy charge against LK Advani in the Babri Masjid demolition case in 2003. Gujarat had witnessed widespread riots after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 too
Riots and pogroms have always been the fate of Muslims in secular India but once after Congress facilitated the opening of Babri Masjid locks in 1986 it became a ‘normal’ for Muslims. It was Congress party leaders like Dau Dayal Khanna and Nirmal Das Khatri who were spearheading the Ram Temple movement in 1984-much before BJP was to put its stakes. The state sponsored massacre of Muslims under Narendra Modi in Gujarat is a hue-and-cry but how many of us remember as to how Congress PM Indira Gandhi had got 66 Muslims gunned down in Benarus and Ferozabad alone in 1972 for protesting the law which infringed the autonomy of AMU. There is no reference to be made towards Hashimpura, Meerut, Maliana, Bhagalpur, Bhiwandi or Bombay riots under Congress various regimes. No need to ponder over the Congress sponsored Nellie (Assam) massacre of 1983 in which around 1800 Muslims perished in a matter of six-hours on February 18, 1983.
India needs a multitude of the likes of Piyush Agarwal and Maithili Tyagi, the nom de plume of Rana Ayyub, the writer of Gujarat Files Anatomy of a Cover Up (2016) to uncover the most brutal aspect of our society. No wonder that Congress rang to India as a Hindu Nation and BJP rings to it as a Hindu State.
The writer is a former State Information Commissioner, India.