If the past is any indication, it is understandable why the so-called civil rights activists and secularists get easily nauseated at anything that has got something to do with Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. Obviously, they are aghast at the recent decision of the British government to end its “no contact policy” with Modi and his government in Gujarat. Though many more communal riots had taken place in that state before Modi came to the scene and many more Muslims had died during those riots than in 2002, Modi- baiters would like him to be hanged, even though many of them otherwise are opposed to the capital punishment as a principle. In fact, this morning I read some of them shedding tears over the hanging of the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab yesterday. For these people, Modi is a bigger evil than Kashab, though his involvement in the 2002 riots is far from proven. For them, he is the enemy of the Muslims as he unleashed a “pogrom” of the Muslims.
I often find a serious problem with the use of the word pogrom that has been mindlessly used by even my media-colleagues while commenting on 2002 riots. Pogrom means an organised massacre in huge number of a particular community. But, if one goes by the official statistics of the central government under the control of the UPA, in the 2002 Gujarat riots (which was in fact in retaliation to the burning of 58 Hindu pilgrims, including 25 women and 15 children, who were returning from Ayodhya by the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station) 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed and 223 more people were reported missing. No doubt, any riot is a blot on Indian democracy, but to say that it was a pogrom of Muslims in 2002, despite the fact that 254 Hindus were also killed, has been nothing but a deliberate ploy on the part of a section of the Indian intelligentsia and civil rights activists, often funded by the foreigners; all of them, in any case, get perverse pleasure by denigrating India and its democracy in the comity of nations.
It was against this background that many foreign governments, particularly western democracies such as the United States, Great Britain and Germany, had suspended their interactions with the Gujarat government. The US has even denied visa to Modi twice. But a decade after, things are changing. With the fast-rise of Gujarat as a developed state of India under Modi’s chief ministership, thanks to his no-nonsensical policy towards industrialization and development issues, reflected in the transparency and the lack of bottlenecks in the decision making of his government as well as in its impressive record of improving the state’s infrastructure, the western governments see vast business opportunities in Gujarat. Secondly, the prosperous and highly influential Gujarati communities in the US and Britain have also been striving hard towards ending the Western isolation of their favourite chief minister. Thirdly, and this is very important, as times have passed by, hard facts have come to the notice that Modi, despite the systematically orchestrated campaign by his detractors, is not anti-Muslim after all. Compared to any other Indian state, Modi’s Police have more Muslims in its ranks. And compared to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra, Modi’s Gujarat has lesser number of Muslim undertrials in its jails.
Apparently, these developments have forced the western government to have a relook at their position on Modi. Britain has revived its Gujarat connection. Reportedly Germany is going to follow the British path. And the United States has indicated that Modi is unlikely to be prevented again from going to America to seek investments and address his myriad supporters there. Obviously, a shrewd politician that he is, Modi is going to use all these developments in his favour for the impending elections in the state. And equally obviously, let alone the Modi-hating intelligentsia and civil rights activists, the opposition Congress party, which is trying desperately to recapture the state after ages, has not liked these developments. As a political party, Congress has got every right to find fault with the British decision and can tell the Gujarat’s electorate about it. And it is for the Gujarat electorate to have a final say whether the Congress (and the anti-Modi intelligentsia) or the British government is right.
However, the problem arises when the minister of external affairs of India shows his discomforts over the British decision on Modi. In fact, what provoked me to write this column is the answer of our new External Affairs Minister Slaman Khurshid, who is well-educated, polished and articulate (all fine qualities for being a foreign minister, recent scams pertaining to an NGO run by his family notwithstanding), gave to a western journalist the other day that while he respected the British judgment on Modi, he wondered whether it was in tune with the democratic values and principles that Britain stood for. With due respect to Khurshid, it was highly unbecoming of him to have given such an answer.
As a Congress leader Khurshid has reasons be upset with the British decision. But, in my humble opinion, as the External Affairs Minister of India, he should have been reticent enough to express his personal or party’s feelings to a western journalist. After all, he represents all Indians, and that includes Modi. While internally, he can lock horns with Modi, externally, he is under obligation to defend Modi, particularly when the latter is a constitutional functionary as the elected Chief Minister of a state. Khurshid could have easily given an evasive answer; he should have avoided giving an impression of his distinct unhappiness.
It may be pointed out in this context that many anti-Modi civil rights activists have been demanding that since a fair trial against Modi is not possible in India, he should be dealt with internationally under what is called the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. This doctrine asserts that perpetrators of heinous crimes should not escape justice by invoking doctrines of sovereign immunity or the sacrosanct nature of national frontiers. So any country can apply its domestic criminal justice to violations of universal standards, some of which are embodied in the United Nations Conventions, by authorising national prosecutors to bring offenders into jurisdiction through extradition from third countries or arrest them if they happen to be present on its soil.
The precedent that the Universalists cite is the one set by the 1998 British detention for more than six months of the late Chilean President Augusto Pinochet following an extradition request by a Spanish judge seeking to try the erstwhile “dictator” for crimes committed against Spaniards on Chilean soil. That in the final analysis Britain did not accede to the request on Pinochet’s “health grounds” is a different matter. But what the anti-Modi campaigners say is that since in the 2002 riots three British Muslims (Gujrati Muslims with British passports) had died, the British Courts should demand Modi’s extradition for trail in Britain.
The above is a highly dangerous, rather perverse, logic. There are many reasons for this, which cannot be explained, given the limitation of words in this column. However, I would point out a bizarre scenario in which a Bihari or an Uttar Pradeshi Hindu with a British passport approaches a local magistrate in Britain to seek an extradition of Laloo Yadav or Mulayam Singh Yadav under whose rules countless caste and communal riots took place. Will the Manmohan Singh government accede to those requests of a British Magistrate?
The moral of the story is that if Narendra Modi, or for that matter any Indian, is a criminal, Indian institutions, particularly the judiciary, can take care of him. There is no scope for any international involvement. No foreign country has any business to take Modi to task; that task is that of the Indians only.
By Prakash Nanda