Sunday, April 7, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Situation still volatile
Rift deep-rooted, Gujarat officials tell NCM
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 6
Senior officials of the Gujarat government told the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) here today that the unabating communal violence in the state was due to a “deep-rooted rift” between the two communities beyond the realm of a law and order problem.

Chief Secretary G Subba Rao, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ashok Narayanan, Principal Secretary Revenue G.K. Kosh, special IG of Police K. Kumaraswamy and in charge of relief work G.C. Murmu said even on the smallest pretext tension built-up and clashes occurred.

These officials were categorical that the prevailing atmosphere of communal discord was not a law and order problem. They cautioned that the situation continued to be volatile all over Gujarat, especially in areas which had never been communally sensitive over the past 50 years.

The only solution in the opinion of these officials was for religious leaders of both communities and other influential people in a similar position to come together and give a fresh impetus to ensuring calm by assuaging the feelings of all sections.

The Narendra Modi administration in Gandhinagar could not visualise after the February 27 torching of a railway bogie of Ram sevaks that middle-income groups and well-to-do people would adopt a mob mentality and create mayhem against the minority community in Ahmedabad and other parts of the state, they said.

Emphasising that they had no secret or hidden instructions from the top political leadership in the aftermath of the Godhra killings, the officials explained that the entire police force of the state had been mobilised within hours. These forces had taken up position in communally sensitive areas.

But the post-Godhra happenings sent the administration into a tizzy as it was beyond their wildest imagination or calculation. The turn of events could neither be visualised nor predicted and there was no intelligence to provide any clue, they said.

The officials said the riots by well-to-do people with a mob mentality was bone-chilling barring the small number of lumpen elements who indulged in looting in a large number of areas which had no history of communal trouble. This strategy foxed the state administration. Consequently, the administration remained clueless where the next attack was going to be. In such a situation, requisitioning the Army for the aid of the civil authority would have been an exercise in futility, the officials explained. Nevertheless, the Army was called only out of fear.

The officials, who came armed with documents and details of the action taken so far, maintained that the situation in Gujarat “is not out of control. The hatred in villages and the tribal community had increased leading to stepped-up stabbing incidents”.

They apprised the NCM that the religious places burnt during the riots would be rebuilt at government cost. Additional police forces had been requisitioned from neighbouring states and the Centre.

The NCM was emphatic that the Gujarat Government must undertake confidence-building measures on a top priority basis. Commission Chairman Justice Mohammad Shamim said the Gujarat Government should requisition the services of Muslim, Sikh and Christian officers on deputation from other states and post them in sensitive and other areas all over the state to infuse confidence among the people. Simultaneously, religious leaders should play their part to promote communal harmony, he said.

He desired that those responsible for the mayhem and killings, including police personnel, should be brought to book expeditiously. Besides, the NCM directed that compensation be doubled from the present level of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. This is above the grant made available from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.

The officials said 761 persons had been killed since the Godhra carnage and the subsequent riots. Of these, 137 died in police firing. The state government had made 12,034 preventive arrests of which 9,852 were from the majority community. No fewer that 9,522 arrests had been made in connection with the burning of the railway bogie in Godhra and rioting in different parts of Gujarat and of these 6,608 were from the majority community.

In the past month, 3,600 peace meetings and 967 peace marches were held in Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat.Back


Minorities panel for probe by SC Judge
K.S. Chawla

Ludhiana, April 6
The National Commission for Minorities has urged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to order an inquiry by a Supreme Court Judge to bring facts relating to Gujarat violence to light. The commission has also urged the Prime Minister to declare a rehabilitation package for the people still putting up in 93 camps in Gujarat.

In a letter to Mr Vajpayee, the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities Justice Mohammad Shamim expressing concern over the large-scale violence in Gujarat called upon Mr Vajpayee to apply balm on emotional wounds of the victims and support Minorities Commission’s delegation which visited Gujarat on March 13 and 14 after the curfew was lifted in Ahmedabad.

Justice Shamim said: “The damage done to the economy of the state due to the orgy of arson and violence has brought untold misery and economic losses. The economic backbone of the Muslim community has been targeted specially. The Prime Minister may care to announce a liberal grant from his relief fund. Gujarat should also announce sufficient compensation for the loss of life and property and ensure that it reached the concerned persons.

Justice Shamim has suggested that the RBI should be asked to send a team to assess the damage to property and business to work out financial packages and instruct public sector banks to waive loans of those affected by violence. The damage to places of worship — mosques, temples and dargahs — is considerable. The Chief Minister had assured the commission of action to restore these. So far there are few reports of this action in this direction.

Justice Shamim has also drawn the attention of Mr Vajpayee to erosion of confidence of people in the administration and it needed to be restored. The commission has suggested that officers of minority community be posted in sensitive areas.

Justice Shamim regretted that good work was done by police and civil officers during violence but they have been targeted and transferred. An impartial inquiry by a Supreme Court Judge to bring out facts of Gujarat violence is called for. The Commission Chief has also emphasised that the state Government should take short-term and long term steps to rebuild the state and restore confidence of people in the administration.Back


4 die in fresh Gujarat violence

Residents of Vatva Arya shout slogans
Residents of Vatva Arya shout slogans during a funeral procession of a riot victim in Ahmedabad on Saturday. 
— Reuters photo

Ahmedabad, April 6
Four persons were killed, including three in police firing, in the violence that erupted late last night in Vatva, Sabarmati and Karanj police station areas even as stabbing and arson continued in different parts of the city prompting the authorities to clamp indefinite curfew in Vatva and Sabarmati police station areas after midnight.

The police said today that five rounds were fired and several teargas shells burst to disperse violent mobs, claiming the lives of two persons and leaving four others injured in the late night incidents in the Vatva labour area on the outskirts of the city. Four others also received injuries in assault and stone-throwing, the police said. Earlier, in another incident, a youth was stabbed to death in the same area. PTI, UNI


After riots, it’s economic boycott call
S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

Ahmedabad, April 6
The clarion call given by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for communal hormony in Gujarat seems to have fallen on deaf ears here, with some majority community fanatics silently but vigorously mounting a campaign for the economic boycott of minority community businessmen.

Households in some areas here are now being greeted every morning by pamphlets, lying in the folds of newspaper, which ask every patriot of the majority community to pledge never to use a hotel or garage of a person from the minority community.

Although Sangh Parivar outfits disassociate themselves with this kind of a campaign, the lack of open denial and condemnation of the circulation of such letters or pamphlets reflect that there is a silent approval from them because it suits their ideology, political observers here assert.

Gujarat watchers feel that while miscreants have been successful in spreading the hate campaign, this blatant attempt to corner businessmen from the minority community right under the nose of the government seems to be in line with the statement made by VHP leader Pravin Togadia.

Mr Togadia had recently said at a press conference that the violence might subside, but the psychological battle had just begun. The attempt towards the economic blockade could well be read under the scheme of things of the Sangh Parivar, especially the VHP, annoyed over the massacre of 57 Ram Sevaks in Godhra on February 27, a veteran political analyst S Patel told The Tribune.

According to a rough estimate, 1,679 houses, 1,965 shops and 21 godowns were burnt, 204 shops looted and 76 shrines damaged in Ahmedabad during the riots. Most of these belonged to members of the minority community. Minority areas like Kalupur, Dariapur, Shahpur, Karanj, Dani Limbda and Vejalpur were under curfew even a month later.

Mr M.G. Voklani, President of the Vyapar Mandal, Maniram, strongly feels that there is a desperate attempt by some hardcore fanatics to push the minority community out of business.

A customer always goes in for best products and services and is not bothered whether the establishment is owned by a member of the majority or minority community, he says.

While government and police officials maintain that they have not come across any such pamphlet or letter, Deputy Secretary General of Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry Bipin D Patel says this kind of hate campaign is not new to Gujarat and there will not be any impact of such letters.

Meanwhile, a survey-cum-estimation puts the trade and production loss to Gujarat because of communal violence between February 28 and April 3 at Rs 10,938 crore.

The chamber has estimated a daily trade and production loss of Rs 208 crore, production loss to industries at Rs 64.5 crore, loss to self-employed persons at Rs 20 crore and loss to the state and local self-government by way of tax at Rs 20 crore.

The estimates exclude vast damage and devastation caused to life and property and household articles burnt or stolen during the month-long communal violence.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the GCCI has called for effective steps to check communal violence and extension of adequate relief to riot-affected people.

Though there are visible signs of peace, the undercurrent of tension and feeling of insecurity to life and property has been prevailing all throughout the past 35 days, the chamber says in its letter, calling for peace marches, meetings and rallies involving citizens from all strata of society to heal the state.

Unfazed by the communal tension, some traders have decided to reconstruct their damaged shops and begin their business. Thrityseven days after the orgy of violence began, owners of 22 shops at Halim ni Khadki on the Shahpur Road, which witnessed massive mob frenzy, have started rebuilding their future.

Several others, putting things together to restart their business, are confident that their customers will come back.

Many more estimates about business losses will follow in due course, but the biggest loss suffered by Gujarat’s business community is the mutual trust they enjoyed among themselves, despite three communal riots earlier in 1969, 1985 and 1992.


Riots coverage: scribes for code of conduct
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 6
In the wake of controversy over the reporting of the Gujarat riots, eminent journalists today suggested creation of some self-regulatory mechanism to do an overall professional assessment of the coverage.

Speaking at a seminar on “Godhra and after: role of media,” Dileep Padgaonkar, a member of the Editors Guild team which visited the riot-torn areas of Gujarat, said the role of the vernacular press was not fair.

Pointing to the role of the electronic media in the first televised riot, he said besides the news channels, including the local ones, a large number of e-mails and extensive use of SMS (short messaging services) on mobile phones complicated the matters.

Denouncing the riots as a “horrible stigma”, journalists attending the seminar, organised by the India First Foundation (IFF), said live or near live coverage of rioting on television, gory pictures and “opinionated” headlines in some newspapers did not contribute to the cause of peace.

Mr Saeed Naqvi said violence in Gujarat could not be called a riot as the role of the establishment was not above board. Mr Devendra Swaroop Aggarwal said the media had not gone into the reasons for communal divide in Gujarat and had a section of it had been saying that removal of Gujarat Chief Minister would normalise the situation.

Mr Sanjay Pugalia called for a scrutiny of the visual medium.

Mr Tarun Vijay complained of distortion in reporting of some newspapers. Mr Chandan Mitra said the foremost role of the media was to douse passions and questions could always be asked later. He said the media should delibrate if a code of self-conduct was required.

Mr Balbir K Punj, MP, and Mr Dina Nath Mishra, IFF trustee also spoke.Back

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