The latest controversy over the virtual non-implementation of the B.N. Srikrishna Commission's report on the horrific Mumbai riots of 1992-93 has again exposed the cynicism of Indian political parties.
While the Congress-led government in Maharashtra is under pressure to reopen the riot cases, the Shiv Sena has reiterated the familiar rightwing view, which is shared by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that any such step will be counterproductive as it will exacerbate the existing communal Hindu-Muslim divide.
What is evident from these negative attitudes is that neither side - the 'secular' Congress or the 'communal' Shiv Sena - wants the culprits, whether they are the rioters or the conniving policemen, punished.
The Shiv Sena has been even more candid. It has expressed the fear that if the cases are reopened, it is the Hindus who will be hanged. Rarely before has a party pointed an accusing finger at itself in so open a manner. In doing so, the Sena has virtually admitted that its cadres were guilty of criminal acts during the outbreak and would have to pay the ultimate penalty if the investigations were started afresh.
The Sena's role has never been a secret, of course. The Commission had noted that "there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and the Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties ... The attacks on the Muslims by the Shiv Sainiks were mounted with military precision, with a list of establishments and voters' list in hand".
Distressed by the fact that virtually no action has been taken against the guilty, Justice B.N. Srikrishna said recently that he spent "five years of my life looking into the Mumbai riots, with government money, in the time when I could have disposed of at least 20,000 cases; so why let that go waste?"
It doesn't take much perspicacity to understand why successive governments of different political hues let the effort go waste.
One of the first acts of the Shiv Sena-BJP government, which assumed power in Maharashtra in 1995, was to disband the Commission altogether. It obviously couldn't allow an "anti-Hindu" Commission - the Shiv Sena later described the report as "anti-Hindu" - to conduct a probe which might lead to Hindus being hanged, as it has now said.
But, after the short-lived Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the centre in 1996 revived the Commission, its ambit was widened to include the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993. The reason why the Vajpayee government reinstated the Commission was not out of any great regard for unearthing the truth, but to reach out to the secular parties in order to form a coalition. The BJP also put its pro-Hindu agenda relating to the temple, the uniform civil code and Article 370 on the backburner at the same time.
However, anyone who presumed that the Commission's revival, followed by the Shiv Sena-BJP's defeat in Maharashtra and the assumption of power by a Congress-led government, will lead to the speedy identification and punishment of the guilty can only be described as na've.
It may be necessary to remember that the Congress government of Sudhakar Naik of Maharashtra remained virtually inactive while the riots raged, forcing prominent citizens of Mumbai to approach the governor to intervene. It was this curious somnolence of the government that may have persuaded Sanjay Dutt to illegally acquire a weapon for his own defence since his mother, the late Nargis Dutt, was a Muslim.
It was also known at the time that the police were siding with the rioters in several areas. This shameful similarity between what happened in Mumbai in 1991-92 and during the Gujarat riots of 2002 is obvious. This is probably the reason why Congress president Sonia Gandhi now wants the Vilasrao Deshmukh government in Maharashtra to bestir itself lest she be required to answer accusations of Gujarat-style inaction when her party faces the electorate later this year in Gujarat.
Yet, it is very much clear that a Congress government too doesn't always like to be seen being pro-active in the matter of saving minority lives in case it loses the support of Hindus. This is precisely the reason why only perfunctory steps were taken against the guilty after the Commission's report was submitted, persuading Justice Srikrishna to demand that it should be made mandatory for a government to implement its recommendations, as in Australia and South Africa.
"Any judge taking up such an assignment", he has said, "must do so on the promise that it (the report) is binding on the government."
The Mumbai riots of December-January 1992-93 represent a tragic milestone of recent history as they were a direct fallout of the Babri mosque demolition by Hindu fanatics on Dec 6, 1992. As is known, the attack on the mosque was orchestrated by the BJP and other Hindutva outfits, like the Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, as a part of their attempt to give a violently xenophobic turn to Indian politics so that they could reap an electoral reward.
A decade and a half later, while the BJP and its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), remain as far from their goal of establishing a Hindu Rashtra (nation) as before, the official inquiries into their vandalism haven't been too successful either. While the report on the Mumbai riots remains unimplemented, the report of the Liberhan Commission on the Babri mosque demolition is yet to submitted.
If the mills of justice in India seem to grind with painful slowness, the reason is that it suits the political class to let the sleeping dogs lie.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)