The Gujarat situation has been commented upon at length by many worthy people, especially in the context of communalism, biased police behavior and a virtual genocide of Muslims under the tutelage of the Sangh Parivar. The points made by all these writers indicate a very serious malaise with our political system and pose a very grave threat to even the concept of secularism in India. Undoubtedly this is a matter which should cause grave concern to all Indians, including those who are not particularly liberal in their outlook but who nevertheless favor the rule of law in the country.
Departing from the above theme I would like to look at the Gujarat situation from the point of view of an administrator who, during the course of his career, has had to deal with law and order situations.
Does Gujarat have an administrative structure which is capable of maintaining public order? Or has the administration been so pulverized that it no longer has any capacity to enforce the law and maintain order?
To seek an answer to these questions one has to go back to the post Hitendra Desai Gujarat, in which such luminaries as Chiman Bhai Patel, Madhavsinh Solanki and Amar Singh Choudhary ruled the state. Their Chief Ministerships were distinguished by nepotism, corruption and favoritism. Whereas on the one hand this impoverished the state, on the other hand it demoralized the Services to an extent where administrative structures began to break down. The 1969 riots in Ahmedabad, in which reportedly about five thousand people died and which took almost a year to subside, were a direct result of bad government in Gujarat.
Gujarat is not a state in which caste politics or communal politics had much role to play in the earlier years of independence. Gujarat is one of the fortunate states which escaped the horrors of partition and, by and large, there was very little exodus of Gujarati Muslims to Pakistan. It is when caste politics entered Gujarat in the mid sixties of the last century that political harmony in the state began to unravel. The undercurrents were very powerful but they remained hidden under a veneer of prosperity in a state which became well known countrywide for its business acumen and cooperative spirit in which there was a great deal of give'and'take. It was loudly proclaimed that a cooperative venture like Amul could only succeed in Gujarat and nowhere else. Because of this the underlying unrest remained hidden and Gujarat, which sat on a volcano, remained as insouciant as Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius erupted. Not even the massive disturbances resultant on the Nav Nirman movement alerted the country to what was boiling in Gujarat.
The politicians continued to destroy the administrative coherence of Gujarat piecemeal. Prohibition and smuggling ate into the vitals of the police, which has been corrupted almost beyond redemption. The day to day interference of politicians in matters administrative, which filtered down even to the posting of a constable or a patwari (Talati in Gujarat) cut into the hierarchical discipline of government departments in general and the police in particular. When governmental structures are perverted the organization comes apart, of which danger the Gujarat politicians have been blissfully unaware. The harmony in the district between the Collector and the SP was also destabilized and, by using the police to further political ends, the politicians marginalized the Collectors. As I shall try and demonstrate, what happened in Godhra is a direct consequence of what the government has done to the district administration in Gujarat.
What seems to have completely passed notice, even of the secular, liberal, left leaning activists, is that it is not UP or Maharashtra but Gujarat which had become the focal point of extremist, highly communal Hindu politics, with the Sangh Parivar, especially RSS and VHP, having made deep inroads even into the interior of the state. Because Ayodhya and the proposed Ram Mandir are in UP our focus has been on that state in the context of communal politics. The last two elections have shown that in UP the caste factor is more important than the communal factor and the Sangh Parivar is unable to make any significant electoral impact. Instead Gujarat seems to have become the focus of communal politics, a situation compounded by the fact that the government there is headed by a staunch RSS Pracharak and whose Home Minister is from VHP. The situation in Gujarat, therefore, is a highly volatile, explosive mixture of an administration in disarray, an ineffective and demoralized police force and a political executive which makes no bones about its religious bias. In such a situation, with the Government of India obviously being unwilling to act decisively, which is the lone factor which can retrieve things?.
In my view it is the administration at the district level which can still take things in hand and bring the situation under control. This, however, will not happen if, as reported, the IPS Officers secretly complained to K P S Gill that
political interference has made them lose control over their subordinates, and
they did not take decisive action because they were awaiting orders from above and had been told to go easy on rioters.
Why were they silent so far? Why did the Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary,Home and the DGP not act in concert to make it clear to government that they would not carry out illegal instructions?
Section 23 of the Indian Police Act,1861 (which our police officers consistently run down) reads,
'It shall be the duty of every police officer promptly to obey and execute all orders and warrants lawfully issued to him by any competent authority ; to collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace ; to prevent commission of offences and public nuisances, to detect and bring offenders to justice'. '
Under Section 29 of the Indian Police Act any police officer guilty of any violation of duty or willful breach or neglect of any rule or regulation or lawful order made by a competent authority is liable to three months imprisonment and a fine equivalent to three months pay. Was it a lawful order of the Chief Minister or Home Minister to go easy on the rioters? Was it lawful for the police not to use Section 129 of Cr.P.C. to disperse unlawful assemblies? Was it lawful for the police not to take preventive action under Chapter XI Cr.P.C.? Was it lawful for the police not to record FIRs under Section 154 Cr.P.C. or to proceed with investigation under section 156 and 157 Cr.P.C.? The fact is that senior police officers in Gujarat did not do their duty, obeyed illegal orders and are now trying to seek cover under alleged political interference which weakened their authority. This simply will not cut ice.
To return to Godhra, I see this as a prime example of the complete and utter destruction of cohesive district administration in Gujarat. As the headquarters of the Panchmahals District Godhra has a DM and SP. It also is an important railway junction with a Government Railway Police presence. A mob of two thousand people armed with incendiary materials, etc., gathered at about seven '0 clock in the morning in the station and in the yard. The DM and SP were blissfully unaware of this development. The city police and GRP also seem to have been totally inactive. A DM and SP worth their salt would have received some information and reacted immediately. Had they done so and dispersed the mob nothing would have happened in Godhra, nor would the consequences which followed have occurred. In a well administered state both these officers would have been placed under suspension. In Gujarat so many Collectors and SsP have been transferred but the Godhra team continues unscathed.
This is the true symbol of present day Gujarat and it should worry all of us.