April 12, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Shankersinh Vaghela

The former Gujarat chief minister and ex-BJP leader on the riots in his home state

'Show me a party or government that runs on ideology or principles. It is a dead phenomenon.'

The man who said this is unlikely to be forgotten by the Bharatiya Janata Party. One of its earliest dissidents, Shankarsinh Vaghela cracked the BJP's claims of being a party with a difference as early as 1996 when he whipped up a revolt and brought down the state BJP government with support from the Congress. His minority government lasted less than a year when the Congress, under its then leader Sitaram Kesri, withdrew support. By 2000, Vaghela had joined the Congress after failing miserably to nurture a regional party in Gujarat.

In a conversation with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, Vaghela -- now a Lok Sabha MP -- discussed the role played by the Narendra Modi government in riot-torn Gujarat.

How do you look at the carnage of 2002?

Whatever reasons the Godhra Muslims must have had, Godhra cannot be justified. If someone pulled their beard or didn't pay them for tea or forced them to say 'Jai Sri Ram' even then the Muslims of Godhra can't burn women and children. It was a horrible action by the minority (community) of Godhra.

I believe that on hearing the details from the media and otherwise, the public reacted.

It was expected. I can pardon that. But the government didn't take any action to maintain law and order. The government started calculating its gains and losses.

They traded dead bodies. What was the government doing? How could kar sevaks be burnt alive? Was the government sleeping? You have your government in Gandhinagar and also in Delhi. The Intelligence Bureau is theirs, the security apparatus is theirs. What were you all doing? Why wasn't there any security at the station? That is the biggest mistake of the Gujarat government.

Do you think after the Godhra massacre it was difficult to handle the mobs? Ahmedabad's police commissioner said: "We were outnumbered."

Nonsense. You can't have 5 crore policemen. The BJP government provided sponsorship to the mobs. To protect 100 crore people we don't keep a 100 crore army. 50 lakhs are enough. They claim the crowds were too big. But a crowd gathers strength slowly. In the first minute you can't have 10,000 people. The police should have acted when the crowd was manageable.

Do you think we are seeing an upsurge of Hinduism in Gujarat?

Any Hindu's blood would boil to hear about what happened at Godhra. The violence of the first two days were understandable for all of us. But then the government plotted riots. The State protects life but here the State took away lives. For a government there should not be any discrimination between its two eyes, whether it is the minority or majority.

Why were Gujaratis so cruel in their reactions to Godhra?

These are VHP-sponsored riots. The people of Gujarat have not burnt the minority (community). The anti-social elements of the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal have have burnt people alive. The public may be standing behind them but these anti-social elements provoked the public. In the FIRs (first information reports) only these people are named.

Ayodhya is the biggest farce. The BJP government has been in office for three-and-a-half years in Delhi, why are they not building the temple? Why are they fooling people by taking them to Ayodhya? The VHP is the vote churning instrument of the BJP. The VHP has no relation whatsoever with Hinduism. There are thousands of temples in India which need attention and puja, please ask them to take care of those.

When did you join the RSS?

I joined the RSS in 1964, the BJP in 1969 and Congress in 2000.

Between 1969 to 2000, what was your modus operandi to change the Gujarati mind?

My modus operandi was different. I don't know where exactly Ayodhya is on the map of Gujarat. I have never led the VHP anytime. Since the beginning I had an allergy to the VHP. They are very artificial people. Their responsibility was only to create a votebank for the BJP. I am authentically telling you, believe me I know them. Things changed after the Somnath rath yatra of (then BJP president L K) Advani.

You must understand one thing about Gujarat. It's a rightist state. It believes in the ideology of the right. This is the only state where the Swatantra Party was able to reach close to power. A maximum numbers of Rajneesh's (Osho) disciples were Gujaratis. The Jan Sangh could not succeed here but when it showed a moderate face through the BJP, people accepted it. The BJP could set up shop only after that. I saffronised the other backward classes.

Gujaratis have one character They are good at initiating new things. We are called Arambhe Shura! (brave in the beginning). We picked up the idea of reconstructing Ayodhya on the line of Somnath. The Hindu-Muslim riots of 1992 added the fuel. The Kutch border was making things more sensitive too. The Kashmir situation was adding to the perception of the Gujarati.

Another big factor is that Gujaratis are the biggest tourists in India. They will blame fellow Muslims if they cannot visit Kashmir. Advani said in his election campaign in Gujarat that if we form a government in Delhi I will allow you to have your honeymoon in Srinagar.

Let me tell you there was a serious U-turn in Gujarati thinking since the last year. Basically, Gujaratis are very commercial. Post-Godhra riots is a temporary phase in Gujarat.

Let me tell you again the BJP is not a true Hindu party. I repeat, Muslims have not died in the riots because of the BJP's Hinduism.

Who strengthened the VHP in Gujarat?

The RSS, of course. I will have to admit that I too contributed to their growth. I have financed the VHP in the past. But let me tell you the BJP and VHP in Gujarat has reached its climax. It is a glow of the dying flames.

What do you make of Chief Minister Narendra Modi's psyche?

He was appointed state party general secretary when I was its state president. RSS leaders told me: "You establish him." Modi is self-centered. He doesn't like to listen to others. He believes whatever he thinks is the ultimate truth and that he is always right. But as he grew he developed personal loyalty amongst BJP cadres. Modi believes in having his own following. He likes yes men.

Is he a Hindutvawadi?

No. The man reads a lot. I don't believe he is in the chakkar of Hindutvawad. But he can act like a fundamentalist Hindu. He can use Hindutvawad to his advantage. He is anti-Muslim politically. He is anti-Muslim only because it suits him.

What is good about him?

If he voluntarily picks up any responsibility he will take it to the logical end. He will work hard to complete his task. He also knows how to launch a thought and affect minds.

Will he succeed in his post-Godhra strategy?

His strategy is the Gujarat government's strategy, right? Governments don't work according to the logic of math. It is never under your total control.

It is only after six months that chief ministers normally know that their agenda has not worked out. When Modi knows this he will be out of power.

His game was an early election. But NDA allies told Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee: "If you go for an early election, automatically it will prove that the BJP government engineered the riots. And that would put us in trouble."

Design: Rajesh Karkera

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