Three years after the riots of 2002, Michael S Owen, the US Consul General in Mumbai, gave a vivid description of Gujarat reminding readers of Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Rashomon.
While NGOs and minority representatives insisted the presence of a ‘communalizing’ government, business leaders and government officials portrayed a picture of normalcy and harmony.
In the cable sent in September 2005 [leaked by Wikileaks], Owen himself seemed to favor an interpretation suggested by Kirtee Shah, a well-known human rights activist and architect.
“Shah said Ahmedabad, with its long history of communal flare ups, had a “”dual character.”” When riots break out, things get very bloody. “”But three months later everything is back to normal,”” Owen quoted her as saying, adding that “”Dual character”” does indeed describes the mood in Gujarat “aptly.”
The cable also revealed that local Congress leaders complained to the Consul General about Modi’s excesses.
“Congress politician Arjun Modhwadia, opposition leader in the Gujarat parliament, said only a few of the several thousand cases pending would ever lead to a conviction. The BJP government was actively torpedoing the justice system; many witnesses were abysmally poor people who could be bought off cheaply, he said,” Owen noted in his cable back home.
He also added that Modhwadia also praised the US Government for revoking Modi’s visa. Officially, the Congress government had lodged a protest against the move with the US Government.
Activists of all hues, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, were severely critical of Modi, who they felt, was running a sustained campaign of communalizing Gujaratis, including the children by influencing what they were taught in school.
“Catholic Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes also said that Hindutva themes were making stronger inroads into the official school curricula… A similar development was observable in Gujarat’s court system, he said, where communal thinking had also seriously affected how judges think,” he said, also noting Fernandes’ consternation at attempts to “Hindu-ize” Gujarat’s tribals by right wing Hindu groups.
Concerns were also raised about the ghettoization of Muslims in cities like Ahmedabad.
“Hussein Jowher [of the NGO Sprat] said Ahmedabad’s Muslims were being marginalized into four separate, unconnected pockets of the city either out of fear for their safety or because buying or renting a home elsewhere had become virtually impossible. In one such case, no single public college, post office or other public building serviced a pocket of 400,000 Muslims in Juhapura in Ahmedabad, he claimed,” the cable pointed out.
In the end, Owen felt no matter how hard the government tried to patch over the communal divide, there would always be a consciousness of the event at the back of Gujarati mind.
“.. otherwise it would be hard to explain why the GOG goes to such length to promote festivals that are aimed at documenting communal harmony in the state. The Chief Secretary’s emotional reaction to the Consul General’s inquiries on the subject also shows just how raw nerves can be whenever 2002 is mentioned.
“And however much the majority wants to forget, the remaining bitterness among the sizable Muslim minority and outspoken human rights NGOs will ensure that the riots will continue to play a role in the political life of Gujarat,” he pointed out.