Indian premier Narenda Modi will become the sixth Indian leader to address the US Congress on June 8. Since assuming the office in May 2014, he has met Obama six times.
Only two years ago, the man was not welcome in the US for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat Massacre. While Modi was the state’s chief minister, over 2,000 Muslims were burnt alive or hacked to death, mostly women and children.
Somehow, the Gujarat stigma refuses to fade away. It has resurfaced exactly at a time when the Indian premier wanted the world to forget about it for good. The Indian court on Thursday convicted 24 extremist Hindus in the Gulberg Society case for massacring 69 Muslims hiding there. The same court acquitted three dozen others for lack of evidence. The court will sentence those convicted on June 6.
In November 2011, 31 Bajrang Dal miscreants were handed life imprisonment for the massacre of 33 Muslims in one house. The political and bureaucratic influence was so enormous that the trial could begin in 2009. Even, the proceeding could not continue smoothly, even by Indian judicial standards. Since 2002, some key accused died. All in all, over 100 people have been convicted for the Ahmadabad massacre, including Maya Kodnani, one of Modi’s former state ministers.
More than 300 witnesses gave evidence during the multi-year trial; numerous on-camera interviews of Hindu extremists, sworn statements from bureaucrats and the abundant circumstantial evidence available all pointed to one person, Narendra Modi.
The story of Kausar Bano is particularly heart-wrenching. Babubhai Patel, known by his alias Babu Bajrangi, admitted to have slit the womb of the soon-to-be-mom and extracted her foetus, flinging it with a sword. Recorded through a hidden camera, Bajrangi also informed a Telhka journalist how he led the mob to force Muslims to jump into a well where they threw petrol and burning tyres over them.
Babubhai Patel, serving a life sentence since 2012, eulogised Modi for subverting the judicial process in his favour. In the same video, available on YouTube, he says, “Modi bhai gave us three days to do whatever we like and then the military and other security agencies came into action.”
Zakia Jafri, wife of Congress Party leader Ehsan Jafri who was among those killed at the Gulbarg Society complex, is fighting a separate legal battle against Modi for his role in the massacre. The case is far from over.
The Indian premier has outrightly rejected the allegations, terming them politically motivated. However, many hard-line Hindu extremists have proudly thanked Modi for letting them prove that they “were not some meek lentil-rice eaters”.
Bajrangi and others proudly stated Modi visited Ahmadabad after the massacre, but only Hindu-populated areas where calm and peace prevailed. “Earlier, police commissioner came and said a huge death toll can’t be shown from one place,” says a top extremist in a video, adding “the bodies were dumped across Ahmadabad and then ‘recovered’ for ‘post-mortems’. Police had orders from above to do this. That was not in police records.”
When a local, Salim, was found taking refuge in a police van, the cops alerted Bajrang Dal militants, asking them to kill him immediately so he won’t live to stand in a witness box one day.
Since Modi became India’s chief executive, little has changed for Muslim residents of Ahmadabad who still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. “Only I know how I live. My heart is filled with despair,” said a half-brunt mother of four, who lost two children in the massacre.
Modi will be addressing the US Congress as a person cleared by the court in one case, but the file is far from shut and closed. There will neither be a mention of the Gujarat massacre nor other cases of hacking of Muslims across India for consuming cow meat. For now, Washington won’t look at the ugly side of Modi’s politics and Hindutva ideology.
The BJP leader is blessed with weak leadership in Congress and other opposition groups. He very well knows that if he can keep the economy healthy, there won’t be an outrage from within and without.
The buck, thus, passes on to the Indian judiciary, which has a history of taking bold decisions without being politically correct. The problem with cases relating to the Ahmadabad massacre is not just a lapse of time but destruction and distortion of evidence along with perpetual fear-mongering amongst witnesses.
Convicted or otherwise, whenever the Gujarat massacre will be mentioned, the state’s powerful chief minister at the time won’t be forgotten.
Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360