November  1999

Riot for votes

The Mumbai-based Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) sent a fact–finding team to Ahmedabad to investigate the communal riots that broke out in July 1999. We reproduce excerpts from the report that demanded a judicial inquiry into the riots

There were riots in Ahmedabad from July 20, 1999 to August 2, 1999, the first time after the BJP came to power in Gujarat. Eight people were killed, several were injured and properties were destroyed. There was tension all around the city, which could have led to the outbreak of more riots as it has happened in 1969 and on several other occasions.

The CPDR wanted to find out what led to this communal flare–up at this point of time. Over the past few months we have witnessed the phenomenon of Muslims coming out onto the streets to publicly express their loyalty to India in a bid to appease Hindu communal elements in our society. The CPDR sent a fact–finding team to Ahmedabad to investigate the causes which triggered off the actual riots, and what transpired during the riots. The team consisted of Sakharam Sathe, Surabhi Sharma, Niranjani Shetty and P. A. Sebastian. They visited Ahmedabad on August 7 and 8, 1999 and went to the areas where the incidents took place and met the individuals who were either the victims of violence or witness to the violence. The team also met the DCP, Mr. Vinod Mal of Ahmedabad, in charge of the area where the trouble began, to get the official version.

Events preceding the riots — Cricket World Cup and the

Kargil Crisis:

Our investigation shows that there was a warming–up period before the violent incidents broke out in some parts of the city. It starts with the World Cup Cricket matches and the Kargil conflict. There were celebrations when Pakistan was defeated by India and Australia. The celebrations were concentrated in Muslim area as if the inhabitants of these areas had been defeated. This was nothing but a crude attempt to equate the Muslim citizens of India with Pakistan.

One of the jawans killed in Kargil, Mukesh Rathod, was from the parliamentary constituency of L.K. Advani, Gandhinagar. Mr. Advani came to Gandhinagar with the urn containing the ashes of the jawan’s body. A procession carrying the urn went through the city. A large number of people participated in this procession which culminated in a public–meeting addressed by Mr. Advani. Slogans were shouted against Pakistan, which were often turned into anti–Muslim slogans. No prior police permission, was taken by the organisers. It seems that the B.J.P, V.H.P. and Bajrang Dal took advantage of the situation and opened their offices in Meghani-nagar, the place to which the killed jawan belonged. The activities of these organisations were tinged with pronounced anti–Muslim overtones. This was confirmed by Mr. Vinod Mal, deputy commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, whom the team met. He said to the team that the police authorities concerned had drawn the attention of the political authorities of the government to this fact and requested them to make sure that communal elements such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the BJP refrained from such provocative and unseemly activities. He further said that the police had addressed letters to VHP and Bajrang Dal to restrain their cadres from precipitating a communal situation.

Jagannath Rathyatra:

Another incident which vitiated the atmosphere and strained the relationship between Hindus and Muslims was the Rath Yatra taken out on July 14. The Rath Yatra is an annual event, when idols of Krishna (Jagannath), Balram and Subhadra are taken out in a procession from the Jagannath Temples in each city of Gujarat. In Ahmedabad, it is a big event. Several lakhs of people participate in the procession and it covers an area of 30 kilometers. It starts from Saraspur and passes through Prem Darwaza, Jordan Road, Delhi Chakla, Shahapur etc. The procession lasts several hours, beginning early in the morning and ending late at night, the ending point and starting being the same. Many of these areas are prone to communal disturbances as one can see from the past history of Ahmedabad. One of the slogans which are supposed to be shouted during the rath yatra is: ‘Jai ran chod, Makhan chor’.

But while passing through Muslim dominated areas ‘Makhan Chor’ is converted into ‘Mia Chor’ or ‘Bhadia Chor’ (reference to circumcision). The processionists also shouted slogans like, "Pakistan Jao Ya Kabrastan Jao" ("Go to Pakistan or the graveyard").

Another provocative feature of the procession this year, was the presence of a Naga Baba (naked sadhu) who was swinging a sword over his head. The activists of some communal Hindu organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad distributed leaflets and pamphlets containing statements derogatory to Muslims —

‘International conspiracy of Christians/Muslims to abduct Hindu girls, tempt them, sweet–talk them, and take on Hindu names to hoodwink them. They tempt them with offers of marriage and then cheat them’.

During the Rath Yatra procession, the Muslims, both men and women, were present at the barricades, which restrained access to the procession, and they waved at the procession in a gesture of goodwill and friendship. Muslim women also made efforts to push back the youth who were near the barricades so that there was no provocation from either side. It seems a concerted effort was made on the part of the Muslims to prevent trouble which they consciously or unconsciously expected. A large number of Muslim women gathered at Dariapur and read excerpts from the Koran and prayed for communal harmony at Dariapur during the 122nd Rathyatra at Ahmedabad. In some areas, Muslim communities observed a self–imposed curfew.

This year the government had announced a holiday to facilitate the participation of the people in the procession. As if sensing trouble, a large number of Muslim leaders visited the Jagannath Temple on July 13, the evening before and offered prayers as a mark of communal amity. A delegation of Muslim residents of Jamalpur area, led by local M.P., Usmangani Devdiwala, presented a Silver Chariot and a cheque for Rs. 51,000 for renovation work of the Jaggannathji Temple, to its Mahant, Rameshwardasji. Another delegation led by J. V. Momin, general secretary of Tajjiya Committee, also visited the temple and met Mahant Rameshwardasji and offered their co–operation. Inspite of all the precautions taken by the Muslim masses, things did not go as smoothly are expected by them.

DCP Vinod Mal:

The team interviewed DCP Vinod Mal of the Shahibaug Police Station. Dariapur falls under his jurisdictions. The statements made by the D.C.P. largely confirmed what the team had already gathered from its visits to the riot–hit area. The DCP said to the team: "The origin of the riot can be traced to the Kargil conflict. One of the jawans killed was from Meghaninagar in Gandhi-nagar, the constituency of L.K. Advani. L.K. Advani came to Meghaninagar carrying the urn containing ashes of the jawan. A rally was organised in one of the assembly segments of Gandhinagar. L. K. Advani, the home minister of India, and Keshubhai Patel, chief minister of Gujarat, along with a large number of BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal leaders and activists participated in the rally. Members of the rally shouted anti–Muslim slogans while passing through Muslim–dominated areas. During the Kargil conflict a large number of effigies of Nawaz Sharif were burnt. This burning was always accompanied by shouting of slogans.

Very often anti–Pakistan slogans and anti–Nawaz Sharif slogans were converted into anti–Muslim slogans. The police had informed the government of the communal-isation of the Kargil issue.

On July 8 1999, the Muslims took out a procession of Id–e–Milad. The procession was stoned even though the Muslims were shouting anti–Pakistan and anti–Nawaz Sharif slogans. Such incidents charged the atmosphere and tension began to build up.

The Rath Yatra was taken out in such a tension–ridden atmosphere. The BJP took full advantage of such an atmosphere and opened its office in the area and stepped up its activities.

The actual riots started on July 20, 1999 in the wake of a minor incident such as teasing of a mentally deranged boy. Post–Kargil, the Hindutva organisations had apparently made an attempt to spread disinformation. The police had to work hard to clear the disinfor-mation and rumours. It was said that two boys were missing–one from Dariapur and the other from Kalupur. Actually one had gone shopping and the other one had gone out with his friends. During the riots, Vishwa Hindu Parishad had published a list of names of Hindus whose property had been destroyed. The investigation showed that most of the properties were intact. One of the persons whose properties had been allegedly destroyed came forward and stated publicly that nothing had happened to his properties. Most of the properties destroyed belonged to Muslims. FIRs have been filed against VHP and Bajrang Dal for their participation in violent communal activities".

The team specifically asked the DCP about the presence of ISI agents in Ahmedabad because Hindutva leaders had repeatedly said that the riots were instigated by ISI agents. The DCP said to the team that there was not even an iota of evidence to support this contention. The DCP said the Hindutva leaders tried to create an impression that they were the protectors of the police force while Muslims were their enemies. The Hindutva leaders organised demonstrations in favour of the police. The D.C.P. also said the newspapers acted as instigators of the riots by reporting highly exaggerated and false incidents in an inflammable language.



An incident which was not very serious in itself triggered off what could be called communal riots on July 20, 1999 and lasted until August 2, 1999. One cannot fathom the communal frenzy that gripped and convulsed Ahmedabad for ten– twelve days unless one analyses the events prior and consequent to the incidents of July 20.

Ahmedabad, unfortunately, has a history riddled with caste and communal riots. The communal riots of 1969 in Ahmedabad, were the first major communal riot in India after 1947. It devastated the city and killed few thousand people.

The World Cup, Kargil and the Rath Yatra are three events which the sangh parivar used to whip up anti–Muslim hysteria, though without much success. The people in Ahmedabad seem to be weary of frequent occurrence of communal violence.

What happened on twentieth July was sheer madness, but there was a method in the madness. The teasing of a mentally unsound boy led to violence in several parts of city, within hours. There was looting, arson, stabbing and murder. The assailants and the victims did not know each other. The only reason, which could be attributed to violence, was that the assailants and the victims belonged to different religions.

A careful analysis of the chain of events shows that the aggressors were the leaders and activists of the sangh parivar and the victims were Muslims. The Muslims, too, have indulged in violence but it was in the nature of defence and retaliation.

One can discern who the culprits are from the statements made by the leaders of VHP. On July 27 a delegation of the Gujarat VHP, led by its state chief, K.K. Shastri, met chief minister Keshubhai Patel and submitted a memorandum to him. The memorandum demanded the immediate release of Hindus arrested during the riots and charged the BJP government with "giving a free hand to pro–Pakistan elements" and allowing the police to commit atrocities on Hindus arrested in large number during the disturbances.

This is the language of the guilty. VHP Gujarat unit joint general secretary Jaideep Patel and state Bajrang Dal leader Ranchhodlal Bharwad alleged that certain elements of the minority community were busy spreading terror at the behest of the ISI. The team specifically asked DCP Vinod Mull about the presence of ISI in Gujarat. He categorically stated that the police investigations did not detect any ISI agent in Ahmedabad. Why should the sangh parivar seek an alibi so desperately unless they have reason to feel guilty ?

The police have been largely partisan and pounced upon the victims rather than the assailants. But there are certain elements in the police force that have refused to fall prey to communal hatred. The fact that some FIRs and other police records specifically have named VHP and Bajrang Dal as responsible for the riots testifies to this. This was in spite of the effort of the RSS and its allies to organise noisy demonstrations in support of the police and to convince the police that they were their protectors.

The Hindutva forces made an organised effort to spread disinfor-mation, properties belonging to Hindus were destroyed, Hindu persons were stabbed and murdered, so on. There is reason to believe that the police refused to play along with this game. It is possible that there is dissatisfaction in certain sections of the police force because of the interference of the RSS and its allies in the affairs of the police.

Now the question to be raised and answered is why the Hindutva organisations felt compelled to start a hate campaign against Muslims and to project Hindus as victims of the Muslim aggression when the elections are just around the corner. People like Girish Patel, the president of Lok Adhikar Sangh, feel that the reason is the desire for political survival. The BJP government in Gujarat has hardly anything to its credit. Waghela, who has joined Congress recently, is considered an able organiser. Sonia Gandhi drew huge crowds in her meetings. These developments have destabilised the BJP and shaken its confidence, they were desperately seeking for an issue around which they could mobilise the Hindu masses. The reasoning seems to be logical.

During the riots, the top political leadership of the Gujarat government acted as the leaders of RSS and its allies. There was a conference attended by the chief minister and the home minister, top officials and the members of the Peace Committee. A member of the Peace Committee, Aziz Gandhi, told the team that the leaders of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal spoke in front of the CM and the home minister almost as if they were the ones in charge. They insisted that there was police inaction in arresting Muslim rioters and Hindu persons were being falsely implicated. Neither the CM nor the home minister objected; instead they asked the press to leave the room. This was confirmed by a police official who attended the meeting. This officer preferred to remain anonymous.

A government, which does not uphold the rule of the law, has no right, either legal or moral, to continue in power.

(The entire text of the report is available with Communalism Combat)



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