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Shekhar Gupta omits role of Hindutva forces in Bombay violence while criticising Sanju

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His hypocrisy has not just crept into the Indian political marketplace, but has been legitimised by policy makers and journalists.

Many things went seriously wrong with India’s polity and governance during that dark winter of December 1992-January 1993, and the March 12 serial blasts, which killed close to 250 people, were the final diabolical culmination.

Evil, sinister and diabolical are words that have come to represent the ISI. Words easily used even by Shekhar Gupta in his diatribe against the latest Sanju biopic that has, like many before it, cherry-picked one part of a gory sequence of events. Words that conjure outrage and betrayal with reference to 12 March 1993.

In contrast, the few and casual sounding phrases like ‘riots’ and ‘timeline’ confine, the equally if not more sinister and systemic, whipping up of neighbourhood terror backed by police collusion (can we dare term this ‘khaki’ terror?) to the dustbins of amnesiac history.

In his latest avatar as editor of ThePrint, Gupta upholds this one-sided, myopic outrage against bomb terror while conveniently (for the establishment) turning his eye away from India’s dark underbelly. This accepted hypocrisy has not just crept into the Indian political marketplace but has been legitimised, time and again, by policy makers, journalists and the like. So, while the serial blasts of 12 March, with the Dawood-Tiger Memon plot and the AK-47s, grenades and RDX, conjure up horror and anger in the righteous Gupta, the carefully crafted bloodthirst of the Bombay mob –incited and led allegedly by Shiv Sena (SS) chief Bal Thackeray’s rantings in Saamna – that reportedly took over 1,100 lives and tore apart the fabric of India’s urbs prima is just not accepted as a definition of terror.

Which is why the Justice B.N. Srikrishna report on those dark days is, in today’s India, considered passé, even by online news portals.

Because, the report meticulously documents the gory build-up to India’s first concentrated betrayal of itself as a nation, when in full public view, with 3,000 paramilitary forces watching (and yes, Sharad Pawar, then India’s defence minister is known to have the videos to prove it!), a place of religious worship was demolished, breaking Indian law, violating the Constitution and legitimising the criminals (who thereafter rose to become deputy prime minister, home minister and education minister, sic!). 

Bombay burned twice, first in December 1992 and then again in January 1993. While the dastardly killing of the ‘Hindu’ Mathadi workers (isn’t it ironical that while we use identity markers for the Mathadis or for the Radhabai Chawl inmates, we have relegated the Muslims burned alive in a Maruti at Antop Hill, or the young Muslim thrown into the mob and lynched by a cop, to just numbers?) was one of the proverbial sparks for the communal conflagration, it was not what started the violence.

Who Cast the First Stone is an important tool that journalists covering all kinds of conflict need to understand, calibrate, ponder over and develop. Gupta is no exception. Within hours of the Babri Masjid being razed – and yes, the memory of that event does sends a chill down our spine!!—victory processions were believed to have been allowed in Dharavi, Pydhonie and other parts of Mumbai by sections of the Mumbai Police. ‘Angry Muslims’, Mr. Gupta, were not the first to burst out into Mumbai’s streets.

The spark that consumed Mumbai was lit by the Hindutvawaadis, and a supine (or soft communal) Congress leadership in Maharashtra (chief minister Sudhakarrao Naik carries the blame for allowing the Shiv Sena to ‘literally get away with murder’) will historically carry the blame. Veteran trade unionist Sharad Rao’s press conference of 7 December 1992 exposed and listed dozens of persons allegedly killed by the Mumbai police’s bullets – overwhelmingly, the targets were the city’s Muslims. Women and children in their homes were not spared in this incomprehensible police behaviour.

Remember this:

Justice Srikrishna Point 2.4, Volume 1, Chapter 1 : From or about July 1992, the Bharatiya Janata Party orchestrated its campaign for a construction of a temple at Ayodhya by holding Ram Paduka processions, chowk sabhas  and meetings… Not only were these occasions used for exhorting Hindus to unite, but some speeches and slogans on such occasions were downright communal, warning Muslims that dissent on the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute would be an act of treachery… Though ostensibly religious, the Ram Paduka processions had less of religion and more of politics.

Which is why the BJP-SS called mahaartis (Chapter 2 of the Report) – a despicable communal roadside mobilisation that was used by the SS-BJP’s saffron shirts to reportedly target minority homes and properties – were singled out for condemnation by Justice Srikrishna. Which is why the list of policemen found guilty of criminal misconduct (and liable for punishment and prosecution for allowing murder on their watch) never really paid for their crimes.

Collectively, the regimes that came to power after 1999 (when the SS-BJP alliance was voted out) simply did not care for institutional course-correction. Which is why even S.K. Bapat, police commissioner of Mumbai during those dark days, failed, and failed miserably at even attempting to curb the targeted and perpetrated violence against Mumbai’s minorities.

If AK rifles, grenades and RDX were used for the shocking and murderous serial bomb blasts on 12 March, it was fireballs of kerosene, swords and trishuls that generated neighbourhood terror for six days in December 1992 and several weeks in January 1993. The Mumbai Police, which was until then acknowledged as a professional force, came under a cloud for its deeply partisan behaviour.

While top policeman quoted by Gupta speak of the bomb blast plot and the ISI’s subsequent designs, other top policemen who served and saw this city burn, Julio Ribeiro, Satish Sahney, V.N. Deshmukh and Sanjay Pandey (to just name a few) worked hard to repair the loss of faith in the police that this corrosive bias had caused.

Deshmukh’s testimony before the Srikrishna Commission candidly speaks of the dire tendency of the cadres of the Hindutva right (the Shiv Sena and the RSS) being hired within the ranks of the Maharashtra/Mumbai police. This journalist had taped wireless messages, reflecting interjections to control room conversations, which showed a more than worrisome bias in police behaviour.

And what about the role of journalists, Gupta’s piteous whipping boys? Some of us, on the field, saw and reported on the bloodthirst of both the mob and the bomb. Some of us stuck to the story for years after the fires had died down, tirelessly scripting the chronology of events as it took place.

In between, the silver screen saw Mani Ratnam’s Bombay and Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday – long before this latest biopic got Gupta so worked up – selectively portray a particular narrative or even offer moral equivalence. None so far has had the guts to tell it as it is: That India and Mumbai burned in the fire of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, which led to the Babri Masjid demolition on 6 December 1992. And that these fires are still being cynically ignited.

Teesta Setalvad is an activist, journalist and writer.

Read the original column by Shekhar Gupta here

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I saw at close quarters when I was sent to Bombay as part of team of army doctors with army columns. Sadly not only police even army officers failed as us upright officers.Theirconduct was shameful
    My immediate superior upbraided me for giving sympathetic hearing to victims of violence in medical camps.All of them Muslims
    As one day we waited for lunch,one officer just relieved from watch at duty room ,boasted that he had rebuked the most famous bolly wood couple ,SairaBanu and Dilip Kumar when the rang up anxious for their safety

  2. Hi
    Teesta, why cant you speak for Pandits in Kashmir.Musslims killed pandits and have flee leaving behind their land.If you speak for Pandits, your trust wont get funds from Pak and Middleeast.We all know how neutral you are.

  3. Setalvad is right – even if the film is only about the whitewashing of Dutt – the point is that writers who comment on it and criticize its inability to deal with
    the reality of the times can also be criticized for not wanting to look at the complex set of events that led to the blast. The idea is not to justify the blasts but to point out that journalists who are supposed to know better remain selective in their recall so as to remain on the right side of the powers that be. That is the ugly truth about Shekhar Gupta

  4. Treats ,pl do also write something for JK minorities,come out of Gujarat ,Mumbai riots ,write forMass exodus of Hindu minorities .U won’t u and ur coterie is not concerned for Hindu ,Sikh minorities of JK

  5. There is no excuse for becoming a terrorist. Picking a bomb or a gun is no answer to any problem. The men and women who pick up bombs or automatic / semi-automatic guns are TERRORISTS. No other word can be used to describe such anti-social persons. Plain and very simple.

  6. Without getting into the now past its sell by date debate of whether Sanjay Dutt was a saint or a sinner, I recall vividly those days between the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the bomb blasts in Bombay. A very ugly time, the Muslims got the worst of it, the police were biased, we had never seen our city become so ugly and riven by communal strife. CM Sudhakarrao Naik was completely out of his depth. Sadly, no one has had the honesty to act on the Justice Srikrishna report …

  7. Shekhar Gupta was not commenting on the Bombay riots. He was commenting on the white washing of Sanjay Duty, an imprisoned criminal. Teesta Setalvad’s strawman argument with a plethora of adjectives will not win her the debate. Finally, a criminal act is a criminal act, irrespective the provocation.

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