Anatomy of a riot
There were no communal riots in India during the medieval period. Also very rare in the 19th century, they became common in the 20th century. In the previous centuries, communal atrocities were committed by rulers or invaders but there were no communal riots as such.
The Hindus were weak and submissive to their all-powerful Muslim rulers. The people were resigned to their fate and toiled on their land etching out their living. Islam in India developed a liberal ideology under Sufi influence. Rulers like Sher Shah Suri, Akbar and a few others had a liberal outlook and treated their non-Muslim subjects fairly, although there were several rulers who were religious bigots. The uprising of the Marathas, the Sikhs or the Jats had no communal overtones. Shivaji showed respect to the Holy Quran and supported Muslim religious institutions. So did Ranjit Singh. The foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid by Mian Mir, a Muslim saint.
The All-India Muslim League at its first convention in Dacca demanded a separate Bange-Islam comprising East Bengal and Assam. Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy, partitioned Bengal presidency, ostensibly because it was administratively unwieldy. The real motive was to divide and rule. There was widespread agitation, and the government had to annul this partition in 1911. In the 20th century, frequent communal riots occurred in urban areas, though this was rare in rural areas. There were exceptions, like the large-scale Bakrid riots of 1917 in Bihar and the Mopla rebellion of 1920. Communal riots were generally localised affairs. They erupted on account of issues like animal slaughter, land dispute, molestation or abduction of women and so on. Politics was not factored into these riots.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah launched Direct Action Day laws in Calcutta on August 16, 1946. Bengal was the only province in the country with a Muslim League government. Chief minister Suhrawardy organised the Great Calcutta Killings in which some 4,000 people were slaughtered. The police was held back and did not intervene. This state-started communal riot spun out of control leading to a series of retaliatory communal violence that took place all over the country. A communal tornado swept the country during the Partition in which millions were killed.
For the first decade or so after Independence, we had political stalwarts who were genuine secularists. We also had an effective administration. Communal harmony was maintained. With sham secularist leaders chasing votebanks and a totally corroded administration, communal violence became frequent thereafter. In some cases, casualties ran into four digits, like Mumbai in 1980, Assam in 1983, Delhi in 1984, Bhagalpur in 1989 and Gujarat in 2002. The Gujarat riots have been singled out by the secular brigade which is obliging the media to constantly demonise Narendra Modi for obvious political reasons. His record of development and good administration is conveniently downplayed. Gujarat has been the only state in the country in which no communal riot has occurred after 2002. Despite the attack on Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar in 2003 in which Hindu priests and pilgrims were killed, communal conflagration was not allowed to take place and peace was maintained.
A comparison between the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi of 1984 and the Gujarat riots of 2002 will be in order. A young Prime Minister had just taken over and was in a state of shock at the assassination of his mother. His unfortunate statement — “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” — fuelled violence. For three days when military aid was readily available, it was not summoned by the government. Congress goons massacred 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi alone and a few in other cities. The Delhi police remained mute spectators and encouraged the violence. After three days, when the Army was called in, the violence immediately stopped. There were no casualties thereafter. Thirty years have elapsed and no guilty person has so far been convicted.
In Gujarat, a newly appointed chief minister was faced with a ghastly incident of 50 Hindu pilgrims being burnt alive in a train at Godhra. A mob cordoned off the burning compartments to prevent rescue. This gruesome incident led to spontaneous and uncontrollable violence all over Gujarat. The police failed to control this outburst and in some cases encouraged it. Mr Modi asked for the Army’s assistance. The Army at that time was deployed at the border for Operation Prakram. It was immediately withdrawn and from the third day onwards started operating in Gujarat. As a result of Army and police firing, both Hindus and Muslims were killed before normalcy was restored. Approximately 2,000 people, including both Hindus and Muslims, were killed in the state. Several guilty persons of both communities have been convicted through due process of law. But various investigations and inquiries have not nailed Mr Modi for any actionable guilt. These facts speak for themselves.
The Muzaffarnagar riots have been the most serious in recent times. The Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh with its blatant votebank politics has connived in several communal riots in the state during the last one year. Its highly condemnable role in Muzaffarnagar in failing to preserve law and order led to over 40 deaths. Many people of both the Hindu and Muslim communities were forced to vacate their houses and seek refuge. Political interference and restraining the police from performing its duty has rightly drawn much criticism. It is reported that the director-general of police in the state has tendered his resignation in protest.
It is high time that the recommendations of the National Police Commission gathering dust for decades are implemented after due consideration. The directions of the Supreme Court to ensure that the police functions impartially and properly must be complied with. Political leaders with an agenda to further their personal interests should not be allowed to prevent the police from maintaining peace. State-sponsored communal violence as in Calcutta on August 16, 1946, or in Muzaffarnagar can only be disastrous for the nation.
The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and J&K