The revelations of sting operations carried out by Tehelka on the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat and screened on TV Today network channels have created a stir at a time when the state is headed for assembly elections. The elections to the Gujarat state assembly are scheduled to be held on 11 and 16 December. The timing of the exposé and the ferocity of its contents have become a matter of intense debate all over the country and more so in Gujarat. Much of what is shown is no doubt shocking, but has already been in public knowledge, sans on-camera personal confessions.
Narendra Modi won a massive mandate in the 2002 assembly elections in the wake of the Godhra attack and the grisly communal riots that followed. Ever since, he has made every attempt to reinvent himself and achieve an image makeover to being a vikas purush (man of development) from being described as a ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (king of Hindu hearts) by his hardcore supporters and a ‘hero of hatred’ by his critics.
Modi had been largely successful in his attempts and is credited with running a relatively corruption-free and development-oriented government in Gujarat. From all accounts, the performance of the Modi government was expected to be the principal issue in the ensuing assembly polls. Given the good performance rating of his government and his undiminished and unrivalled personal popularity, the BJP was widely projected to be the likely winner by a series of opinion polls carried out so far.
The TV exposé has kicked up a political storm on the eve of crucial assembly election campaign. The national Congress leaders were in the know of the Tehelka tapes and its contents well before their telecast. Some highly placed Congress leaders had in fact called their many media friends on the day of telecast to watch the explosive telecast live.
The Congress party has demanded the resignation of Narendra Modi in the wake of the revelations. Perhaps, the party’s leaders at the national level reckon that the exposé will help dilute Narendra Modi’s newly acquired image of a development-oriented, no-nonsense chief minister. Alas, rarely do you see political ineptitude of this magnitude from a national party.
Is this yet another brainwave of the party’s new sensation, Rahul Gandhi who is believed to have taken charge of campaign in the poll-bound state?
Until now, Narendra Modi was fighting a lonely electoral battle—the BJP’s traditional allies the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have been very critical of Modi for cold shouldering them and some BJP leaders themselves feel ignored and powerless—but thanks to the Tehelka tapes, he will suddenly find everyone swinging to his tune. What appeared to be silent and sullen support for the man and his skillful governance will now turn into vociferous and aggressive support. Simultaneously, Muslim voters will be pushed on the defensive and may not aggressively vote against Modi for the fear of personal safety and economic security, because the man is widely expected to return to power.
The Congress party in Gujarat understands the futility and stupidity of fighting Gujarat elections on Narendra Modi’s favourite pitch, Hindutva. Ask anyone on the streets of Gujarat as to who will benefit from the telecast of Tehelka tapes. The response will be unequivocal and unqualified; it’s the BJP that will benefit.
Five years after the riots, Gujarat continues to be communally surcharged. This is particularly true of the central region of the state that includes the metropolitan districts of Ahmedabad and Vadodara. The revival of the gory memories of 2002 has brought the issue back onto centre stage and has energized the BJP’s cadres. Reviving the ghastly memories will not heal the deep wounds that the carnage inflicted on the minority community. On the other hand, it will renew a sense of mutual suspicion between the communities and seriously endanger the fragile communal harmony in the state. The city of Ahmedabad was highly tense immediately after the telecast of Tehelka tapes and thus the decision of the Ahmedabad administration to temporarily black out some television channels is unexceptionable. After all, the security of people is paramount and who is to be blamed if a fresh communal flare-up occurs?
The communal riots of 2002 are a thing of the past and a sad chapter in the state’s history. The state has since moved on and has been in the fast track development mode. The past five years have been very peaceful in Gujarat, save some minor incidents. Our political parties will never cease to raise divisive issues for potential electoral gains. But, do they realize that it is their political expediency that is the biggest threat to the communal harmony in Gujarat?
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org