I'm currently reading a fair bit on the Mughal Empire, and it's hard not to be reminded of the unparallelled decrepitude of the later Mughal state when one comes across stories like this one, and this one. It is a pity the North-East remains "off" the radar of many Indians. As I've written before, and as Mani Ratnam's Dil Se so effectively captures, we are deluding ourselves if we lull ourselves with the thought that what happens "out there" on the national margins is of only tangential relevance to us. Not only is it of the utmost importance inasmuch as it has profound implications for concepts of Indianness, it also testifies rather eloquently to the criminalization of the processes and modes of governance, a criminalization so thorough that at times statecraft seems almost indistinguishable from it.
Which brings us to Giorgio Agamben's dark prophecy (from Means Without End):
Sovereignty's gradual slide toward the darkest areas of police law, however, has at least one positive aspect that is worthy of mention here. What the heads of state, who rushed to criminalize the enemy with such zeal, have not yet realized is that this criminalization can at any moment be turned against them. There is no head of state on Earth today who, in this sense, is not virtually a criminal. Today, those who should happen to wear the sad redingote of sovereignty know that they may be treated as criminals one day by their colleagues. And certainly we will not be the ones to pity them. The sovereigns who willingly agreed to present themselves as cops or executioners, in fact, now show in the end their original proximity to the criminal.
On that note, criminality, this time under the guise of "development", continues apace in Baroda (at least for those not fortunate enough to live in the city's affluent areas). For now the Supreme Court has stayed the Gujarat High Court's callous order to clear all religious structures "encroaching" on public land (even dargahs that have pre-existed said public land, as in the case of the Dargha Hazrat Rasiuddin), but then this Gujarat government is a past master at creating facts on the ground. I reproduce Teesta Setalvad's message on the violence so far below:
A 38 year old young man, Rafik Abdul Ghani Vohra, set upon by a mob that was led by Ashok Thakur and other well known VHP activists including his brothers in law, Jittu and Chinu, Sunil Dhobi, Hardik and Bharat (total mob strength was over 1,000) and burnt to death in his car, at Ajwa Road, while he was returning from Gujarat refineries, around 1 a.m. on Wednesday. Ashok Thakur. Jittu, Chinu, Sunil Dhobi, Hardik and Bharat were rampaging though Vadodara streets, unchecked by the police.
The mob had been gathering at Ajwa Road in trickles, during curfew hours, unstopped by the police, for two hours or so before the attack took place. Despite repeated calls by his family, neighbours to the police control and Commissioner of Police, a callous administration just did not respond. Some family members of the dead boy have told the NDTV that when they called, they were told 'to go to Pakistan.' Local social activists told us that the situation was worse than even 2002 because the police, chief minister's office and the home secretary's office was simply not responding to cautionary voices and alerts.
The trouble has root in the action of the Vadodara Police in shooting at and killing protestors agitating the demolition of an old dargah in the city yesterday needs to be looked at seriously. The durgah in question is the Durgah Hazrat Rasiuudin, a target of communal forces since 1969. At least 200 years old, it is present in the 1911 Vadodara City Survey plans. At the time the outskirts of the village were where these shrines were located. Durgahs, a symbol of India, and the sub-continent's syncretic culture are often the mazhars [graves] of Sufi saints. Worshippers and the mujawar (caretaker) are often majority Hindu. Three persons died in the highly questionable police firing, 27 are injured and two of the majority Hindu community in retaliatory stabbings later. All these unequivocally condemned but we need to understand how the administration--civic and police--in fact stoked violence and miscommunication.
Muslim residents of Vadodara were worried about the hostile stance of the administration. Hence they had agreed to a 'compromise' formula worked out between the community leaders and the administration a day before clearly appears to have been that a part of the shrine would be sacrificed for 'development.' Two and a half feet were to be 'sacrificed' since it slightly jutted out into the road. Instead, on the morning of May 1, the police and corporation came with a sinister motive, demolished the whole structure and by afternoon had even paved a road over it. Nalin Bhatt and Yogesh Patel supervised the paving of the road. This is exactly what had been done to Wali Dakhani's tomb in Ahmedabad just outside the Commissioner of Police's office on March 1, 2002. The attempt appears to be to culturally annihilate a section by targeting the places of worship. Worse still, when the police came to 'demolish' the place of worship and found protestors, they shot to kill, This action of the police apart from being a crime and punishable under law, is not in any way, conducive to building any trust between citizens and the police.
Significant issues that need to be addressed:
Why were 'neutral' members of the Vadodara Muncipal Corporation [VMC] and police accompanied by notorious figures like Nalin Bhatt, Yogesh Patel [MLA] and mayor Sushil Solanki [seen on TV] and all of whom made provocative slogans calling the shrine a mini-Babri? The Mayor went on to say that of the VMC did not demolish it, the services of the VHP and Bajrang Dal could be called in!! Yogesh Patel and Nalin Bhatt have been indicted by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal -Crimes Against Humanity, Gujarat 2002, for their involvement in the Gujarat violence. Why did the Vadodara Police shoot to kill? Why was no effort made to
restrain the agitated mob with muskets, tear gas, firing in the air? As shots on Channel 7 etc showed, the police were aiming their rifles to kill. This action of the police is suspect and leaves it open to serious charges of partisan conduct.
Why did the Commissioner of Police Deepak Swaroop relay inaccurate information that community leaders had sought a stay on the demolition when this is not factually true?
Why did the CP Swaroop conceal information about the reluctant 'compromise' worked out by the leaders of the minority community to allow 2 and a half feet of the shrine to be sliced off, where it jutted on to the road?
Why did the CP conceal information that the so called ten or twenty temples demolished before are 'deras" (home, private temples outside people's gates) not public ancient temples? In fact on Old Padra Road there is a twenty year old temple that dates back to the aggressive rath yatra period carried out by Advaniji of
the BJP and yet another on the Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway just as you enter Nizampura; there was no question of these being removed.
As far as the 'development' arguments are concerned, Vadodara after last year's deluge desperately needs road repair of potholes, has an acute water supply shortage, there is a garbage problem, how come this is not being looked into by the authorities. Now there is fear that two more such shrines, Hazrat Yakubshahi
durgah, opp Yakubpura and another Zohawarpeer na durgah are the next targets. In fact, as background, 270 shrines were destroyed in premeditated violence of 2002 . Barely two dozen durgahs and masjuds have come again. More by community support than anything else. A sinister development has been that on the night May 2 and 3, 2006 the same night that Rafik Vohra lost his life, one Ajay Dave owner of TNN Channel, Vadodara was seen by residents moving around Ajwa Road area and video shooting the entry and exit points of Bahar and Kismet Colony, Muslim colonies on this road. This has led to trepidation and fear among residents who hark back to memories of 2002 when such tactics were used before to the state sponsored genocide to selectively target minority Muslim life and property in various districts of the state. A fear that an institution like Friends of the Police has been infilterated by communal elements needs to be investigated as they have apparently played a role in misdirecting the police. Any one indulging in violence needs to be arrested.
For transparency the police must release NAMES and LIST of those arrested to ensure transparency and accountability. Have FIRs been registered against prominent members of the ruling party who were present at the demolition site and last night leading the mob that burnt alive Rafik? Is the police and state government going to prosecute prominent members of the political class (mentioned above) present at the demolition who raised communal and provocative slogans (indulged in hate speech) Is the police going to initiate action against top and other police officers guilty of complicity and irresponsible behaviour when distress
calls were made for help and during the demolition when they fired to kill?
Co -editor and Secretary CJP
Nirant, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu, Mumbai - 400 049. Ph: 2660 2288 email: