"The Mumbai blasts seem to be a reaction to the 'totality of events' in Ayodhya and Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993." Justice BN Srikrishna report.
Justice Srikrishna is spot on: If there were no riots in Mumbai in 1992-1993, there would have been no serial blasts. Like if there was no Godhra train burning there would have been no 2002 Gujarat riots, or if Indira Gandhi was not assassinated, there would have been no anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984. Or we could argue that if the Babri masjid was not demolished, the post-Babri riots would not have occurred; if Indira Gandhi hadn’t ordered the army to storm the Golden Temple, Sikh militancy would have been contained; if the VHP hadn’t undertaken a Kar-Seva in Ayodhya, no train would have been targeted.
Searching for the 'root causes' of any act of violence is fraught with danger. Just how far back will action-reaction theories take us, and do they eventually lead to rationalising violence?
And yet, it is impossible, as Justice Srikrishna points out, to separate the Mumbai blasts from the riots that preceded them. Which is why the narrative over 1993 Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon’s execution cannot but reflect on the riots as well.
Why did Memon, who by all accounts had set up a relatively successful chartered accountancy firm in Mumbai’s Mahim area (Memon and Mehta, a Gujarati Hindu being his partner), become part of a diabolical ‘Muslims only’ terror plot? Can his transformation be linked to the fact that Mahim was one of the worst-affected areas during the communal clashes? Or that his brother’s office was attacked in the riots, the family received threat calls, and local Shiv Sainiks had warned Muslims in the area to ‘go to Pakistan’?
Whether Memon was fully aware of the serial blasts conspiracy, widely believed to have been executed by his brother Tiger, is uncertain. But after the apex court verdict, the debate over his exact role in the 1993 blasts must now end; what must begin is an attempt to reset the discriminatory manner in which the Indian state and the criminal justice system deals with mass crimes.
In the cacophonous television studios, there has been an emphasis on how stringent punishment to Memon will be a deterrent to terrorists and provide closure to the families of 257 victims of the blasts. But few public figures have called for similar tough action against the rioters of Mumbai. More than 900 people died in the violence, but only three people were convicted and given one-year jail terms, one of whom is dead, the others out on bail.
And yet those who do raise their voice and seek justice for the riot victims are labelled ‘anti-national’, ‘presstitutes’ and worse. It is almost as if there is a selective amnesia where Mumbai’s violent journey begins on March 12, 1993 and what happened before is to be conveniently forgotten. And if you do care to remember, then you are accused of being an apologist for ‘terrorists’, as if a rioter with a sword who kills in the name of religion cannot be compared to a terrorist armed with RDX.
With informed liberal opinion being pushed on the defensive, is it any surprise then that the voice of dissent is now being hijacked by the likes of an Asaduddin Owaisi? The MIM MP from Hyderabad is no bleeding heart liberal, but a hard-headed politician who has sensed an opportunity in a surcharged and polarised atmosphere to build himself as a defender of ‘Muslim interests’. It is no different, in a sense, from how Bal Thackeray saw himself during the 1992-1993 violence as a ‘protector’ of Hindus, an image that eventually catapulted him to power during the subsequent 1995 Maharashtra assembly elections. Or how a Praveen Togadia and even a Narendra Modi projected themselves as 'indu Hriday Samrats'and defenders of Gujarati asmita in 2002. Or how the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi, during the 1984 general elections, ran an insidious campaign aimed at showing the Sikh as a terrorist.
The difference perhaps is that then we didn’t have the spectre of a global ‘jihad’ being waged by terror groups like the IS. Now, the rising influence of such groups and the growing radicalisation of Muslim youth whose rapid alienation is pushing them to seek ‘revenge’ demands that the State be seen to be just and even-handed. The claim that evidence is far more difficult to gather in a riot case than in a terror conspiracy can no longer be an alibi for shoddy investigation and, in some glaring instances, for an utterly compromised and partisan state apparatus.
You can’t have a Mumbai blast verdict being held up as a symbol of zero tolerance to terror even as a number of witnesses turn hostile in cases like Malegaon and Ajmer involving Hindu terror groups. Why should a public prosecutor in the Mumbai blasts case like Ujwal Nikam become a heroic figure while those in the Malegaon blasts are pushed around and threatened? How do you explain a Hashimpura verdict where almost three decades after 42 Muslims were gunned down, no one is held guilty? If those found guilty in the Godhra train burning have been given life or death penalties and remain in jail, why should those who were found guilty in the Gujarat riot cases like Naroda Patiya be out on bail with the state refusing to push for harsher punishment?
Sadly, in a divided society, raising these questions will perhaps lead to being labelled ‘anti-national’ yet again and offered a one-way ticket to Pakistan. But look at it in another way: These questions are really only in the nature of ‘inconvenient truths’ that any mature democracy must confront, the kind that might just ensure we don’t become another Pakistan!
Post-script: In 1993, I deposed for three days before the Srikrishna commission. As I was leaving court, a Shiv Sainik accosted me: ‘Don’t forget, Balasaheb is our God, our saviour, no court can hold him guilty.’ He was proven right. The BJP-Sena government in Mumbai junked the Srikrishna report findings. In 2012, Bal Thackeray was given a state funeral by a Congress-NCP government.