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When Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, DGP failed to blunt Gujarat bloodbath of 2002

Excerpts from, “Passport to Gujarat: Hazardous Journeys”, a biographical book authored by Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat (1975 batch) Alexander Luke, published by Manas Publications, Delhi, 2015:
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On 27th February (2002) the Godhra incident took place and after that it was difficult to hold hearings because of the continuing violence. When I drove to the office the next morning, I saw the Topaz restaurant being burnt by a group of men. A few others were attacking a cloth shop nearby. Reaching the office I and another officer were the only ones present and the watchman had to open the gate. When I phoned up a senior police officer about what I had witnessed he advised me to go home as the situation was bad.
That night I saw the eerie glow of fires and smoke in the city from my terrace. Now and then there were the terrifying shouts of the mob. The cries of the victims, I did not hear. Two days later I drove to Gandhinagar and met the Chief Secretary. There were burnt out vehicles on the road, some still smoking. I suggested that as I was idle, government may like to utilize me in any of the relief camps which were being set-up for the victims of violence. He looked mildly amused at my naiveté and I got the impression that running relief camps was not a high priority for the government right then.
On the way back, I saw that the shrine dedicated to the memory of a great poet had been destroyed. It had stood there for long and there used to always be half a dozen devotees seated in front in silence. Within a week of this act of vandalism, the municipality paved over this area wiping out any traces of the original shrine. This second act of desecration was probably worse than the first which had been carried out by murderous mobs. The Municipal Corporation chief was a pleasant and jovial IAS officer.
The violence continued during March. Some officers in the police had taken individually brave stands and as a result some killings were probably prevented. I spoke to the officer heading our IAS association saying that we should formally meet and express our opposition to the violence now gripping the State. He said, if I wrote to this effect he would discuss it with others about calling a meeting of the Association. He probably thought that would be the end of it as I would not take the risk of writing such a letter.
I wrote a letter denouncing the violence and the need for our officers to make a statement reiterating our determination to take strong steps to bring back peace, protect the innocent and punish the guilty. I also added a line that we should follow only those orders which were lawful. It was an act of courage. I faxed this letter with my signature and after two days enquired of the association head as to what was planned. He said the letter was shown to a number of our senior most officers. He said that far from meeting to discuss it they were even scared to talk about my letter.
My letter could not have remained a secret to the excellent intelligence agencies operating in the State. I continued denouncing the violence to whoever would listen. I still hold that if the top administrative level had held firm and did what they were required to do by the constitution, then such a collapse could have been avoided. A politician’s instruction or lack of it cannot ride roughshod over our constitutional duties. Too many officers forgot this as they lost their nerve. The politicians themselves may later blame you for not doing what should have been done regardless of the public mood and their own murderous rhetoric of the moment.
But strengths and capabilities of persons occupying important positions in the government which had atrophied for lack of use over a long time cannot suddenly be brought into play when they are needed. The force of their moral response had been deadened by its consistent suppression in the face of ethical demands in the past. When the testing moment arrived they failed. They were not evil, only weak. They have selective lapses of memory when asked to recall the events.
Men of great power have around them those who carry out their commands without hesitation. Shakespeare’s King John rebukes his loyal courtier Hubert de Burgh for having murdered the King’s nephew at his command: “It is the curse of kings to be attended by slaves that take their humours for a warrant to break within the bloody house of life, and on the winking of authority to understand a law….” He then says Hubert should have protested against the command given to him. He, the king, may then have recoiled from ordering this vile deed.
The Gujarat blood bath of 2002 could have been blunted if the top authorities in the government had taken matters into their own hands and re-established law and order without listening to those who were emotionally unbalanced at that time. If they were prevented from doing so by intimidation, they could have threatened to resign. If the Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, DGP and others had done this, then the rightful authority of the state would have been quickly re-established. I can hear the incredulous reaction to this. “Resign, did you say? We cannot run away from our duties, only a person like you would do that.” But were they performing their duty?
No Chief Minister of a State, no matter how angry, would be happy to see murderous disorder on the streets particularly when he had just taken over. Perhaps it was felt that the steel frame would step in and stop the rioters dead in their tracks. Maybe they were hoping to play the game of ‘hold me back’. Many party functionaries descended to the level of those who had set the train on fire. But that was no reason for the State apparatus to have stood paralysed. It was a terrible tragedy.
But Hubert de Burgh had secretly disobeyed the king and not murdered the young boy. The king was greatly relieved when he came to know this. It would be curative for the Indian public life if there were open disagreements between civil servants and the politicians more often. Today in spite of an exceptional record of growth and development in the State during the last decade, the ‘damned spot’ refuses to ‘out’. A healing balm of official justice, remorse, sympathy and help would have made it fade away from the minds and memories of men. A statesman would have ensured that.

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