The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Judgments about volatile situations run the risk of being too hasty. But nonetheless they have to be made, even if such judgments are of a pro tem nature. Thus any comment on the situation in Gujarat is hazardous. Despite this, it is clear from the events of the last two days that violence has not spread. There was an attack on a temple by a militant Islamic outfit. The implications, given the reality and the recent history of Gujarat, were ominous. On every one’s mind, including the prime minister’s, was the question: will the violence snowball and Gujarat enter another phase of mayhem and religious violence' Such apprehensions were aggravated by the reaction and the sabre-rattling of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, echoed the sentiments of most people when he said, “First, violence takes place somewhere and revenge is taken elsewhere. This must end.’’ Mr Vajpayee obviously had in mind the painful memory of Godhra and its aftermath. For the nonce, it appears from the experience of the last two days that this immediate danger has been averted. If it has been averted, it is because of the swift reaction of both the state and Central governments. The army was called out almost immediately and it undertook flag marches in the sensitive parts of Gandhinagar. Other parts of the state which are prone to communal violence were also brought under high security. A peace of the graveyard reigns in Gujarat. But at least it is peace.

This immediate experience is not without a moral. It is a simple moral, but one with profound implications. The experience suggests that with firm measures it is possible to quell the spread of violence. Violence needs to be met without giving any quarter and the perpetrators of the violence need to be told in no uncertain terms that they will be treated without mercy. The law and order machinery cannot be allowed to be shackled down by ideological considerations. A rider follows from this general theorem. In February-March this year, when Gujarat was convulsed in a pogrom following the carnage in Godhra, the state and Central administration did not take adequate steps to suppress the violence. The state administration took its time to call out the army and the prime minister was too mild in his reprimand to Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat who, Nero-like, had watched the state burn and be reduced to a killing field.

Once indifferent, twice alert. Mr Vajpayee seems to have drawn the right lessons from the post-Godhra events. He has taken no chances and has not allowed Mr Modi, not averse to provoking communal passions, from running berserk with extreme statements. Even Mr Modi’s gaurav yatra has been reined in. All this may not still be enough to bring about a durable peace in Gujarat. The situation remains tense and violence-prone. Neglecting this and overplaying Hindutva may be even more dangerous than making judgments on the present Gujarat situation.

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