The outburst of religious hatred in Gujarat early in the year foretold the violence that was to be the keynote of 2002
The beginning showed the nature of the year 2002. In February-March, the state of Gujarat was engulfed in the most terrible kind of violence. The trigger for this was the torching in Godhra of a train compartment that was packed with kar sevaks. Revenge for this carnage transformed the state into a site for an anti-Muslim pogrom in which, according to reports, the government under the Bharatiya Janata Party and the state administration were implicated, either directly or through cultivated indifference. The violence saw the active participation of sections of the middle class in the urban areas as well as of Dalits in the rural world. The rest of India watched horrified and then was vocal in its condemnation of the killings, of the refusal of the Central government to intervene to stop the mayhem and the inability or the unwillingness of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to dismiss the chief minister, Mr Narendra Modi and to place Gujarat under presidentís rule. The year began thus under the sign of Cain and the despair and anger that inevitably accompany gross acts of injustice and discrimination.
The blood spilled in Gujarat was replicated, though differently, in train accidents that took a number of lives. The word accident should actually be put inside inverted commas since the disasters were probably caused by poor maintenance and negligence although the bogey of sabotage was raised as a possible cause. Killings in Jammu and Kashmir continued intermittently and for a few months in the middle of the year a war with Pakistan seemed imminent. Terrorism spread to various parts of the country and Calcutta saw a dawn attack on the American Center. The spread of terror allowed queries to be made about the competence of the security and the intelligence services. The violence in Gujarat and the escalation of terrorism in areas outside Jammu and Kashmir made the polity look fragile and the government appear weak-kneed.
If in 2001 after the formation of the global alliance against terrorism, Indiaís position vis-à-vis the United States of America and Pakistan had seemed stronger, the hopes thus raised were belied. There is no evidence that Pakistan, under US pressure, has completely withdrawn from sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, the fleeing of Mr Anees Ibra- him (one of the accused in the Bombay blasts of 1993) from Dubai to Pakistan confirmed Indiaís suspicions about Pakistanís role.
The keynote of the year was violence in one form or another. The curtain comes down with the news of the elections in Gujarat. A government implicated in violence and communalism has been voted back to power with a massive majority. The people of Gujarat have showed their preference. Most people who cherish the secular values on which the Indian Republic has been built see no effective ways to stop the juggernaut of communalism and religious hatred. Anger is the flip side of helplessness.