The Gujarat high court highlights the unhealed scars from the riots
While hearing a plea on the restoration of places of worship damaged or destroyed during the Gujarat riots,the Gujarat high court on Wednesday held the state responsible for not anticipating the scope of carnage,and for not acting to scotch the rioting that raged unabated for days on end. It said the government has the responsibility of compensating for the damage to religious structures or reimbursing the cost of repair. The case highlights the long distance the state must still traverse to bring humane and administrative resolution even a decade on to one of the most scarring episodes in independent Indias history. Even as the legal effort to bring justice and relief for those affected by the riots of 2002 is being pursued case by case as it should be the courts observations this week have put a timely spotlight on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modis studied refusal to rise to the demands of his office and address the issue holistically.
Ten years on,Modi has burnished his image as an efficient administrator,and Gujarats impressive development record is often seen to be proof of the transformational power of political will. In this image-building exercise,the destiny of the man and the state of Gujarat are shown to be intimately twined. He has fended off questions on his administrative record during and after the riots in a similar manner,by projecting these questions as attempts to undermine Gujarats hard-won and glorious progress. While Modi has not expressed any remorse for the riots,he has been quick to grasp every opportunity to wipe the slate clean of the charges against him and his government. In this attempt,which has taken on the form of a sadbhavana mission,a presentation of himself as a man of peace and harmony,the riots are addressed obliquely.
As a political project in image-building,the measure could be inadequate. It exposes Modi to rebuff. But the uses of such a tactic are his personal concern,and in the months leading up to elections to the Gujarat assembly it is not certain whether he will change the script. More crucially,however,the state governments refusal to fully confront the wounds from the riots broadens the role the courts and civil society need to play,and are playing,in the long process of forging resolution.