MILIND GHATWAI, SHIV AROOR & VARGHESE K GEORGE
Thursday, May 04, 2006
iots: Modi quick to respond, UPA clearly signals its watching, Army is in
VADODARA, NEW DELHI, MAY 3: The city is still tense, the flashpoints still simmer, the images of the stone-pelting mobs and the charred car disturbingly familiar. And yet there was no missing one fact today: Gujarat 2006 was different from Gujarat 2002.
The reason: A more responsive Chief Minister Narendra Modi quick on his feet and an “Opposition” Centre putting its foot down.
Consider the differences:
• Modi made an uncharacteristic visit to a riot-affected area. Barring his visit to Godhra, post the Sabarmati Express carnage and one to Ahmedabad’s Shah Alam relief camp with then prime minister A B Vajpayee in 2002, Modi has not been to any riot-prone area, nor has he personally met those injured in the violence. Which he did today.
• In 2002, Modi had quoted “action reaction,” thesis, this time he appealed for peace and said no one would be allowed to subvert the law.
• Post-Godhra, most BJP leaders made provocative statements, were seen in police control rooms and at the violence sites. This time, restraint was the refrain. Both RSS and the VHP said it was a matter between the judiciary and the Muslims (over the demolition), not a “communal” one.
• In 2002, there was no response from the BJP-led NDA Centre for hours after violence broke out. This time, the UPA sent Minister of State Sri Prakash Jaiswal the same evening as violence broke out on May 1.
• After Modi’s request at 4 pm today, 13 paramilitary troop companies—nine deployed in Vadodara and four in Ahmedabad—have been drawn from the Rapid Action Force (RAF), CRPF and BSF. In 2002, the Army was not deployed until the worst massacres had already happened in Ahmedabad and across the state.
• Today, the Army put three columns from its Vadodara-based air defence brigade and another from Gandhinagar on flag march duty. Four columns, consisting of about 250 troops, are to make a peaceful flag march through the sensitive parts of Vadodara today in a 10-vehicle convoy of jeeps.
• Two more columns of the Army have been pressed in to assist the civil administration and Gujarat police.
• Last night, Home Minister Shivraj Patil told Modi in no uncertain terms that it was the Gujarat government’s responsibility to ensure that the situation did not spiral out of control.
• The Home Ministry also asked Gujarat Chief Secretary Sudhir Mankad to provide a detailed report on the violence.
• Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi also spoke to Mankad and indicated to him that with the assistance of additional central forces, it was imperative that the situation was defused immediately.
One key reason behind the UPA response is political. Congress strategists consider the 2002 riots a factor behind the party’s electoral success in 2004 and realise any “slow approach” will cost it dearly.
At the Cabinet meeting today, though Gujarat was not on the agenda, but the issue was raised. A R Antulay, followed by Arjun Singh and Laloo Prasad Yadav, said the Centre must intervene and “be seen as doing so.” Later in the evening, the PM told CPI leader A B Bardhan that the Centre was closely monitoring the developments in Gujarat. Sonia Gandhi, campaigning in Rae Bareli, was also briefed on the Gujarat developments and an advisor said she was “very concerned.” Sonia will return to Delhi by tomorrow evening.