Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover-Up, by Rana Ayyub, self published (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), 2016
Rana Ayyub’s Gujarat Files is a chilling read. Based on her investigations into fake encounters and the alleged complicity of the top brass of the Gujarat state administration, as an undercover journalist who adopted the nom-de-plume of Maithili Tyagi to unearth shocking revelations, the book is a gripping and grim commentary on the state of the nation, the nature of the administrative machinery, the entrenched fissures within the body-polity of the nation and the chimerical nature of justice in what is supposed to be a constitutionally bound function- ing democracy.
14 years have passed since the Gujarat genocide and enough accounts have been published so far for almost every sensible person to understand that carnage on such scale for such a prolonged period could not have gone on without the complicity of the state government at various levels. What Rana Ayyub’s account offers is shocking revelations from persons who had been in charge of some of the most key posts in the erstwhile administration which not only corroborate some of the worst suspicions people have had regarding the nature of the contemporary administration and the pervasiveness of the systemic malady that continues to ravage the nation from within, but also expose the entrenched nature of communal prejudice and hatred among people who are otherwise remarkably polite, well-spoken and even compassionate.
Consider the case of former minister Maya Kodnani for example. Convicted for her involvement in the Naroda Patiya massacre during the Gujarat riots, her attitude towards Maithili Tyagi was not just kind and generous, but even motherly. After serving Maithili aamras which she had pureed and preserved herself, she says “You eat, it will feel like my son is eating. You too are like my daughter, Maithili” (167). But the same woman then goes on to add: “Look at these Muslims, Maithili, even their kids are so kattar…And what are these people taught from childhood, that you have to kill, only if you kill you are a Muslim. Ye log kya sikhate hain ki aap ek admi ko bhi musalmaan banao toh aapko jannati pari milega. And all this is taught in Madrassahs” (168). Such seamless fusion of motherly affection for a stranger, though Hindu and apparently from U.S.A., with pathological prejudice and hatred jarringly registers in the readers the manifold complexities involved in understanding communalism and its many manifestations in the Indian society.
Similarly jarring would be the sheer casualness with which orders are given for extra-judicial killings which in several cases are neither reported nor punished. This is evident from the revelations of Rajan Priyadarshi, a former ATS chief, regarding one of his encounters with erstwhile Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah:
“This minster Amit Shah, he never used to believe in human rights. He used to tell us that I don’t believe in these human rights commissions…So this Shah calls me to his bungalow…So when I reach he says, ‘Achchha aapne ek bande ko arrest kiya hai na, jo abhi aaya hai ATS mein, usko maar daalne ka hai…dekho maar daalo, aise aadmi ko jeene ka koi haq nahi hai’” (58-59).
Such accounts almost seem to leap out of a Bollywood film and make us wonder about the sheer precariousness of our lives. While it is true that readers are in no position to judge the veracity of these claims made by senior government officials, long after their retirement, the very possibility of such a reality must evoke righteous indignation regarding the state of the nation. Similarly chilling are the claims regarding Amit Shah’s predecessor, Gordhan Zadaphia, while Priyadarshi served as IGP Rajkot:
“The HM called me up and said, ‘Rajanji, where are you?’. I said, ‘Sir I am in Junagadh’. So he said, ‘achchha write down three names and arrest all three’. I said, ‘Sir, these three are sitting with me and let me tell you Sir that they are all Muslims and because of them normalcy has been restored, and these are the people who have brought the Hindus and Muslims together with their efforts and brought the riots to an end’. So he said, ‘dekho CM sahib ne kaha hai’ and then this guy only was the CM, Narendra Modi, [and he told me] that it was the CM’s order. I said, ‘Sir I can’t do it even if it’s the CM’s order because these three are innocent’” (60-61).
Of course not many officers would be able to show such courage and integrity and the dire consequences are easily imaginable. It is in recognition of this that G.L. Singhal, another former chief of Gujarat ATS, who was accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, says: “System ke saath rehna hai to compromise karna padta hai” — and of course in his case compromise meant acquiescing to extra-judicial killings, among other things. [Published excerpts from the book, confirming his role can be found here.
Alongside such claims there are also several other reports of inexcusable administrative malaise such as those involving governmental persecution of honest and courageous officers who have refused to toe the line, such as Kuldeep Sharma and Rahul Kumar — reports that have been corroborated by other newspapers and media outlets as well. Unfortunately in the fragmented scenario of Indian politics such gross violations of laws and ethics can all too easily be brushed off with electoral victories, while the tainted individuals bask in the glory of national and even international glory.
Embedded in all of this is also a matrix of caste-based discrimination and prejudice which becomes evident from the fact that most of the officers accused in cases of fake encounters belong to lower and backward castes and their conviction that it is their caste identity that has ensured that they are going to be used and then abandoned by political masters after getting their dirty works done through them. For example, Rajan Priyadarshi, a Dalit IPS who still cannot buy a house in the upper-caste inhabited areas of his native village Kadagra, where even the local barber refuses to entertain Dalit customers, exclaimed in anguish, “It was very strange, you know it was like if you are a Dalit, anybody in the office can get away with anything. There was no dignity attached. I mean a Dalit officer can be asked to commit cold-blooded murder because he (apparently) has no self-respect, no ideals” (56).
Such revelations, and the book contains a lot more, if indeed they are true, suggest that the Indian democracy is in many ways a failed experiment with lethal consequences where the unholy wedlock of criminality and political success will only lead to further miscarriage of justice. The only glimmer of hope is perhaps the selfless, audacious and relentless crusade for truth that is undertaken by individuals like Rana Ayyub who remain undaunted by intimidation, slander and outbursts of brazen bigotry. As Justice B. N. Srikrishna mentions in his foreword, “While one may not be in a position to validate all that is narrated in this book, one cannot but admire the courage and passion displayed by the author in her attempts to unmask what she believes to be the truth” (viii).
– Abin Chakraborty