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30 Mar 2009, 0000 hrs IST
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The arrest of Maya Kodnani, BJP leader and a minister in the Narendra Modi government until Friday, is a significant development in the
investigation of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. This is the first time a senior public official has been arrested in the riot cases after being slapped with charges of murder, abetment to murder and arson. Equally significant is the remark made by Justice D H Waghela of Gujarat high court while dealing with the case. The judge has said that religious fanatics who organise mass murders of innocent people are comparable to terrorists.

A pogrom is no less a serious crime than a terror strike. More than a thousand people were killed in the Gujarat riots. Kodnani has been booked for her alleged role in the massacre of over 100 Muslims in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam. Organised mobs of fanatics, allegedly aided by sections of the state government, were responsible for the killings. However, few of the perpetrators of the violence were arrested until the Supreme Court intervened and appointed a special investigation team to pursue the cases. The results have now started showing.

The record of India's law-enforcement agencies in punishing perpetrators of communal violence is shockingly poor. Riots, as successive judicial inquiries have found, are rarely spontaneous acts of mobs. They are most often planned and executed by organised groups. However, only foot soldiers of these groups are brought to book. The masterminds almost always get away with little or no punishment. Gujarat riots cases, like the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, seemed headed nowhere after police investigations failed to fix charges on rioters. That seems to be changing, hopefully, because of sustained campaign by civil society groups and mass media, technological advances in telephony and the interest showed by the apex court to make sure that rioters are punished.

The alleged masterminds of the 1984 riots many of them Congress party leaders who later became MPs and Union ministers got away lightly in the absence of sustained pressure from the judiciary and human rights groups, which lacked the resources available today to pin down the guilty. The political class and other sections of the society tend to shrug off communal riots as an inevitability of electoral politics and hence a lesser crime than, say terrorism. Hopefully, Justice Waghela's remarks would serve as a wake-up call. Public officials including policemen must recognise that the law will finally take its course and the legal process can't always be subverted.


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