Ex Bureaucrat, Rights Activist Ask EC to act against Amit Shah’s remark on Gujarat 2002 Violence

Amit Shah's statement on how rioters were 'taught a lesson' in Gujarat after 2002 is both divisive and promotes enmity between groups, E.A.S. Sarma and Jagdeep Chhokar have said

Amit Shah
Image: NDTV

Rights activists and other eminent citizens have urged the Election Commission to treat Union home minister Amit Shah’s recent statement during an election rally in Gujarat, in which he spoke about how the rioters were “taught a lesson” in 2002 and thereafter BJP has ensured peace till the present day, as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Urging the EC not to permit such “divisive exhortations”, they have also demanded a probe and necessary punishment in the matter.

`Shah’s statement was ‘highly objectionable’, sought to promote enmity’

Relying on a report by news agency Press Trust of India, former secretary to Government of India E.A.S. Sarma has, in a letter marked to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioners A.C. Pandey and A. Goel on November 26 first raised the issue of Shah’s “highly objectionable statement” during a rally in Mahudha town of Kheda district.

The news report had quoted Shah as saying: “During the Congress rule in Gujarat (before 1995), communal riots were rampant. Congress used to incite people of different communities and castes to fight against each other. Through such riots, Congress had strengthened its vote bank and did injustice to a large section of the society…..But after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path (of violence). They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022. BJP has established permanent peace in Gujarat by taking strict action against those who used to indulge in communal violence.”

‘Taught a lesson’ implied people had taken law into their own hands

Sarma lso quoted from the NDTV report that quoted Shah, addressing a rally in Mahudha town of Kheda district, in support of BJP candidates ahead of the next month’s Assembly elections.that said the same thing, 

“During the Congress rule in Gujarat (before 1995), communal riots were rampant. Congress used to incite people of different communities and castes to fight against each other. Through such riots, Congress had strengthened its vote bank and did injustice to a large section of the society…..But after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path (of violence). They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022. BJP has established permanent peace in Gujarat by taking strict action against those who used to indulge in communal violence,”  

The former bureaucrat, Sarma says in his communication to the ECI that the “said statement apparently refers to how a political party and certain sections of the people ‘taught a lesson’, which in effect implies those other than the law enforcement authorities had taken law into their hands. If the statement is correctly reported, it would have serious public interest implications. 

The full text of the letter also reads, 

“I sincerely hope that Shri Amit Shah had not made any such statement but, if he had indeed made a statement to that effect, considering that it has come from him, holding the high and responsible office of the Union Home Minister, it assumes a great deal of importance, having wide ramifications for the ensuing Gujarat elections, scheduled to take place shortly and even for other Assembly elections scheduled to take place elsewhere in the country during the next few days.  

“The statement, if it is found to be true, violates the Model Code of Conduct in force, especially with reference to the following clause, 

“There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.   

“Shri Shah’s statement needs to be viewed by the Election Commission in conjunction with the reported fact that it was the Union Home Ministry that cleared the release of the eleven rape convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, directly related to the infamous Godhra incidents in 2002, which triggered the shameful sequence of events that shook the nation’s conscience. The background and the aftermath of the Gujarat incidents of 2002 are so widely known that I do not have to explain the same to the Commission in detail.

“I believe that, as the custodian of free and fair elections in Gujarat and elsewhere, by virtue of Article 324, and the trust reposed by the electorate in the integrity and impartiality of the Election Commission, the Commission should act quickly, hold a special emergent meeting today, preferably during early hours, ascertain the veracity of the news report on Shri Shah’s purported statement and, if the said statement is found to be true, the Commission should, as required, give an opportunity to the person who has made the statement to explain his position, take immediate penal action if necessary, so as to ensure that after-effects of the statement may not interfere with the integrity of the electoral process in the State. 

“From the statement referred, if it is true, I am constrained to draw the inevitable inference that it would have already impacted the course of the Gujarat elections in the short run and would have long-term adverse implications for the nation as whole. By token penalties imposed, the Commission may not be able to undo the considerable damage that would have already been caused, in which case, the only course of action left to the Commission is to consider deferment of the elections, till such time that the environment becomes conducive to conducting elections freely and fairly. 

“The Commission should also take note of the fact that the Union Ministry of Finance had earlier notified an unprecedented extension of the window for political parties receiving corporate donations, on which I had expressed my concern in my letter addressed to you on November 8, 2022, with a special reference to the Model Code. To the best of my knowledge, the Commission is yet to initiate any meaningful action on it!  

“I may further remind the Commission that its inaction in announcing Gujarat elections on October 14, 2022, simultaneously with announcement of elections in Himachal Pradesh (HP), and deferring Gujarat elections till November 3, 2022, for no plausible and convincing reason, resulted, in the Model Code of Conduct coming into force only on November 3. This indirectly (perhaps coincidentally!) gave license to the local authorities in Gujarat to go ahead with premature inauguration of the dangerous, incompletely restored Morbi bridge on Machchhu River, which in turn resulted in a horrific human disaster that took away the lives of more than a hundred innocent persons. Had the Commission announced the Gujarat elections along with its announcement of the HP elections, the Morbi accident would never have taken place! While the two events were not directly connected, it is a fact that the Commission did defer announcing the Gujarat elections, without citing any plausible and valid reason. It is essential that the Commission remains not only credible as a Constitutional authority but also appears to be so, in every respect. 

“The Election Commission of India is a unique, independent institution, owing its existence to Article 324 of the Constitution and the apex court has time and again emphasised that the Commission’s responsibility is to ensure that nothing happens that affects the fairness of elections. During the time when the Model Code of Conduct is in force, the Commission has the authority to go to any extent to penalise those that violate the Code and take appropriate steps to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process in every possible way.  

“Several incumbents of the office of the Commission in the past had demonstrated the authority of the Commission in its full measure and the people of this country, who repose trust in the Commission’s authority as an independent institution, expect the Commission to act objectively with the sole purpose of safeguarding the integrity and fairness of the electoral process, impervious to extraneous influences. The Commission cannot afford to permit political parties to indulge in divisive exhortations to the electorate and thereby influence elections against the public interest. “ 

The communication ends with a fervent appeal to the ECI to act firmly and decisively in this matter, keeping in view that the elections are going to take place in Gujarat very shortly (December 1, 5, 2022).  

Shah’s name had figured in complaints to EC in 2019 too

Incidentally, Shah’s name had figured in the complaints made to the EC ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections too, when then Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa had opposed five clean chits given by the Election Commission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah over alleged violations of the MCC.

There were five rulings then where one of the commissioners had dissented. This included an instance related to Shah who while referring to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad in Kerala had commented: “Rahul Gandhi is contesting in such a place where it is impossible to say when a procession is taken out, whether it is a procession in India or Pakistan.”

The Wire  has also spoken to Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR). Stating that he supported Sarma’s letter, Chhokar said the home minister’s statement was also “in violation of section 153A of the Indian Penal Code”, which pertains to “promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. He said the statement also attracts Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 that provides for disqualification on conviction for certain offences including for offences punishable under Section 153A of the IPC.

`Defer the polls till atmosphere is conducive’

Furthermore, Chhokar demanded, in view of the gross violation of the MCC, as already suggested by Sarma, the Commission immediately directs deferment of the elections in Gujarat “till such time that the environment becomes conducive to conducting elections freely and fairly”.

The social activist also sought initiation of action by the EC for the lodging of complaint and registration of First Information Report for the violation of Section 153A of IPC.

Will EC act? SC recently told it not to be a “yes man” of government

While both these citizen-activists have reposed faith in the EC to act on the matter, the Supreme Court recently stressed on the need for making the appointment of the CEC and the ECs “procedure-based and transparent”. The observation came while a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Justice K.M. Joseph, was on November 24 hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the appointment of the present CEC and ECs.

The court observed that those manning the Election Commission should not be “yes man” of the government but “independent who can act independently” even if it comes to taking on the prime minister.

In this regard, the bench also posed a hypothetical question to the government, saying: “Do you think the Election Commissioner… if he is asked to take on none less than the prime minister, it’s just example, and he doesn’t come around to doing it – will it not be a case of complete breakdown of the system?”


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