Gujarat Files: Of The Rioters Who Rule Us Today [Book Review]

Rajiv Kumar

Rajiv Kumar is Professor at Heidelberg University. He can be reached at

In the movie version of All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward played by Robert Redford is seen to ask Harry Rosenfeld, the editor in-charge of local news at the Washington Post, who was Charles Colson. Harry Rosenfeld turned around asked Bob Woodward to sit down and said, “I am glad you asked me that question. The reason is because if you had asked Simons or Bradlee, they would have said: “We will have to fire this schmuck at once because he is so dumb”.” Howard Simons and Ben Bradlee were, at the time when the Watergate Scandal had just broken out, managing editor and executive editors, respectively. In June 17, 1972, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Building in Washington DC and editors at the Washington Post assigned Bob Woodward, a novice reporter at the newspaper, to cover arraignment of those burglars in a local court. That marked the beginning of investigative journalism by Bob Woodward and his equally bumbling colleague, Carl Bernstein into something started as a small time break in and turned out to be a big time labyrinthine criminal enterprise being run from the Nixon White House that ultimately led to resignation of Richard Nixon as the 37th President of United States of America. That was the first president ever to resign from the office. For Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the line between success and failure was utterly thin and mostly invisible and they badly stumbled at times. One particular moment when they prematurely named Bob Haldeman, the chief of staff for Richard Nixon and faced ire of indomitable Ben Bradlee, could have ended not only the entire investigation but their careers in journalism as well. But the editors, Ben Bradlee, in particular stood with them when everyone else doubted the foundations of entire story. Though, the Watergate investigation was much more complex involved many investigators and prosecutors but it started with dodged grit of two novice reporters who just had arrived and dug into murky world of Nixon White House through diligence and most importantly their editors never let them down.

A young reporter from Tehelka, Rana Ayyub donned the persona of a US based film maker, Maithali Tyagi to get story from those very people who played central and dubious part in one the worst communal riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002 and also into several incidences where several individuals were conveniently eliminated from the scene by local police and investigating agencies in highly contentious circumstances. Where Rana Ayyub were to run into a wall during her earlier stint in the state, Maithali Tyagi gained confidence of the people thick into incidences that would not have been divulged unless they felt secure to unburden themselves. Though, it may be mentioned that it had been through Rana Ayyub’s earlier investigations on stage-managed killings that led to the arrest of Amit Shah a right hand man of Modi and the home minister in the state at that time. It marked a first in the country’s history that an in office minister in charge of law and order had been arrested for criminal instigations. The range of politicians to bureaucrats Maithali Tyagi could gain access marks the who’s who of Gujarat from its worst period in history. Without reproducing the actual transcripts from the book here, most of the facts given were already known through previous sources that included many investigations that all ultimately ran into eventual ground; nevertheless, a few very disconcerting new features do emerge in Gujarat Files. One of the fig leaves behind which most of the unscrupulous people in power and media took shelter had that courts never found Modi guilty for any of the crimes that were committed in Gujarat. That is where Maithali Tyagi brings the fact home that the reasons no investigation or court could find Modi guilty for all those zillions of crimes he committed in Gujarat comes down to his nefarious modus operandi. That modus operandi is lucidly detailed in Gujarat Files. Modi operated on verbal orders directly over the heads of conscientious officers and there was never any meeting where he had said anything of the sort. The bureaucratic make over by forces of Hinduvta provided a fertile ground for Modi and his henchmen to operate. One of his main henchmen, Amit Shah who currently for all purposes happens to be the second only to Modi in power and clout, had absolutely no qualms in physical elimination of the persons he deemed obstruction to their power or path. Another revelation that has been alluded to by one of the reviewers pertains to a caste-based exploitation. There clearly emerges a pattern of selective use of officials belonging to lower castes for nefarious deeds and leaving them in lurch when caught by machinery of law.

Reading Gujarat Files gives an eerie feeling; the people who ran a viciously criminal racket in the state are now running the entire country. It manifests labyrinthine failures in the society and those manifestations are still strong. It doesn’t bode well. To implicate him required full support to the kind of diligence by Rana Ayyub, which unfortunately simply wasn’t there. Lesser mortals at high places in media, bureaucracy and judiciary folded and capitulated. Not that makes Modi any less criminal; he ran an unambiguous criminal enterprise with relish of a mafia overlord. Should one dwell into the past of Modi, none of that would come as surprise. Modi had his teeth cut in Rashtriya Seva Sangh (RSS); an organization modeled on fascist organizations in Europe and later became closer to another rabid Hindu organization Vishwa Hindi Parishad (VHP) than he was with his parent organization BJP. The riots of 2002 in Gujarat were instigated and conducted by people associated with VHP when Modi was firmly in saddle. Modi had become chief minister after ousting his predecessor Keshu Bhai Patel through intrigue and chicanery. William Dalrymple in a long article in the New Statesman, when Modi took over as Prime Minister after a thumping electoral victory, described trepidation of Vinod Mehta when the latter saw Modi first time. As per Dalrymple, Vinod Mehta described Modi as a bad news when latter had gone to see him prior to his becoming chief minister with some evidence against his predecessor from his own party.

After having read Gujarat Files, I felt cynical for the reason the gang that indulged in gross criminality has ended up in ruling the country and people are still going around with business as usual. There is a deep bleakness lurking on the horizon. If they succeed with their nefariousness in UP, things could get ugly. The idealism that pushed back Indira Gandhi in those worst days of emergency simply doesn’t exist anymore. Bringing justice to the victims of Gujarat and to justice those who perpetrated those crimes would require diligence of kind that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein indulged in unearthing the conspiracy of Watergate scandal. But then they had editors who stood with them and there were enough upright people to prosecute the perpetrators. Both Shoma Chaudhury and Tarun Tejpal, editors of Rana Ayyub washed their hands by saying story had holes and that was the reason that web site did not run that story. What did those as editors do to fulfill those gaps when it must have been clear that by diligently pursuing the story they could nail the mail culprit? They could have moved judiciary; they could have used right to information (RTI) to get into details. Just issuing the statements of denial does not absolve them of their deliberate negligence and submissiveness in front of juggernaut of bigotry.




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