By Muslim Mirror Special Correspondent
New Delhi: Questioning Lt General (retd) Zameer Uddin Shah’s silence about the role of the political leadership during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in his book, former vice president Hamid Ansari asked why Article 355 of the Constitution was not invoked by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government at the Center even when its defence minister George Fernandes was on the spot. Ansari made these remarks while releasing Lt Gen Shah’s (retd) memoir ‘The Sarkari Mussalman’ on Saturday evening at India International Center here. Shah had been sent to Gujarat to control the riots but did not get logistical support in time.
“The book is silent about the role of the political leadership. If civil and police administrations fail to respond to a massive failure of law and order, where does the responsibility rest in a democratic and Parliamentary system? Why was Article 355 of the Constitution, which makes it duty of the Union to protect a state against internal disturbance, not invoked even when the Centre had the benefit of the Raksha Mantri’s on-the-spot assessment?,” Ansari asked.
Article 355 pertains to ‘duty of the Union to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance’.
Referring some of the observations from the book on the riots, Ansari said “The initial reaction of the civil administration was tardy; curfew had been ordered but not enforced; no attempts were made to convene peace committees and attitude of police was partisan.”
In a veiled attacked on the present Prime Minister, who was the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, former vice president said the coverage of Gujarat riots in the national and international media was extensive and even the NHRC took note of it.
He also recalled the former president KR Narayanan’s interview to buttress his point.
“In an interview to a Malayalam weekly in 2005, former president KR Narayanan had revealed his demonstrations with the government and observed, and I quote (Narayanan) — ‘Military was sent but not given the power to shoot. And, there was a conspiracy involving the central and the state government behind the Gujarat riots’,” Ansari said.
He observed that the book was silent “about the role of the political leadership” as Gen Shah evaded this aspect by simply calling it ‘administrative failure’.
However, former Vice President echoed Gen Shah’s observation that there were “no military solutions to insurgency” as normalcy can be restored only by winning the hearts and minds of people.
The 216-page book contains only 10 pages on Gujarat pogrom but it has kicked up a controversy as the present Prime Minister was then heading the Gujarat government.
On reaching the CM’s residence, Lt Gen Shah wrote, he found the then Defence Minister George Fernandez was with Modi. Shah gave them “a list of immediate requirements to enable the Army columns to fan out to restore law and order”. But when he returned to the airfield the next morning, where 3000 soldiers had landed, there was “no transport” available and the troops had to stay put, he writes. “These were crucial hours lost”. The road columns, Shah writes, “reached us on 2 March and so did the requisitioned civil trucks, magistrates, police guides and maps”.
He also wrote that the Gujarat police behaved in a parochial manner during the riots.
“Partisan attitude of the police lay exposed” when he saw that when the “minority-populated localities were surrounded by mobs, the police did not fire at the rioters laying siege, but into windows of surrounded homes of minorities” instead to “keep the two rioting communities apart”. (Excerpt from the book)
During the discussion on the book, Lt Gen Shah made it clear that he had met the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and defense minister George Fernandes at the Chief Minister’s residence at 2 am on March 1 and sought transport and logistics support.
“But, the transport rolled in only on March 2,” he alleged, adding “hundreds of officers from my formation can speak on that, and there are war diaries of the battalion”.
Admitting that discrimination existed in the country, he said the police force is “parochial and communally surcharged” across the country and there is an urgent need to take corrective action in this regard. He suggested that members from minority communities should be recruited in the police force.
In the book, Shah also touched upon his stint as the vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University claiming that he made it the top-ranking institution of the country who served the AMU from 2014 to 2017.
He recalled his issues with former HRD Minister Smriti Irani. When Irani assumed office, he went to meet her with his wife, briefed her about the research at AMU and “requested her to leave AMU’s minority status alone because Muslims of India were emotionally sensitive on this issue. I also told her that this would help the government in winning the trust and faith of the Muslim community.”
The suggestions, he writes, were “misconstrued” by Irani “as an attempt, on my part, to project myself as a leader of the community” and the meeting “convinced” him “that she was inimical not only to me but also to the university I headed”.
Irani, Shah alleged, tried to engineer protests against him in the university. A group of students “cautioned” him “that the Minister was terribly annoyed” and “had asked them to start an agitation (Muhim) against me”.
The minister also humiliated him at a meeting. When he reached, Irani asked him who he was and who had invited him, he said and added that when he said that the Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had asked him to come as part of his delegation, Irani shot back, “Who pays your salary? The central government or the government of Kerala?”
Shah also lamented that a section of media has just focused only part of Gujarat riots from his memoir. The book speaks about his time in the Northeast quelling the insurgency and the 1971 war with Pakistan but these did not get attention.
He said insurgency cannot be wiped out by only military means as if we kill one insurgent; it takes three generations to forget this. He also said the film “Border” falsely portrayed the Longewala battle as many Muslim army officers were in the forefront of this battle.
On the occasion, his colleague Lt Gen H S, Panag has sounded alarm that attempts have been made to politicize the army. Referring the incident of tying a Kashmiri youth to the army vehicle by an army officer and awarding him for his “heroic” feat, he said it is a most condemnable incident and cannot be condoned.
The launch was also attended by General Shah’s brother and actor Naseeruddin Shah. Media persons Vinod Dua, Satish Jacob, Seema Mustafa, former Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia Talmiz Ahmad, Jamia Hamdard Vice Chancellor Syed Ehtesham Hasnain were also present at the function. Gen Shah’s daughter Saira Shah Halim played host.