It looks like Salil Tripathi, of late, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First it was this piece on Center Right India that examined his claims of being a libertarian, pro-free market, etc that led to some delightful exchanges on Twitter. And then he wrote an opinion piece in Mint titled Incredible Impunity, which should actually be titled Brazen Bias.
Salil Tripathi’s entire article on Mint seems to be motivated by the singular agenda of maligning Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. All of us are entitled to our biases about persons, and ideas and it’s good to express our biases openly because that fosters honest debate and discussion. That doesn’t mean we must allow our personal biases to triumph over facts like Salil Tripathi has demonstrated.
The first instance of bending facts is in the opening sentence where Salil Tripathi claims that Modi failed to protect the lives of “thousands of Gujaratis (a large majority of them being Muslims.)” The official death toll is 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, a fact that Sriprakash Jaiswal, the then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs told the Upper House in May 2005. One also wonders why Salil Tripathi found the need to include the religion of a certain group of people who were killed especially after his note that Gujaratis were killed. Salil Tripathi also casually claims that 58 Hindus were “killed,” which is a gross understatement: those 58 Hindus were burnt alive in cold blood.
And then he says that it’s unfair to compare the post-Godhra riots with the 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi. And it’s true: the two cannot be compared not because of the reason Salil Tripathi gives but for something that’s more fundamental. The 1984 Sikh massacre was an organized pogrom by the Congress party while the post-Godhra riots was a reaction whose provocation was the ghastly roasting alive of 58 innocent Hindus. A pogrom is where members of a specific religious/ethnic group are singled out for mass murder. This definition applies 100% to the 1984 Sikh pogrom. In case of the Gujarat riots, 58 Hindus were first roasted alive and then in the riots that followed, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed. Calling this a pogrom is twisting the definition of the term. Among others, Amnesty International called the Gujarat riots a pogrom against Muslims. And Salil Tripathi is an ex-employee of Amnesty International. Even if you don’t link these two together, it’s still inexplicable why Salil Tripathi has swallowed their terminology uncritically. Sans the train-burning provocation, the Gujarat riots wouldn’t have occurred.
Salil Tripathi who chastises Modi while sounding like a Rajiv Gandhi-apologist, conveniently omits one important fact: while losing his mother to the bullets of her own bodyguards is terrible, as Prime Minister, he could’ve conducted himself with dignity by appealing to and ensuring peace by taking preventive measures instead of proclaiming that the 3000-odd innocent Sikhs deserved their death with “When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes.” We also wonder why Salil Tripathi thought it fit to mention the religious identity of Indira Gandhi’s bodyguards. Apparently, for Salil Tripathi, Modi deploying the army within 20 hours since the riots began is not enough but the 3 days of relentless Sikh-bloodletting—no police or army was deployed –is somehow excusable because Rajiv Gandhi was in grief, a grief that cost 3000 Sikhs their lives and left the survivors and their future generations scarred. If only Salil Tripathi had read Jarnail Singh’s I Accuse… he would not—if he was human—muster the guts to write stuff like Rajiv Gandhi was in grief.
It also helps to have a historical sense: since Independence, every communal riot that has occurred in different states has occurred when there was a Congress government ruling those states:
· 1969 Gujarat riots where 65% of the riot victims were Muslims
· 1983 Assam riots where 2000 Muslims were killed because Indira Gandhi wanted early elections
· 1989 Bhagalpur riots where 800 Muslims were killed
· Of course, the 1984 pogrom against Sikhs
· 1992 Mumbai riots where 575 Muslims were killed.
The post-riot investigation reports in each case hold the Government machinery responsible for not controlling the riots in a timely manner. Salil Tripathi ignores all these documented instances and seems to be on a mission to demonize Modi for his perceived incompetence in managing the riots even when there’s evidence to the contrary.
This sort of selective quoting and concealing inconvenient facts runs rampant throughout Salil Tripathi’s piece. In trying to take credit away from Narendra Modi for Gujarat’s economic success, Salil Tripathi uses higher GDP to “prove” that Maharashtra is better than Gujarat. But let’s look at the ground reality. Maharashtra’s infrastructure is horrid—horrid roads, power shortage (this was once a power-surplus state), farmer suicides, stagnant agriculture and political scams galore. Salil Tripathi’s claim that “several states besides Gujarat have shown triple digit growth” is outright false. He needs to name exactly one state that has attained triple digit growth. He follows this up with a selective claim that Gujarat faces a deficit without mentioning the fact that in 2010, RBI has named the selfsame Maharashtra as the state with the highest fiscal deficit. And Uttar Pradesh, which comes next in Salil Tripathi’s list of “high economies” ranks #2 in the deficit department. Equally selective is his final claim that several states including some in the North East have surplus power, so it’s not a big deal for Gujarat. The states that have surplus power apart from Gujarat include Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tripura, Delhi, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. The combined population of these states is about 27 million while Gujarat’s population alone is 60 million. Kanchan Gupta nails Salil Tripathi’s power-surplus jugglery even better:
Mr Tripathi mocks at Mr Narendra Modi’s claim that Gujarat will soon be in a position to provide power to power-starved States. He overlooks the fact that Gujarat is the only State which can today boast of 24×7 power supply to industry, farms and homes. It’s absurd to compare Gujarat’s power generation capacity (GSEB alone produces 4,996 MW) to that of north-eastern States. The former has heavy industrial and agricultural demand for power; the latter has virtually none.
Salil Tripathi then asserts something that clearly reveals his irrational hatred of Modi. Salil Tripathi, by asserting that some people “excuse” Modi’s “role in the 2002 riots,” assumes that Modi was personally involved and/or was complicit in orchestrating the riots. That he states this despite the fact that not one court has named him even an accused shows how much Salil Tripathi respects Indian judicial processes. And in the same breath, he also says that
SIT’s report, not yet public, appears to suggest that a case implicating Modi in the Ehsan Jafri murder may be difficult. Threshold for evidence in criminal trials is understandably high, and proving complicity is not easy.
What kind of a circus clown-act is this? Modi is responsible for the riots. It is difficult to prove Modi’s complicity. What exactly is your position, Salil Tripathi? If that’s not enough, he further says how the riot-victims shouldn’t let bygones be bygones because it insults their justice-seeking quest. But pronouncing a person as guilty when he’s not named in even one case is a worse insult. Or is there a separate yardstick for justice where Modi is concerned, Salil Tripathi? Indeed, compared to all other riots, the Gujarat riot cases have moved speedily with convictions taking place. Throughout the investigations, trials and depositions, Modi has always maintained that he has faith in the law of the land and is willing to abide by it. But Salil Tripathi disregards all this and paints Teesta Setalvad as a victim of Modi. Again, the same cloak-and-dagger trick: why doesn’t he mention that Teesta now faces several charges, which puts her on equal footing with extortionists and criminal intimidators? But no: in Salil Tripathi’s selective spectacle she’s a “victims’ rights activist (sic).” Which is consistent because in Salil Tripathi’s world, nothing that Modi ever does can be good despite evidence to the contrary.
Salil Tripathi ostensibly goes about in a long-winded way to contend that Narendra Modi is not a fit candidate for being the next Prime Minister. However, this contention appears in his piece towards the end as an afterthought. It appears that the Modi as a candidate for Prime Minister was simply an excuse for Salil to indulge in mindless Modi-bashing built on a vile edifice of distorted facts, selective quoting of facts, skullduggery with numbers, and using allegations as truth. It’s in poor taste and insults the intelligence of his readers. And reinforces our faith in Salil Tripathi as a spin-master who by writing this piece has lost his spinning abilities.