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Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah 

A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya.
Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other.
Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022. 
It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hindutva onslaught – which I thought was a great observation.
Ramrakhiani referred to page No 108 in the book to say that he was “startled to find” that it blames additional chief secretary (home), which he was then, for addressing a conference of district collectors for giving “definitive Hindutva and communal directions”, pointing out, he was in fact removed from the department by Vaghela’s successor, BJP’s Keshubhai Patel, because he refused to “toe the communal agenda and line.” 
He felt, the “brilliant scholar” had “made a great error.”
I opened page 108 of the book to read how Hindutva workers had launched anti-Christian onslaught in tribal-dominated Dangs district, as elsewhere in Gujarat. 
Stating that there was a “turmoil” in Dangs, the book points to how the Dangis had been pushed out of their forest-based subsistence economy, were forced to become settled agriculturists, with total farmland area “considerably reduced”, and how their land was increasingly being “encroached upon” by the Forest Department for plantations. 
The book says, all this was forcing the Dangis to “migrate outside to work at low wages and in wretched conditions.”
Stating that this led to “restlessness among the Dangis”, with “atrocities” against Adivasis involving the Forest and Police Departments having “increased”, the book says, instead of solving their basic problems, the powers-that-be concentrated on “dividing Dangis along religious lines”, with events being organised in order to persecute Christians.
The book appears to suggest that all this (and more) was triggered by the ACS (home) – without referring to Ramrakhiani by name – who allegedly “told district collectors in a ‘high-level review meeting’ in November 1997 that ‘there is a conspiracy in tribal areas to destroy Hindu sanskriti’ by creating class war and large-scale conversion”, and the tribal welfare programmes needed “to be geared up to counter the conspiracy.”
The book goes on state, the ACS (home) asked not just the Dangs district collector but also other “collectors to keep a close watch on Christian missionaries and their conversion activities.” This, it says, was followed by an anti-Christian campaign on a large scale spearheaded by the Hindutva brigade in 1998.
A number of events took place thereafter, it says, including the burning of the New Testament in Rajkot, digging out the body of a Dalit Christian from his grave in Kapadwanj (Kheda district, central Gujarat), an attack on nuns in Panchmahals and damaging of churches in tribal areas. The book quotes the then Director General of Police, CP Singh, who said in October 1998:
“It was the activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal who were taking law into their own hands which posed serious danger to peace in Gujarat. Many of the attacks on the minorities were after these organizations had whipped up local passions on mere allegations of conversions [by Christian missionaries] and forced inter-religious marriages, where again conversion was supposed to be the alleged motive.” 
Yet, the book regrets, the government took no action against the culprits.
On receiving Ramrakhiani’s objection, I decided to contact Prof Shah, who told me that he was a “sorry for this but my source was the Times of India (TOI) report on January 2, 1999". I asked him to forward the screenshot of the TOI report, if he had it, to which he replied, he doesn’t have it, but he wrote this in 1999 “and published in ‘Economic and Political Weekly’ (EPW) in the same year.” I looked up the EPW and found the reference wasn't any different.
I was a little puzzled: how could the Times of India – which I represented in Gandhinagar then – report in January 2, 1999 about what had happened in November 1997? It didn’t make sense to me at all. No newsperson worth her or his name would do it. 
Hence, I decided to look at the citation in the book, and – lo! -- I found that the report Prof Shah cited wasn’t that of the Times of India but a top vernacular daily, and was dated November 8, 1997!
I was wondering: how could Prof Shah, who always claims to countercheck facts before writing anything, rely on a vernacular daily’s report, especially when there have been cases in the past of reports being deliberately planted at the drop of a hat if certain odd demands from newspaper owners weren’t obliged.

In one case, a vernacular daily reporter covering Gandhinagar sought a bureaucrat’s help to remove the name of Yunus Sheikh from the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) list. Yunus’ car, it is said, was used by gangster Latif after shooting Congress leader Rauf Valiullah. This bureaucrat refused to oblige, and the reporter began his blackmailing tactic.
I asked myself: it isn’t just Prof Shah, many other scholars too rely on newspaper reports in order to make a point in what seem to be well-researched articles; shouldn’t they not only countercheck but emphatically rely on the original source? 
For, if newspersons are “quick historians”, to quote doyen of a journalist M Chalapathi Rau, who was editor of “National Herald” during the heydays of the Nehru era, doesn’t this quickness lead to errors made under pressure of time? Scholars, after all, are free of any such pressure.
Ramrakhiani
Be that as it may, meanwhile, a few days later, I received yet another message from Ramrakhiani, which said, “Apropos my comments on page 108 of the book, there was no concerted movement against the Christian missionaries and Christian schools at all in November 1997."
It added, "This was the period of Shankarsinh Vaghela's rule. Never did he utter a word against Christian missionaries and schools or Muslims. He was protective personally and government wise about both Muslims and Christians. The period referred to in the book is November 1997.”
He continued, “The decided move against Christians came after Nagpur issued diktat and directions against Christians as being more dangerous than Muslims following the new governments which came to power in the states following the elections of 1998. Keshubhai came to power in 1998. Remember the Graham Staines father and son being burned to death in Odisha?”
According to Ramrakhiani, “Following the attack by VHP-RSS ruffians on a Christian school in Rajkot, I brought attention of CM that this should stop. Such attacks were against the Constitution. I personally instructed the CP to apologise to the school principal. Keshubhai maintained a stoic silence and passed sarcastic remarks about me to his colleagues that I was teaching him the Constitution.”
He added, “There were no mention of Christians ever by me as targets. The book juxtaposed the impact sought by me as aimed at Christians. Far from the truth. Ghanshyambhai is welcome to look at my library of over 6,000 books and judge whether I could be anything but a liberal in my thinking or behaviour.”
Meanwhile, scanning through my Sachivalaya stories, I found one in which I had reported how Ramrakhiani had “drifted away from BJP while still in service.” The report said, “Ex-IAS officer PG Ramrakhiani drifted away from the state BJP rulers ever since they came to power in Gujarat in 1998",  offering the reason which made him "particularly unhappy” with the BJP rulers. 
The story, published in TOI in August 2001, continued, “As ACS in charge of the home department, he strongly advised chief minister Keshubhai Patel to distance himself from the controversy surrounding the Bible burning case of rajkot in 1999. The advise had a ripple in the Raj Bhawan, making then governor Anshuman Singh seek the CM's explanation as to why action had not been taken against those involved in the ‘despicable act’.”
Pointing out that the “CM never regretted the incident, calling it a sentiment expressed by the Sangh Parivar elements against forced conversion to Christianity”, the story said how he told those close to him, “Who is Ramrakhiani to advise us on political matters?”
It added, “Ramrakhiani even told the CM, ‘Your views on issues relating to minorities do not match reality. They would hit independent growth of Gujarat as an economic power. European countries and the US are already concerned’. But the CM did not think so.”

Comments

Biswaroop Das said…
Though I haven't yet read the book, as a social science academic,remain in agreement with Mr. Rajiv Shah that scholars must double check the accuracy ,authenticity and credibility of the sources and their contents prior to spreading those out as scaffolding in order to justify and legitimize their arguments and positions. It appears from the article that if a "brilliant "(not my emphasis) scholar like Prof. Ghanshyam Shah can presumably fail in being able to maintain such essential and obvious academic protocol, then how can one trust and appreciate academic writings in general. I appreciate Mr.Ramrakhiani contesting his arguments and pointing at the faultlines and 'unscrutinized' evidences upfront. His contesting of Prof Shah's narrative on such a politically and socially sensitive matter, in my opinion deserves an appropriate academic response from Prof. Shah.
LKM said…
Read the entire post. Mr Ramrakhiyani was right and acted as responsible ACS(home) in advicing his CM
Martin Macwan said…
Hope this does not become the platform to personally humiliate Prof. Ghanshyam Shah and discredit his life time's work. I agree to your point of fact verification especially when the names of individuals are involved. Let us accept the fact that all we read, write, listen, perceive and say is not the ultimate truth; more as in complex issues such as the present one. I have not read the book to be honest and have had no chance to meet Mr. Ramrakhiani. Ghanshyambhai continues to be a good friend irrespective of the fact that i have publicly disagreed to some of his views. There is a need for a compassionate view where mistakes are acknowledged, especially when issues such as this does not have at its centre an individual but lives of many innocent and powerless people. There was an attempt to set on fire my own house. Hope there is more courage on the side of the insiders who are witness to the political establishments and their dealings to tell public the true story, as has been the case with Mr. Ramrakhiani.
Biswaroop Das said…
I entirely agree with Mr.Macwan's comment that this should not become a platform to humiliate a scholar. In the same breath however,would also like to emphasize that pointing out an error in a scholar's work(s) by anyone, in my opinion, is never meant to humiliate an academic. As scholars and scholar activists many of us may have brought out errors and biases in several works in our academic lives. Otherwise books and reports wouldn't have been criticality reviewed and relooked at the world over. Having worked with and known Prof.Shah since last four decades, I am sure that he must have taken the point raised in the article by Mr. Rajiv Shah in a spirit that is entirely academic.
PG Ramrakhiani said…
Martin Macwan suggests that there should be no attempt to humiliate Ghanshyambhai Shah for the discrepancy pointed . Far from it . Having read this book , I am overawed by the learning and wisdom of the authors . My purpose is only to point out that I have never given any directions to pursue an anti Christian agenda .
And what Ghanshyambhai has written stays on in the book . It’s intractable . So long as my note is read by him , and he’s absorbed it , the purpose has been served . I am not interested in pursuing the matter further . Rajiv , you’ve made an observation which is correct . The report on the basis of which the purported directions were issued is not ethical reporting at all.
Ghanshyam Shah said…
I agree one should check newspaper report.I do not feel to defend myself. My apology. My defence is that I have cited the source, and also I wrote that "is reported to have told...".
I wish Mr Ramrakhiani or someone had pointed out this after the publication of this article in EPW in 1999,
I would have corrected and apologized then without any hesitation.
Anyway, this should not be an excuse now. I apologize Mr Ramrakhiani now. And promise that I will correct in the future edition of the book.
Unfortunately, I had not opportunity to meet Mr Ramrakhiani. My respect for him with this clarification has increased. I feel happy that there are/were a few civil servants who follow conscience and constitutional values and express their opinion to political masters. I personally know a few of them and admire.
Thanks.

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