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HVK Archives: Interview with Keshubhai Patel, CM of Gujarat

Interview with Keshubhai Patel, CM of Gujarat - The Rediff On The Net

George Iype ()
Jan 5th, 1999

Title: Interview with Keshubhai Patel, CM of Gujarat
Author: George Iype
Publication: The Rediff On The Net
Date: Jan 5th, 1999

'Why should I apologise for everything that is happening in the
state?'

Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has come under fire from
religious groups, opposition parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party
itself for the continuing attacks against Christians and the
desecration of churches in the state.

But master politician he is, Patel has succeeded in convincing both
the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre and the BJP
leadership that everything in his state is fine and that the people
of different minority communities are living peacefully.

After presenting his report on the communal incidents in the state
to the national executive of the BJP in Bangalore on January 2,
Patel spoke to George Iype, explaining how the Congress and some
religious groups have blown out of proportion the criminal incidents
in Gujarat.

Why is it that Gujarat is in the grip of communal clashes between
the Hindus and Christians?

It is wrong to term some of the sporadic criminal incidents in the
state as communal violence. But for our political rivals like the
Congress, Gujarat is the ideal state for creating a communal
violence-like situation. Gujarat is being ruled by the BJP and
there is a BJP-led government at the Centre also. Therefore, the
Congress and Opposition politicians think that whipping up communal
frenzy in the state is the right political course to destabilise the
Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. But sadly, their efforts to make
people slap and stab each other have been exposed.

But attacks against Christians and churches begun some three months
back in Gujarat and they have escalated in the past two weeks.
Hasn't your government failed to take action?

It is ridiculous to state that I did not take action. Go to the
state and see how I am protecting the churches and temples across
the state. We have deployed hundreds of police personnel to ensure
protection to religious places of worship irrespective of whether
they are churches, temples or mosques.

Despite security protection, churches have been burnt down and
destroyed in the state.

We feel even the Church groups are trying to blow out of proportion
small incidents. Yes, it is true that some criminals and miscreants
destroyed make-shift buildings which Christians call as chapels.
Some of them are huts. So when the media reports this, it says that
a big church building has been destroyed, giving false impression to
the public. But though the Christians attacked temples also in the
state, it has not been reported in the media.

But whether small or big, a religious place is a place of worship.
So why didn't' your government take action against those who burnt
down the churches?

I am not saying that the government does not want to protect
make-shift buildings which are churches in tribal areas. But I am
just saying it is easy for the miscreants to destroy a hut-like
church. We have taken prompt action against the culprits.

Do you think the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch
are responsible for the attacks on Christians in Gujarat?

Absolutely no. Our intelligence reports state that the VHP is not
at all involved in the violence. As for the Gujarat Jagran Manch,
it has nothing to do with the BJP. It is an independent
organisation in the Dangs district. We are just probing to find out
whether the Manch has been involved in the incidents.

But the violence began when your government gave permission to the
Manch to hold a protest rally against Christians on Christmas day?

My government gave permission for the rally because at that time
there was no tension between Christians and Hindus in the Dangs
district. But the whole thing begun when Christians threw stones at
the procession. The situation took a vicious turn when some tribal
Christians attacked a temple. But these things do not get reported
in the English press because glorifying minor incidents as attacks
against Christians is an easy way to internationalise and
communalise a small issue.

The VHP has stated that its crusade against conversions and
Christian missionaries in Gujarat and other state will be stepped
up. Do you expect more attacks and violence?

I cannot answer questions as to what the VHP and other organisations
will do. The VHP's action plans, statements, accusations etc do not
concern the BJP and its governments in the state and the Centre.
The VHP is also an independent organisation and it has the right to
do whatever it likes as its agenda. But I would say that VHP's
crusade against forcible conversions of tribal Hindus to
Christianity in India is an issue to which all sensible people would
agree.

Who do you think is blowing the incidents in Gujarat out of
proportion?

The Congress and the press. In Karnataka some seven people died of
communal clashes last week. But I did not find a public outcry on
the issue either from the Congress or the other political parties.
But the Congress decided to take out a protest rally against my
government in Gandhinagar. Why is it not taking out a similar rally
in Karnataka?

Are you going to order a judicial inquiry into the incidents in
Gujarat?

No. There is no need for a judicial inquiry.

How do you react to the Samata Party's demand for your dismissal?

The Samata Party has no moral right to demand my dismissal. It
should understand that the Union home ministry promptly sent a team
of central officials to my state and investigated the incidents
independently. Let the Samata Party talk to the home minister first
before putting forward this kind of a demand.

But the central team held the Manch responsible for the violence.

I have not seen the Centre's report. But the Manch has nothing to
do the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. It is a separate organisation in
the Dangs district. So if I find that its members are instigating
violence, I am ready to take action.

Your actions seem to suggest that you have a soft corner for the
Hindutva forces. Last year, the Bible was burned in Gujarat and you
refused to issue a public apology.

Why should I apologise for everything that is happening in the
state? In fact, Christians apologised for forcibly asking
adolescents to sign on the last page of the Bible that they were
embracing Christianity. I received complaints from parents in this
regard. I hold the view that it is wrong to burn holy books. But
it is also wrong to forcibly convert anyone to another religion.

Do you think the attack on churches have resulted in an uneasy
relationship between your government, the BJP, the Sangh Parivar and
the Vajpayee government?

No. Why should it strain our relationship? Neither the BJP nor the
Sangh Parivar can be blamed for the stray incidents of violence in
my state. As chief minister, I am doing my duty to protect the
people of different communities irrespective of their caste, creed
or religion.


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