New Delhi, Sept 17: An unpublished letter addressed to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reveals how the latter was worried about ex-gratia payment being delayed to riot victims of 2002. The letter, obtained through an RTI application has been published by The Times of India.
The letter dated June 1, 2002, reveals Vajpayee's concern for the fragile communal situation in the state and reflects his doubts over whether the interests of the riot-hit were being properly looked after.
The letter was sent three months after the Godhra incident and the post-Godhra riots. It came two months after Vajpayee's advice to Modi that as CM, he must adhere to “ Raj dharma” and not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
The letter shows that a PM who seldom relied on detailed correspondence with CMs had thought it necessary to interfere in the affairs of Gujarat. Its tenor makes it clear that Vajpayee was concerned if enough was being done for relief and if a sense of assurance and security was being really conveyed to those who had fled and taken shelter in makeshift camps.
In the letter, Vajpayee brought to the notice of Modi that there had been “gross under-assessment of damages” to the victims' homes.
“It is possible that, for various reasons, the teams involved in work have assessed the damages on the lower side. In the interest of justice and fair play, it will be expedient to conduct test checks in selected areas. If the test checks do confirm under-assessment, the state government will reassess the damages in areas with large-scale complaints,” he wrote.
He even went to the extent of assuring Modi that there would be a greater flow of funds from the Centre to help meet additional expenses.
Vajpayee further said, “I have also been informed that in a large number of cases, the relatives of the dead are yet to be paid the ex gratia because bodies are yet to be identified and, also, applications regarding missing persons are yet to be disposed of. The inordinate delay in the disbursement of ex gratia payments is a matter of concern.”
The then PM argued that taking DNA samples and thereby establishing identities would be a time-consuming process, “leading to further unacceptable delay”.
He also wrote to Modi on the widespread feeling of insecurity.
He said, “It is natural that the residents of the worst-affected areas may be reluctant to return to their original places of residence and demand relocation in safer areas. Ideally, an atmosphere should be created whereby these people gain enough confidence to resettle at the original place of residence.”
He even told the chief minister that in case relocation could not be avoided, “particularly in worst-hit areas like Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad and Lunawada in Panchamahal, active government support during their relocation will only protect them from unscrupulous elements”.
He added, “Needless to say that undue influence by such elements will only exacerbate the already complicated situation.”
It is more than clear that the letter was penned by a PM who was dissatisfied with the state government's steps and had carefully studied the shortcomings.
Vajpayee wanted to see improvements on the ground and, therefore, did what was very unlike him, interfered in the functioning of a state by offering direct advice on how to manage relief and rehabilitation.
The Gujarat riots had bothered Vajpayee immensely and this letter is a proof of the anxiety he experienced for a major part of 2002.