By Abhishek Jha:
“The book is not about being a bestseller,” Rana Ayyub said on June 1, a journalist formerly employed with Tehelka whose reports led to the arrest of now BJP President Amit Shah in 2010. She recently self-published a book based on an assignment she was given as a journalist at Tehelka. ‘Gujarat Files: Anatomy Of A Cover Up’ narrates Ayyub’s travails as she went undercover for eight months to investigate the Gujarat riots, fake encounters, and the murder of state Home Minister Haren Pandya.
She was speaking to students in the Godavari Hostel Mess at JNU. “Just don’t read this as a brave book, as a fearless book,” she said, asking students instead to introspect what might be going wrong with our society. She warned that if we did not do so, we might be headed for more vitriol in 2019, adding that she does not consider the various political parties in this country very different.
The room was packed in its entirety, although almost a deliberate silence is being maintained on the book by most of the mainstream media, as Ayyub along with Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Aditya Nigam – members of the politics and media critique blog Kafila – discussed the political and theoretical questions that arise from the revelations made in the book. Recalling the launch of the book, Nigam said that although Ayyub put the BJP and the Congress in the same bracket, the Congress politicians seemed to be sitting there with complete nonchalance. He said that it is a “scary thought” that we seem to have only these two options to choose from.
Talking about the book, Nigam said that another crucial aspect of the 2002 Gujarat riots that hasn’t been talked about yet but which one can learn from Ayyub’s book is that the top police officers and bureaucrats that were used by Modi-Shah for doing all their dirty work were Dalits or OBCs. Their historical oppression continued even after having entered the administration or police force, he said. “The Brahmins never dirty their hands in any way,” he added.
Responding to questions later, Sengupta said that a lot of these officers and bureaucrats do not have the “network” to protect them. They knew that if they didn’t do their colleagues’ or seniors’ bidding, there would be a confidential adverse report which could hurt them, he added.
“Let us never pretend that what happened in Gujarat is exceptional. It is, in fact, the norm,” Sengupta said earlier while speaking to the students about the extrajudicial killings in various parts of the country. For them, “no accounts are left. The only accounts that are left are graves in the ground which are unnamed and perhaps only numbers”, he added. He then cited several instances of earlier alleged encounters, their coverage in the media, and so on to draw parallels with other fascist states.
Ayyub, whose book was available for sale at the venue, also read the transcript of a sting from her book and later signed it for students after answering again the rebuttals made by her former editors Shoma Chaudhary and Tarun Tejpal in relation to her allegation that they had buckled under political pressure and not published the story. She said that they have their own cases to deal with, referring to the arrest of Tarun Tejpal following a sexual assault complaint made by a female colleague, while Chaudhary was the Managing Editor at Tehelka. She did, however, thank them earlier for the courage they showed in allowing her to do the investigation. The other panellists were, however, more critical of Tehelka and accused the magazine of serving the interests of those with capital and power.
Asked whether she thought that Justice B.N. Srikrishna’s foreword to the book could have been stronger, as he leaves the veracity of the revelations made open to investigation, Ayyub said that for a former Supreme Court Judge, who is not supposed to accept stings without them being forensically examined, the faith he put in her book by writing a foreword, it could not have been any stronger. The panel also answered questions regarding the silence of the media on Ayyub’s book and shared details on the publication of the book.