A long way from 1984

The most significant story of our times may not be the myopic petulance of our political class. It is rather the profound ways in which our normative order is shifting. Few things are certain in any society; and elites can sometimes determinedly ruin a good story. Just witness what this government has done to growth. But just in the last week, three central elements of India's dirty political economy, which at first sight might seem unconnected, have arguably reached a new inflection point. Our political economy was founded on state complicity in communalism, a disregard of law and regulation by big companies, and the plunder of natural resources. But there is a distinct possibility that things may never be the same again.

The Naroda Patiya judgment was significant for several reasons. It has, for the first time, convicted senior politicians for complicity in a riot. This will send out a powerful message. As many people have pointed out, if such convictions had been achieved in the case of the1984 riots, our history would have been different. But this court judgment has widespread legitimacy. There are no significant voices questioning the integrity of the process. And the fact that the state now has to send out a credible signal that it is not a part of the process of legitimising violence is a significant achievement. This does not mean that tensions will not arise, or that groups will not deliberately try to orchestrate violence. But it is harder for politicians to hide. Thanks to the indefatigable work of activists, public debate, a critical mass of judges and investigators still doing their professional duty, Gujarat has seen an unprecedented and credible series of convictions. It is also part of a larger trend: despite recent events in Assam and the fallout, we can confidently say that India's moderate middle has grown much larger. The question is how to prevent the state from giving succour to the smaller but more desperate extreme, through sins of omission or commission. The debate over how high the complicity goes in Gujarat will continue. But hopefully, there is now some faith that there is an adjudicatory process that can determine the facts.

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