WHAT happened in Godhara and Gujarat some nine years ago is so much mired in mistrust and manipulation that even the facts are no more sacred. Events that some 59 pilgrims returning from Ayodhya died in the fire on a train compartment and that the killings of Muslims began the following day are correct only in sequence. What set the compartment on fire to “justify retaliation” in Ahmedabad, Varodara, Surat and other cities is still a matter shrouded in controversy.
The state special court has sentenced 31 people and acquitted the other 63 after keeping the innocent in imprisonment for nine years. Maulana Umarji, picked up from a relief camp for having “master minded” the Godhara carnage, has also been left off for lack of evidence. Maybe, his trial as a leader was wrong from the beginning. When no proof was found of his involvement, the accusation itself seemed concocted.
I am more concerned with the charge of conspiracy which is said to have been “proved.” Even the chief of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court, has said that “verdict is professionally satisfying.” Probably, he is correct in saying so. But the conspiracy theory is going to be stretched by the BJP to justify what happened in Gujarat. Modi’s words, “opposite and equal,’ may come to be strengthened. This is ominous for the future of Hindu-Muslim relations.
I was among the few who flew to Vadodara within days of the tragedy at Godhara and motored down to the place where the charred compartment was still standing. A habitation of Muslims is a bit distant from the site, not within the reach of the people even if they were to start running after the departure of the train from the Godhara station.
The theory of conspiracy suggests that the Muslims were waiting around the rail track to jump into the moving train so as to reach the pilgrims’ compartment and set it on fire. For this sordid act, there has to be a motive. There is nothing to show that the Muslims of that habitation, however “criminal minded,” had any rivalry, new or old, against the Hindus or those living in Gujarat.
Nothing else had happened in the country during those days to suggest that tension or communal feelings elsewhere had taken a toll at Godahara. To imagine that the Muslims of the habitation near Godhara took upon themselves to burn pilgrims in the compartment requires a diabolical thinking, not legal reasoning.
When 63 are acquitted and half the number, 31, is sentenced, it raises the question about the whole inquiry. The shoddy work by police is clear because one of the accused was 99 per cent blind and another a government employee, who was nowhere near the place.
An inquiry held within two years of Godhara happening in 2002 revealed that the fire was accidental. Former Supreme Court judge U.C. Banerjee said in a report: “The fire originated in the coach itself, without external output.” However, the Justice Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Modi government, concluded that the fire was not caused by any accident but because of the petrol thrown on it. The two judgments cross each other out. It seems the correct version is still eluding us.
The allegation is that Modi himself had the Godhara staged because he wanted to “fix up” Muslims in Gujarat. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could have been entrusted with the job but it cannot act independently since it is a department of the Indian government. However painstaking are its reports, the general impression is that the CBI is influenced by the party in power.
The suspicion is not without foundation because it was the CBI that had recommended not pursuing the case against L.K. Advani in the Babri masjid demolition. He was then the Home Minister. He rewarded the CBI director by appointing him a member of the National Human Rights Commission. The state government headed by a non-BJP chief minister preferred an appeal. The case, although 10 years old, is now before the Supreme Court.
Compared to the Godhara case, the SIT has done an excellent job on Gujarat killings. I am surprised over the delay of the report’s publication. It has been lying with the court since May. If there was an opportune moment to make the report public, it is now. The special court judgment on Godhara has raised more questions than it has answered.
The SIT report on Gujarat is said to have brought out the political and communal agenda weighed heavily in Modi’s handling of the criminal justice system. It has also exposed Modi of making “sweeping” and “offensive” comments against Muslim community when communal tension was running high. The probe team found Modi and his government guilty on many counts, such as making inflammatory speeches, destruction of crucial official records and prosecution of neutral officers. “The Gujarat government failed in providing justice to the victims” says the report.
The worst indictment is: The Gujarat has destroyed the police wireless communication of the period pertaining to that period.” A brave officer who provided the team with the copies of missing records has been given a notice for breaking the rules. It is disappointing to see the Union Personnel Department keeping quiet on this point. The officer belongs to the All India Service and the Personnel Department should have intervened to save him from the harassment and possible punishment.
The BJP is not facing the facts of what the report has revealed. Instead, it is attacking the government for leakage. I hope that the Supreme Court, which had ordered the probe following the petition on a fake encounter, would move into the matter quickly. The BJP has been content with the appointment a committee under Justice Nanavati. He was appointed nine years ago. Still there is no likelihood of an early report. Retired judges tend to prolong the inquiry. Justice M.S. Liberhan who inquired into the demolition of the Babri masjid took 17 years to submit the report.
I do not know whether the captains of industry still want Modi to be the Prime Minister of India. His offensive remarks against the Muslim community and involvement in the killings are not shrouded in any doubt. The probe team has demolished the wall of lies that Modi had built between facts and his misrule.
The BJP promised to lay facts before the public within four months. It is now 11 years since the program was carried out. There is yet no sign of remorse on the part of Modi or the BJP. The Godhara judgment is only going to encourage the party to indulge in more and more bravado.