That the upper echelons of the Indian establishment are filled with grand little men of feeble integrity or diminished competence—and sometimes even both qualifications—is one of the country’s best-kept official secrets.
Somewhere deep inside the innards of the system is a shortlist of our ‘Most Reliable Men’. These are names that can be counted upon to deliver via an inquiry commission or an investigative report exactly what the system needs whenever there is a call for justice that cannot be brushed aside with silence, denial, threats or force. On the rare occasion that a crucial job ends up in the hands of someone ‘unreliable’—Justice B.N. Srikrishna confounded the government by indicting politicians and police officers in his report on the 1992-93 Bombay riots—the establishment, which includes leaders from all parties, closes ranks to ensure the findings are never acted upon.
The very fact that our governments and courts regularly set up commissions of inquiry, task forces and special investigation teams itself testifies to the breakdown of governance on an almost routine basis. The fact that these commissions and investigation teams invariably fail to indict the guilty or even tell us the truth suggests something even more disturbing: that more often than not, the violence and lawlessness being probed are the product of players and processes deeply embedded in the system. Those in charge of the ‘fact-finding’ exercise know they cannot be exposed or sanctioned without jeopardising the edifice of a State that rests on pillars of impunity.
So a Justice M.S. Liberhan can take two decades investigating the demolition of the 1992 Babri Masjid only to produce a report of shabby and breathtaking pointlessless. Justice G.T. Nanavati has already spent more than 11 years running his commission of inquiry into the 2002 Gujarat riots and there is no end in sight to his noble exertions. Despite the fact that his terms of reference include probing the role, if any, that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi might have played, the learned judge has decided there is no need to question or cross-examine him before the commission. Several commissions have looked into the 1984 pogrom against the Sikhs—including one by the same Nanavati who willingly took time off the 2002 probe in order to conduct and finish the 1984 one in double-quick time—but the politicians and policemen who allowed over 3,000 innocent people to be massacred are still beyond the reach of the law.
The Fiction of Fact-Finding is the first book-length analysis I have read that has attempted to subject this sinister modus operandi of the Indian State to detailed judicial forensics. Manoj Mitta, a respected journalist with the Times of India, has made ample use of his own legal background to tell a gripping tale of the manner in which the special investigation team (SIT), set up by the Supreme Court and headed by former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan, to probe the worst incidents of the 2002 Gujarat riots, chose the path of least resistance. Of course, the most celebrated—or controversial—of its findings has been the ‘clean chit’ it gave Modi when it concluded that there were no grounds to proceed against the chief minister. But its closure report contains other important findings or omissions that have a bearing on the role of the police and administration.
On YouTube, viewers can see ample evidence of Modi’s inability to face up to simple questioning about his role in the violence. One minute into a scheduled interview with the famed Karan Thapar, the chief minister asks for a glass of water. Then he gets up and leaves. On another occasion, awkward questions by Rajdeep Sardesai are met with lengthy, awkward silence.
Compared to the slender pickings our journalists have managed, the SIT’s transcript represents the fullest and most detailed ‘interview’ Modi has given to date on his role during the Gujarat riots. But it is a wasted opportunity, as the manner of the questioning falls far short of what a half-way competent journalist would have managed, not to speak of a seasoned criminal investigator looking into a heinous crime on the basis of a mandate provided by the Supreme Court.
Mitta shows us how Modi is allowed to baldly deny having played any role in the incendiary decision to hand the bodies of the Godhra train fire victims to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad—the very organisation that had called for a Gujarat-wide bandh and unleashed violence across the state on February 28, 2002. This despite documentary evidence that undermined his claim. Another poorly phrased question allowed Modi to conveniently bury the fact that he had called the Godhra incident an act of terrorism, an inflammatory characterisation his government was eventually forced to back away from in the absence of evidence. No attempt was made to properly interrogate Modi for his disturbing anti-Muslim hate speech in Becharaji in September 2002 during his ‘Gaurav Yatra’ when there were Gujarat government files showing that the home department, which he directly controlled, had tried to hide the incriminating transcript from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The opening chapter on the Godhra incident also reveals the SIT’s incompetence, with its crack investigators recycling the Gujarat police’s version despite glaring inconsistencies. For example, not a single Hindu passenger on board coach S-6, Mitta reminds us, was willing to corroborate the police claim that members of the Muslim mob had entered their coach by cutting the connecting vestibule and pouring copious amounts of petrol on the floor.
Above all, Mitta convincingly demonstrates how Raghavan and the SIT simply failed to connect the dots between the horrific anti-Muslim violence and its aftermath, especially those which showed concerted efforts at a cover-up by Modi’s administration.
There are no heroes in this clinical dissection of the manner in which a compelling body of evidence on the violence was simply ignored or sidelined. The tale is a particularly cautionary one because the web of official complicity was laid bare by media reports and witness testimony virtually contemporaneously. Institutions like the NHRC and the Supreme Court knew the government of Gujarat could not be relied upon to deliver justice and set up the SIT in order to ensure the guilty would be punished. Sadly, neither the court nor its amicus curiae was able to properly monitor and audit the manner in which Raghavan and the SIT went about their business.
The SIT’s closure report has been accepted by the magistrate’s court but will be challenged in the superior courts. Mitta’s book tells us coldly and precisely why the report is a travesty.
(Siddharth Varadarajan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, New Delhi. His book on the riots, Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, was published by Penguin in 2002.)
The review of Manoj Mitta’s book The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi & Godhra by Siddharth Varadarajan (Inscribed in Cold-Hearted Ink, Feb 24) was interesting. What Varadarajan tries to convey is how riot victims never get justice. He has cited the Srikrishna commission report on 1992 to bolster his point. Riots have been a part of India since 1947. Justice is necessary—be it for ’84, Kandhamal or 2002—in that it can act as a deterrent.
Outlook is fossilised in 2002! Every other issue of the magazine repeats ad nauseam the same old anti-Modi propaganda. One can find a streak of this in Vinod Mehta’s A Lucknow Boy.
A.K. Ghai, Mumbai
Another pathetic attempt to demean Modi. If you want him convicted, show us hard evidence; just hearsay won't do. As regards his interview with Thapar, the latter broke the rules of interview and Modi rightly quit. Just think what would have happened if Rahul was asked by Arnab Goswami about Robert Vadra’s land deals! The biggest joke is that the secular cottage industry now wants the SC to function based on their whim!
Pankaj Hedaoo, Kuala Lumpur
I disagree with Varadarajan’s contention that the chiefs of the various inquiry commissions are inept people. On the contrary, these are very competent people who know how to save the necks of their bosses—present as well as future. So they fool us through meaningless legal jargon and inconsequential conclusions.
Najid Hussain, Newark, US
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
May interest readers- 'Scattered Fates' a novel on the second partition of India. Making waves online. It is a free download- do check google for the title
Till now Modi had used both, his excessive bashing and his praise, in his political favor. Someone had rightly said that Modi is most liked leader at present in India. It is mainly due to this excessive bashing and the development achieved by him in electricity, agriculture and manufacturing sector due to very very high level of governance.
Many are comparing Hitler with Modi but not with other Indian Leader , who was head of the country at the time of relatively large scale two riots. Yes, I am talking of 1984 anti-sikh riots at Delhi and October 1989 mainly anti-muslim riots at Bhagalpur. The SC appointed SIT was never constituted to investigate the interests and participation of top head of country and his requirements of these two riots just before respectively two general elections in country. Yes, the Congress’s central government, law and order situation and police of Delhi is always remained business of Ministry of Home “central govt. GOI”, and in case of Bhagalpur there was also the Congress’s Bihar Government. In Delhi riots about 2700 people were killed and in Bhagalpur riots about 1180 people were killed almost equal to Godhra , these are figures of police records not from rumors. Both of the Delhi and Bhagalpur riots blew-up in small geographical areas when compared to riots in most portion of Gujarat including villages in 2002, which implies that Post Godhra riots were relatively difficult to control. A very few number of Hindus less than 10 were killed in all three ways “security forces bullets + in retaliation of opposite community + rioting mob of opposite community” at both places Delhi & Bhagalpur , but in case of 2002 almost 150 to 200 Hindus were dead due two all three ways. All these three ways were absolutely missing in Delhi and Bhagalpur riots means very few incidents of retaliation by minorities. In 2002 post Godhra riots were controlled within three days and there is very few killings on both side of communities after three days that too in rural areas but both other riots happened for very longer span of time. There was largest unorganized mob on roads in differently scattered portions of Gujarat 2002 after Godhra ( some says 20 lakhs peoples were on roads , and it was very difficult to predict that where & when and which section of mob will convert in to rioters ). Both post Godhra riots & 1984 riots were after sudden provocative happenings; it was burning of about 55 peoples by a communal mob of about 2000 peoples and in later case it was assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi by communal bodyguards; so both these riots were sudden incidents not predictable one but this was not the case of Bhagalpur riots. Many peoples think that 1989 Bhagalpur riots on the eve of General Loksabha elections were left to happen to appease the Hindus of the country after two disgraceful chronological events Shah Bano episode in 1986 & Bofors scandal , there was a series of events to appease Hindus- Opening of Lock & Silanayas of Ram Temple at Ayodhya-UP , killing of appx. 50 muslims youth at Meerat Malyana-UP by security forces ( Govt. at UP was also of Cong ) , starting the Loksabha election campaigning from Ayodhya by top head of country , experience of extraordinary win of 1984 elections after a strong consolidation with help of anti sikh riots was to be repeated in 1989 but in vain. Some says that in case of Bhagalpur the Muslims were demanding the transfer/removal of a Hindu S.P. , Superintendent of Police , from Bhagalpur but in vain when 1st incident of about 70 Muslims killings takes place the Bihar Govt. of Cong. announces the transfer but after visit of Prime Minister to Bhagalpur that transfer was cancelled and main incidents of killings of Muslims take place in another three days. When fastest convictions of rioters by trial courts is underway in case of 2002 riots even in some cases almost 200 rioters had already been convicted and more so most of convictions are in cases where Gujarat police had investigated not SIT , in a time period of almost 10 years; but in case of 1984 very few convictions had happened till now after almost 30 years and in case of Bhagalpur some convictions comes only after 22 years when BJP + JDU Govt. comes in Bihar. No one telling that there was communal anger in very large public after Godhra train burning same after assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi , but this was not the case of Bhagalpur. Anger in case of 2002 Gujarat was so large that in some cases brotherly neighbors ( having very very good family relations earlier ) were inviting rioters to kill their neighbors and later on as time passes they feel guilt , it is very much evident from telling of riots victims them self on great anti modi NDTV & other channels ; concludes that it was relatively much difficult to control riots in case of 2002.
That in 2002 there was already highly vicious environment nationally and internationally as 1. attack on Indian Parliament had happened recently and 2. Indian Military was on borders under a operation ( Perrakerram ? ) 3. 9/11 happened USA was engage Afghanistan after 9/11 etc.. Military was called from border and was available on roads with shoot and sight orders just on next day of riots i.e. 1st march after 1st riot on 28th feb. Military and Police saved life of many peoples but in some cases unfortunately police only saved himself , run away frightened of big mob of rioters in front of them , their this activity left poor victims alone in front of big communally angered mobs. In very few cases Police employees may have acted communally but this is in very much contrast to what some persons says in case of Bhagalpur that almost in every significant incident of Bhagalpur 1989 , mainly different near by village on different day mob was leaded by police himself as if police is doing some operation and leading the mob to do something. In , Gujarat 2002 riots , there was entirely different mobs at different places acting more or less simultaneously; up to some extant different scenario from Bhagalpur. In case of Gujarat police & military was having shoot & sight orders but in case of Delhi initially the Army was not called itself from Delhi Cantt. for one/two days and more so that army was not having shoot & sight orders for another one/two days.
I also accept that environment in 1984 was also vicious not only by assassination on Indira Gandhi but also due sikh militant activities of killing Hindus after pulling them from buses & trains. But main stream of Sikh terrorism started after 1984.
It is worth to mention that after 1984 & 1989 there were pseudo seculars govts for long time at both places cong in center for delhi 1984-1990 and Lalu in Bihar for Bhagalpur for almost 15 years from 1990. A another trial, for this same particular happening of Gulburg Society in which Mr. Jafri along with 60 others were killed , is underway in lower court and many people’s are accused there by same SIT. But another complaint of Jakia Jafri was separately handed over to SIT by apex court, for investigation. After passing of some years from riots in this another complaint Mrs Jafri blamed Modi and 63 others , including top executives and police officers of Gujarat govt. Now SIT (appointed by apex court) after investigation under supervision of apex court is saying that there is no prosecutable evidence against those blamed by Mrs. Jafri in separate complaint and that too accepted by Court. Then I think that it is absolutely wrong to gather sympathy by saying that “No one Killed Mr. Jafri”. U should tell the full truth that a separate trial of killing of Ex MP Jafri is underway on many accused persons , but Jakia wants to blame Modi after six years in her separate complaint; and same SIT had investigated and prosecuting those accused of killing of Mr. Jafri and others at Gulburg. Many peoples in Gujarat are saying the Tista and others are using Jakia Jafri for their political vendetta.
Than what is the reason for hard bashing of “Modi only” in Media ? Is it is due to that his counterpart in case of above two riots ( top political boss of the country in 1984 & 1989 ) is not alive today and Modi is still alive ? If it is so then one have to think deeply.
I think that it is ploy of Cong. & Left that to keep Muslims economically & socially backward , So that they can remain a en-block Vote Bank which can be used whenever needed by using some religious lollypops as Muslim Personal Law, Huj Subsidy , Salary to Imams, Wakkf Board etc. and some time fear of security. This is proved by facts of conditions of Muslims in West Bangal & UP & Bihar. In these three states Muslims are having very less % in Govt. Jobs in comparison to their large % in population. Pl. don’t accept that Muslims were already in poor conditions in these three states. It is very much clear that conditions of Muslims in these three states is deteriorating where’s it is improving in rest of India. I also accept that worldwide it is Muslim community which is most easily usable by harping religious sentiments and then stopping their economical progress.
I disagree with Siddharth Varadarajan's contention that the in-charge of enquiry commissions routinely setup to investigate and indict guilty at the very top of the power hierarchy are inept. To the contrary, these are very competent people who know how to save the necks of their bosses - present as well as future. So they fool us through meaningless legal jargon and inconsequential conclusions. And we - steeped in our own hatred of each other's communities and culture - willingly oblige to be fooled, repeatedly, by these judges and bureaucrats . Result: the status quo on violence, and impunity, continues.
This will end only when we rise, unitedly, against this system and the culture of hate against fellow Indians.
Hence it was vital the police,intelligence and judiciary are acted upon to exonerate Modi
In this melee one silver lining is the commission appointed by Lallu Prasad yadav which exonerated the Muslims.Hats off to him.
Why dont you ask Taliban to probe 2002?
Indian judiciary is crumbling.
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