Predictably, the short 25 questions in Dear Narendrabhai, Could You Please... has resulted in howls and whines of protest. Mr Shashi Shekhar, who writes the blog Offstumped, alleged on Twitter that these questions are an " obsession of the media to establish a conspiracy" rather than "establish the truth". I responded that I disagreed but that any honest attempt to answer these questions was welcome.
He has responded on his blog, with detailed, point by point "rejoinders". While these appear to be nothing more than an exercise in obfuscation, but because he has taken the trouble, instead of ignoring, shortening or paraphrasing, I provide below the original question, his rejoinder in full and then my quick response in red:
Question #1 – Mr Modi, in an interview on March 1, 2002, to Zee TV you said about the post-Godhra riots, “A chain of action and reaction is going on. We want that neither should there be action, nor reaction.” Don’t such statements echo the ‘earth-shaking’ rationalisations offered by Rajiv Gandhi after the 1984 riots?
Offstumped Rejoinder: How is this rationalization, it was a statement of fact if one pays attention to the ground situation as of 1st March 2002.
Reporting on the events of 1st March 2002, The Hindu newspaper on its front page in the edition dated 2nd March 2002 had its own version of “Action-Reaction” (ironical since S. Varadarajan made such a big deal about it, perhaps failed to look at his own paper’s Newtonian reportage):
“Despite the imposition of indefinite curfew, sporadic incidents of violence, group clashes and stoning continued throughout the night and during the day today in the walled city and labour-dominated eastern parts of Ahmedabad. But unlike Thursday when one community was entirely at the receiving end, the minority backlash caused further worsening of the situation …. Police presence had little impact on the two communities pelting stones at each other in Bapunagar, Gomtipur, Dariapur, Shahpur, Naroda and other areas from where incidents of firing had been reported. But there were no reports of casualty. Pitched battle was continuing between the two communities late in the evening.”
SD response: The March 1 interview which is referred above provides the context of what Mr Modi was referring to. My original question had to be edited down for the print magazine because of reasons of space. Mr Modi is not referring to "stone pelting" etc in Ahmedabad but, as he himself spells out in that interview:
‘people from the Godhra area have criminal tendencies and had earlier killed lady teachers also and now they have committed this heinous crime, for which the reaction is being felt.’
Is this a statement of fact when the charge is that his administration was complicit in the "ground situation" that followed - for which the "reaction is being felt"?
Question #2 – A few days later, you told Outlook (Mar 18, ’02), “You have to remember that communalism runs high in Gujarat—even a small provocation can lead to violence and Godhra was a very big incident.” Did you not stoke that spark when it was decided that the bodies of Godhra victims would be taken to Ahmedabad?
There is no factual basis to establish a cause-effect relationship between the transport of dead bodies to Ahmedabad and the violence of the 28th Feb.
The PTI on 28th Feb 2002 at 11:21 am carried this report from the Hospital where 54 out of the 58 bodies had been brought. The report carried a clear statement from then VHP Vice President Acharya Giriraj Kishore:
“hindus should maintain calm and keep patience. i appeal to muslim brethren to condemn the attack and ask them not to put hindus’ patience to test”
Hindsight is always 20/20 and correlation is not causation. As the PTI report clearly suggests there was no provocation but in fact an appeal to the opposite. We must also give reasonable benefit of doubt to the two reasons that are in the public domain for the transport of bodies. First the fact that curfew in Godhra would have prevented next of kin from seeing the dead. Second the technical reasons cited for accurate identification.
SD response: I think you are being too ingenuous when you talk about a direct cause-effect relationship between the transport of dead bodies and the violence that followed when it is widely documented that Jaydeep Patel, the then VHP general secretary, was allowed to accompany the bodies as they were paraded in a procession through Ahmedabad and as the cavalcade headed for Ahmedabad, senior members of his party and organisations affiliated to it shouted slogans and incited mobs to retaliate.
And it was allowed by a CM who knows and himself points out that "if Sachin Tendulkar gets out on 90 against the Pakistani team, riots break out here. Even a small provocation can lead to violence and Godhra was a very big incident. In the 1969 riots, under the then Congress regime, curfew was imposed for 65 days in a row". And yet, it was the chief minister who decided that the charred, unidentifiable dead bodies be taken from Godhra to Ahmedabad in a motor cavalcade.
It would actually be interesting to read the full PTI report that you quote from above (emphasis mine):
PTI Feb 28, 2002, 11.21am IST
ahmedabad: vhp on thursday appealed to the minority community to condemn wednesday's attack on a train at godhra and warned that "hindus do not have patience for eternity." vhp international vice-president acharya giriraj kishore told reporters here at sola civil hospital, where 54 out of the 58 bodies of the train attack victims were brought, that "hindus should maintain calm and keep patience. i appeal to muslim brethren to condemn the attack and ask them not to put hindus' patience to test. hindus are keeping a restraint but if such incidents do not stop, there can be a counter reaction which may be uncontrollable". the vhp leader alleged that the attack was pre-planned and took place with the connivance of the assistant station master of godhra and personnel of government railway police who despite being there chose to be silent spectators. he demanded an inquiry by the government into their role in the conspiracy behind wednesday's attack on sabarmati express train passengers.
Also, it would be instructive in this context to remember that Patel was in touch with, as the Indian Express reported, "with senior police officials, his VHP colleagues in Delhi, state Home Minister, BJP chief and even the Chief Minister's office (emphasis mine):
• When asked to explain his cell records, Jaideep Patel said: ‘‘I don’t remember who all I spoke to, it’s been a long time since Godhra. But I brought the bodies to Ahmedabad, I might have spoken to cops as some Godhra victims could have been from Naroda. I might have spoken to people in the govt, I do not know. After all, I am a leader of the Hindus, several people speak to me everyday. It can’t be said that because I spoke to certain persons, something happened somewhere.’’ • Why was Minister Gordhan Zadaphia in touch with Jaideep Patel? Zadaphia: ‘‘When the inquiry commission will ask...I will reply. If I’m speaking to different persons who I think can help me restore normalcy, there is nothing wrong.’’ • Why did the Chief Minister’s Office contact Jaideep Patel? PS Tanmay Mehta, who made the call: ‘‘I do not know anything about this.’’ • Did the Crime Branch study the cellphone records before closing the case against Patel? Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) P P Pandey: ‘‘There are certain aspects about it yet to be looked into. As the Police Commissioner is on leave, I cannot comment.’’
Question#3: You have denied the allegation that you instructed bureaucrats and senior police officers at a high-level meeting (Feb 27, ’02) that “in communal riots, police takes action against Hindus and Muslims on one-to-one basis. This will not do now; allow Hindus to give vent to their anger”—a statement attributed to you on record by then deputy commissioner, intelligence, Sanjiv Bhatt and slain minister Haren Pandya. Why do you think the charge persists?
This is a bizarre question. The charge persists because it has been repeated a thousand times in a Goebbelesian manner. It is important to separate facts from hearsay.
First on Mr. Bhatt claims – We have no factual evidence to establish his presence at the said meeting. We only have Mr. Bhatt’s words. To give credibility to Mr. Bhatt’s word over the absence of evidence will need us to establish Mr. Bhatt’s credibility. Unfortunately Mr. Bhatt has no credibility given his long history of dubious conduct in office, the several cases pending against him and his silence for so many years. Mr. Bhatt has further damaged his credibility through the e-mail hacking and collaboration with leaders of the Congress Party all of which is in the public record. Thus to give weight to Mr. Bhatt’s word over the absence of any factual evidence is, to put it mildly, is to give in to a politically motivated conspiracy theory.
As for the remarks attributed to the late Mr. Pandya – Let us show some respect for the dead. Mr. Pandya was not present in the meeting. Any remarks by him about the meeting would be hearsay. Any remarks by a 3rd party repeating such claims would be double hearsay. It must also be asked why the said People’s Tribunal that allegedly heard these remarks in May of 2002 made no mention of them in its report of November 2002.
If we are going to engage in witch-hunts based on double hearsay we may as well give due process the go by here.
SD responds: The reason the charge persists, I would submit, is because it is not just Mr Bhatt saying it now, or Mr Pandya (saying it way back in 2002) who was killed in mysterious circumstances. For now, let me just cite Manu Joseph's story in Outlook, Aug 19, 2002 (emphasis mine):
Just when Modi was murmuring about how one man who tried to defy him had been suitably harassed, Outlook has information that not one but several key people from his government have told the tribunal about the late-night meeting. Another noted member of the tribunal, a former Supreme Court judge and former chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice P.B. Sawant, who heard a cross-section of people recount the causative factors of the riots, told Outlook: "Several politicians, police and administrative officials who currently hold high posts in the government told the tribunal about the late-night meeting on the 27th that Modi held. I would say we have good information from credible people that in that meeting Mr Modi asked his officials not to come in the way of what will occur in the next few days.
"In my opinion, there were two kinds of people who spoke to us—those who swam with the tide before and during the riots but felt repentant now, and those who supported the backlash but in hindsight felt the CM had gone too far. The implication of what he had said in the meeting is without any doubt a causative factor of what happened the next day. I do not want to be more specific about the kind of people who spoke to us because I can't risk even a small chance of letting their identities be known. But I can say that it was not just a single minister. There were other politicians, top police and administrative officials."
....Valuable details of what transpired in this late-night meeting came from a top public servant who spoke to retired police officer K.S. Subramanian, one of the nine members in the tribunal that comprised retired judges and prominent citizens.
The public servant told Subramanian that around seven in the morning of February 28, the day when the VHP called its fateful bandh, the public servant called up dgp K.Chakravarthy. Recalled the public servant: "He (Chakravarthy) told me he had got home very late after the meeting with the chief minister. I told him, 'Looks like there will be trouble today.' I was not very surprised when he said, 'Yes there will be trouble.' He said the CM had given a lecture on Hindutva the previous night and how there will be a response as a reaction to Godhra. The police was clearly asked not to come in the way. Chakravarthy didn't feel good about it but I got the feeling he felt he had no choice but to comply."
By February 28, many government officials came to know of the meeting. There was a party hosted by a local newspaper late in the evening, on the 27th. Some of the top police and government officials were briefly present at this do but hurried away to be present at the CM's meeting. Modi doesn't deny that there was a meeting on the night of the 27th.
Question #4: Why did you single out Bhatt and say he wasn’t present at the Feb 27 meeting when you were only asked about those present?
It is clear from Mr. Bhatt’s affidavit which is in the public domain that he had been providing information to the SIT since November 2009. It is reasonable to assume that at the time of Mr. Modi’s SIT deposition in March 2010, the content of Mr. Bhatt’s claims was known to Mr. Modi. Far too much is being made of confidentiality here when leaks from SIT to the media had been occurring a full six months before Nov 2009. As an example on 28th June 2009 right after Teesta Setalvad’s testimony to the SIT the DNA in a story filed by Roxy Gagdekar reported a leak from SIT sources to the DNA on the contents of Teesta Setalvaad’s testimony. Also on 7th December 2009 OutlookIndia carried a PTI story on specific claims by the activists against the SIT in the Supreme Court on the SIT ignoring an unnamed witness. The activists were reprimanded by the Supreme Court for those accusations. Clearly in the run up to March 2010 the SIT’s activities were hardly a state secret to the Activists. Hence there is nothing extraordinary about Mr. Modi singling out Mr. Bhatt. It is silly to make a mountain of leaks when the SIT’s reports continue to be treated with no respect for confidentiality by both the activists and the media.
SD responds: What you consider silly would be considered Freudian and defensive by others.
Question #5 – Is it true that P.K. Mishra, your principal secretary, asked R.B. Sreekumar, then Addl DG (Intel), to confirm whether Haren Pandya was the minister who had deposed about the Feb 27 meeting to an independent citizen’s tribunal. Did he then, as the allegation goes, ask that Pandya’s mobile number, 9824030629, be tapped?
Offstumped Rejoinder – There are many problems with this question. First is its relevance to the violence of 2002 and Justice for victims. Whether Mr. Pandya’s Mobile was tapped or not tapped in June 2002 is irrelevant to the events of Feb 2002. A question of this sort is a fishing expedition and it is one reason why the line of questioning suggests conspiracy theory making more than a quest for Justice for the events of that day.
Mr. Pandya is dead, let us show some respect to his memory and leave him out of this conspiracy theory mongering. Let us do so noting that the said “independent citizen’s tribunal” made scathing accusations of Mr. Pandya itself accusing him having personally led mobs and provoking riots.
SD responds: Quest for justice has to examine the various, widely documented charges levelled that not only point to a conspiracy, but also to the concerted effort to keep it hidden by dismissing any investigation to even determine the veracity of charges as "conspiracy theory mongering". It is particularly rich when it comes from BJP supporters, given what Mr Pandya's own father has to say about Mr Modi and his government.
Question #6 – Given the suspicious circumstances of Haren Pandya’s assassination (Mar 26, ’03), and given that many point the needle of suspicion at your administration, what action has been taken to clear your name and find out who his real murderers are?
Offstumped Rejoinder – Any wild accusation can be made by anyoneMr. Pandya’s murder has been investigated by the CBI and prosecuted in the Courts. The acquittals in the case came after the Courts severely criticized the CBI’s botched case. Most recently the High Court has rejected a petition to reinvestigate the matter. The acquittals have since been challenged in the Supreme Court. Let us leave it at that. This question again has nothing to do with Justice for 2002 Riots. It smacks of conspiracy mongering when the matter has been the hands of Central Agencies and the Court system for years now.
SD responds: I am sorry, the above is as weak a defence as what the Congress party, for instance, puts out each time one questions 1984, Bofors or anything else where the system has been successfully subverted.
Question #7 – You told the SIT that you came to know from newspaper reports that the BJP had ‘joined’ the call for a Gujarat bandh on Feb 28, ’02, and a Bharat bandh on Mar 1, ’02. For someone so clued into the party machinery, isn’t that a strange lapse?
Offstumped Rejoinder – The Times News Network in a late night release (past Midnight of 27th/early hours of 28th) reports the bandh call by the VHP. It makes no reference to the BJP joining the bandh. In fact it makes no reference to the BJP at all. There are also no other news reports from that day on the BJP joining the Bandh. Sheela Bhatt of Rediff reporting on the morning of 28th Feb 2002 describes incidents associated with the Bandh. Sheela Bhatt too describes it as a VHP bandh with no reference to the BJP. In fact that full report by Sheela Bhatt is a must read for it gives a very factual picture of how events unfolded that morning even as a Cabinet meeting was on and curfew had been imposed in one town. On March 1st 2002 the Times News Network has two stories one from Delhi and another Bangalore on the impact of the Bandh. Both stories describe it as a VHP Bandh with no formal reference to BJP joining it but for stray individual involvement. Hence it is perfectly reasonable if Mr. Modi subsequently learned of some stray BJP involvement from news reports in a Bandh that was all along described as a VHP bandh.
SD responds: Reasonable given how more than one person testified to Mr Modi saying that on the day of the bandh, the police should go easy on those who wanted to "vent"? Reasonable given what is documented?
See the Citizen's Tribunal that points out how within hours of the VHP's bandh call, on the afternoon of February 27, the BJP's Gujarat general secretary extended to them his party's support.
This for example is Times of India on March 2, 2002:
when the attack on the train took place on february 27 and the vhp called for a bandh, gujarat bjp president rajendrasinh rana was quick to announce the state bjp's support for the strike, giving clear signals to the administration that it need not take a hard line against those who enforce the bandh. by noon on thursday, shops owned by muslims were broken open in ahmedabad, rajkot and other cities even as the police looked the other way. at many places, the police mingled with the vandals and pleas for help went completely unheeded. while vadodara police imposed curfew early in the morning, the police commissioner of ahmedabad took time in following suit. it is easy to blame the police commissioner, but there are clear indications that his hands were tied by the minister of state for home, gordhan zadaphia, who has risen from the ranks of the vhp. zadaphia is a supporter of the international general secretary of the vhp, pravin togadia, at whose insistence the home portfolio was given to him when modi became chief minister. it was only when the situation had gone sufficiently out of hand that the police tried to intervene. but by that time, it was too late and the mobs had swelled to enormous proportions. the sparse police presence looked like a drop in this ocean of violence. and what did the chief minister have to say about what was happening? he said, "the five crore people of gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation." he went on to blast the godhra killing of kar sevaks while brushing aside the equally brutal retaliation that was taking place against muslims. if the central government was speaking about not allowing vhp activists into ayodhya, modi said that police protection should be given to them en route. if the people of gujarat were expecting a reassuring face, what they got was a sangh pracharak on television who has perhaps forgotten he is now chief minister. incidentally, modi has yet to see mobs because he has not visited the worst-affected areas. if only he had the courage shown by george fernandes, who carried on his tour of the riot-hit areas despite being mobbed and stoned.
Question #8 – You claimed to the SIT that you had no personal knowledge of the presence of BJP ministers Ashok Bhatt and I.K. Jadeja in the police State Control Room and Ahmedabad City Control Room respectively (Feb 28, ‘02). Doesn’t this show some incompetence on your part?
Offstumped Rejoinder –It would make for a disturbingly paranoid Chief Minister to keep hourly record of the exact physical location of every one of his Ministers on a day with fast moving development and general chaos. As far as the matter of reasons for their presence, the duration of their presence and the impact of their presence in those control rooms is something the Nanavati Shah Commission will definitely delve into having already examined Mr. Jadeja. The final report is just one month away, we can suspend judgment on this until then.
SD responds: The intent actually is to question Mr Modi's coy denial to the SIT: The charge is not as ridiculous as you make it sound - about keeping hourly record of the physical location of every one of his ministers. The charge is that if he did not place them there, as has been alleged, or whether he knew it or not, but what action he took once their complicity was alleged. Did he ask them for explanations? Regardless of what the Nanavati Shah Commission has to say about it, is it "conspiracy theory mongering" to ask the CM to account for the behaviour of his ministers? Particularly when he and his cheerleading fanboys go on and on about his competence and efficiency. The charge is that if he is not criminally complicit, he is at least incompetent.
Question #9 – You denied to the SIT that you knew ex-MP Ehsan Jafri—who died in the Gulberg Society massacre—or that he contacted you by phone and requested for help even as the rioters were at his door. Eyewitnesses, though, claim that he had spoken to you. Why do critics persist in arguing that this was a case of personal revenge and vendetta?
Offstumped Rejoinder – This once again is a bizarre question. Asking “Why critics persist in arguing …” is something that needs to be posed to the critics for it is they who persist despite the lack of any concrete evidence on the same. As far as what has been leaked to the media of the SIT report goes there is no telephonic evidence of such a phone contact with Mr. Modi. Mr. Jaffri’s horrific death at the hands of a mob was unconscionable. The SIT is prosecuting the Trial effectively and a verdict should come anytime against those who were part of the mob. All this unsubstantiated talk of “personal revenge and vendetta” does little to the cause of Justice.
SD responds. There is nothing bizarre about it. Eyewitness accounts are documented, and the charge is that Mr Jafri campaigned against Mr Modi in Rajkot for the by-election that took place on February 23, 2002, just a few days before the gruesome carnage that devastated all of Gulberg society. Even the latest issue of the Caravan, says, inter alia (emphasis mine):
A witness who survived the carnage later told a court that Jafri even called Narendra Modi: “When I asked him what Modi said, [Jafri] said there was no question of help, instead he got abuses.” Word of Jafri’s frantic calls for help even reached Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in Delhi: a BJP insider close to Modi, who was with Advani on 28 February, told me that the BJP leader had even called Modi’s office himself to ask about Jafri....
To this day, Modi maintains that he had no knowledge of the events at Gulburg Society until he was briefed by police officers later that evening. But Sanjiv Bhatt, who was then the state deputy commissioner (Intelligence), says that Modi is lying. (Modi and his administration have vigorously contested Bhatt’s account, as well as the testimony given by several other police and government officials.) Bhatt insists that Modi, who also served as home minister, was in regular contact with the senior police and intelligence leadership throughout the day, and well-informed of events on the ground. Bhatt told me that he spoke with Modi over the phone several times before 2 pm, and reported that a mob had circled Gulburg, and that he met Modi at his office in the afternoon to report that the situation demanded immediate intervention.
“His response was very strange,” Bhatt told me. “He listened and then said, ‘Sanjiv, try to find out if in the past Jafri has been in the habit of opening fire.’”
“Outside the chief minister’s office, in the corridor, I bumped into the former chief minister Amarsinh Choudhary and former home minister Naresh Rawal,” Bhatt continued, referring to two Congress leaders. “Naresh Rawal was my minister earlier, so we talked. They told me Gulburg Ehsanbhai has been giving frantic calls, and they came to meet Modi. I said I had briefed the CM, but you also go and tell him,” Bhatt told me.
“I then got a call on my cellphone from my informer on the site at Gulburg,” Bhatt continued, “telling me that Jafri had opened fire. I was surprised. And when I reached my office, a short report was laying on the table saying Jafri opened fire in self-defence. That was when I realised that this man [Modi] knows things even before I came to know of things.”
Amarsinh Choudhary has independently confirmed this account on more than one occasion. On telephone records -- which records were destroyed and why still remains a question for investigation.
Sanjiv Bhatt is quoted as saying the same again in the Hindu of Feb 25.
Question #10 - Did your government slap the Official Secrets Act against whistleblower cop Rahul Sharma because he passed on explosive phone data records to the Nanavati Commission which showed that rioters were in touch with policemen and politicians?
Offstumped Rejoinder – Let us leave the slapping of OSA to the Commission Report to settle.
On the phone records – let us not forget that the said records have never been authenticated at source. CJPOnline’s website that carries PDF files of Individual Phone Records and Time-Location graphs clearly shows these are not original network records (GSM CDRs – Call Detail Records) but carefully constructed post-facto analyses by a 3rd party with no reference to the original data. In the absence of “source authentication” not much credibility can be attached to them. Even if we give 100% benefit of doubt to the authenticity of the records, we once again make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation. The fact that X called Y establishes nothing beyond X called Y. This smacks of classic conspiracy theory mongering.
SD responds. This is nice. First say no phone call records exist (because they have been, surprise surprise, destroyed). And then, as in above, even if there were a phone call showing a call record even showing a direct call from, say, Mr Jafri to Mr Modi, the answer would be that all we know is that the call took place, nothing more! Why even bother going through this charade of honestly addressing questions, when answer to video-taped "boasts" (confessions?) is that they are inadmissible as evidence?
#11 – The vindictiveness seems to have a pattern, considering the SC’s recent strictures against your government for initiating criminal proceedings against social activist Teesta Setalvad (allegedly for her role in the illegal exhumation of bodies of 2002 riot victims)?
Offstumped Rejoinder: Are you also accusing the honorable Supreme Court Justices of being complicit in what you call a “pattern of vindictiveness” when you reference the recent instance, for this is what media reports attributed to the bench:
“This case is hundred per cent spurious. In other cases against the petitioner, there may be something,” said a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai”
SD responds: No. In fact, if you read carefully, I am not even giving any certificate to this petitioner or indeed even Mr Bhatt. My point is limited to the vindictiveness against them. You could of course go back to Mr Modi's invocation of the "chain of action and reaction" in vindictiveness.
Question #12 – Isn’t this also why a 21-year-old custodial death case allegedly involving Sanjiv Bhatt was resurrected and suspension orders issued against him?
Offstumped Rejoinder: One doesn’t need to see Mr. Bhatt’s from the 2002 prism. A simple google archive search of stories on Mr. Bhatt prior to 2002 will reveal his dubious record. As an example here is the case in Rajasthan High Court from April 2000 against Mr. Bhatt. Here is what the NHRC had to say of that case against Mr. Bhatt
“The NHRC also, in its report in September 2010 considered it a case of “serious human rights violation” in view of the fact that the provisions under which Mr. Rajpurohit was falsely implicated could have fetched him 10 years of imprisonment”
SD responds: Not my intention to provide a character certificate to Mr Bhatt. But it does seem pertinent to me that the case against was reopened after 21 years. That's all. Sure, you could argue that it is not for Mr Modi to answer, that it is routine Police matter, blah, yada, blah.
Question #13 – It is alleged that compliant police officers during the 2002 riots were promoted and those who steadfastly did their duty were sidelined or persecuted. Many such cases have been widely documented and also brought to your attention. What action have you taken in this regard
Offstumped Rejoinder: This is a sweeping generalization. We can’t just go on and on with every disgruntled state employee and link their grouses back to 2002. There is no end or meaning to such an exercise.
SD responds: There is a pattern. You need not even go into extensive analysis of various such cases. Just go through the names that crop up in the 71 Questions that the SIT posed to Mr Modi. Of course it suits you to dismiss that pattern as a 'sweeping generalization', just as you conveniently want to dismiss any uncomfortable question as "conspiracy theory mongering" because the truth is inconvenient. For those interested, a short concise summary of the cases of Sanjiv Bhatt, R.B. Sreekumar, Kuldip Sharma, Rahul Sharma, Rajnish Rai can be read in the latest issue of the Frontline: Standing up to the state: Police officers who have stood up for the truth are made to pay for it.
But then of course Mr Modi and his cheerleaders are convinced that all of the English media is in a giant conspiracy against poor, innocent, Sadbhavana-filled Mr Modi
#14 – You denied to the SIT that your ministers were involved in leading any of the violent mobs, but what action did you take when the alleged involvement of people like Bharat Barot, Mayaben Kodnani, Nitinbhai Patel and Narayan Lallu Patel was officially brought to your attention?
Offstumped Rejoinder: It is pertinent to point out Mayaben Kodnani was not a Minister in 2002 but a local MLA. Between 2002 and 2007 there are several news reports that describe her as a rebel BJP MLA in the anti-Modi Keshubhai faction. Nevertheless Ms. Kodnani is on trial. Let the courts settle her fate.
There is no case against Nitinbhai Patel, no specific accusations beyond the odd story of Muslims voting en-bloc against him in 2002 due to his “alleged” role.
The Special Court on the Sardarpura Riot case had rejected witness statements on Narayan Lalu has being inconsistent while delivering 31 Life sentences. Strangely this story was carried by OutlookIndia on Nov 10th 2011
“While holding that there was no conspiracy behind the killings, the judgement said there are discrepancies in the versions of the witnesses on this point.
One of the witnesses claimed that former Godhra MLA Haresh Bhatt and BJP MLA Narayan Lalu had held a meeting in the village 20-25 days before the incident and distributed weapons, while another claimed that this meeting took place on February 27, 2002.
The court noted that even the investigating officer had rejected the contention that any such meeting had taken place.
The version of Basirabibi Shaikh, a witness, with regard to the alleged conspiracy did not corroborate complainant’s version, the judgement says.”
SD responds: It was not being suggested that Mayaben Kodnani was a minister, but it is possible that's the impression you got. Nor was it being suggested what the courts may have already ruled or rule in future on these people against whom serious allegations have been documented. What was being asked, and remains as a question, is what action, if any, Mr Modi took when allegations of having participated in riots and leading mobs were brought to his attention.
Question #16 – What action, if any, did you take after Tehelka’s Operation Kalank in which the likes of Haresh Bhatt, Babu Bajrangi and Rajendra Vyas, while narrating their ‘exploits’, implicated you and your administration?
Offstumped Rejoinder: You cant be serious ! Even the SIT and courts have rejected the Sting’s admissibility as evidence in a Trial.
SD responds. I am very serious indeed and am appalled that only because something cannot be admissible as evidence in a court, the CM and his wide-eyed cheerleaders would want the world to just forget all about what the various protagonists themselves "boast" of having done. By the same reckoning, after going on bleating about how no direct evidence exists to implicate the CM in the riots, it would seem that even if Mr Modi was on videotape, his supporters would go on chanting that it is not admissible in a Trial. It is not just about legalities.
Question #17 – Why was no action taken or inquiry held against officers of the executive magistracy, particularly the DMs who failed to initiate prompt action against the rioters, especially from Feb 27-Mar 4, ’02?
Offstumped Rejoinder: This is a sweeping generalization. A perusal of all the news reports from 28th Feb 2002 will show a mixed picture of action taken yet a scale of violence that clearly overwhelmed the system. The Srikrishna Commission Report on 1993 riots had come up with specific recommendations for action against negligent officers. Let us give the Nanavati Commission report the same opportunity and wait to see what it has to say of specific instances of delinquency, negligence or willful inaction.
SD responds: Lovely. I am touched by your strict adherence to the bureaucratic jargon that would do the dialogue-writers of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister proud.
Question #18 – You denied recommending pro-BJP/VHP advocates for appointment as public prosecutors. Then why was no action taken or inquiry conducted against the DMs who made such biased selections?
Offstumped Rejoinder: Let us give the Nanavati Commission report the opportunity and wait to see what it has to say of specific instances of bias.
SD responds: Ten years later, the "super competent" chief minister who loves to boast of "efficiency" and having brought the riots to an end in 72 hours and having played fair in running his administration has not acted or even made any enquiries on his own, but his apologists say he would go by a Commission report that is awaited.
Question #19 – You often boast that you do not discriminate on grounds of religion. On Sept 9, ’02, as part of your gaurav yatra, you made a speech in which you equated the Muslim relief camps with child-producing centres and used crudities like “Hum paanch, hamaare pachees”. Are you proud of such remarks?
Offstumped Rejoinder: Remarks taken out of context can sound crude and despicable. Let us not forget what followed those remarks. The Independent People’s Tribunal of Justices Suresh, Krishna Iyer et. al in its Report (Part 1, Page 266) carried an english translation of the audio recording of that speech via NDTV/Indian Express. Here is what followed:
“Who will benefit from this development? Is family planning not necessary in Gujarat? Where does religion come in its way? Where does community come in its way? .The population is rising in Gujarat, money isn.t reaching the poor? What.s the reason? They make a beeline, fix cycle punctures (Audience laughs). If Gujarat is to be developed, then an economic system has to be developed where every child born in Gujarat gets education, manners and employment.”
Where is the question of bias or discrimination when Mr. Modi speaks of an economic vision for Gujarat where every child gets education and opportunity?
This is not spin from 2008 this is his much maligned election speech of 2002 !
Sir, may I submit that the context is provided in his own words, as he was under fire for not doing his raj-dharma and for there not being proper relief camps for the victims of the carnage and there had been criticism of allocation of Rs 8 crores to Becharaji:
So what should we do? Do we go and run relief camps? Should we open child producing centres?
We want to firmly implement family planning. Hum paanch, humare pachees (We five, our 25) (laughs). Who will benefit from this development? Is family planning not necessary in Gujarat? Where does religion come in its way? Where does community come in its way?
Read it in any context, read the whole speech again and I leave it for readers to decide whether it is something to be proud of or "crude and despicable"
Question #20 – It took the Gujarat HC to finally issue a contempt notice against your government for failing to compensate those whose shops were burnt down in the riots? Where was your ‘sadbhavana’ during the last 10 years?
Offstumped Rejoinder: It is pertinent to point out the contempt notice was issued to a District Collector and not to the Chief Minister’s Office, Cabinet or Cabinet Secretary. In an era where even the Prime Minister gets to distance himself from his own Office on Court strictures, to describe contempt notice against one District Collector as a “contempt notice against an entire State Government” is frankly bizarre.
SD response: Nice. So now the PM (who is otherwise rightly under attack for abdication of responsibility) is going to be the standard. It is this kind of petty defence using technicalities which shows the CM and his supporters to be what they are as against what they pompously pretend to be otherwise.
And while this is now, let's also remember what Atal Behari Vajpayee himself wrote to Narendra Modi in 2002 itself:
The letter, obtained through an RTI application, 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.
Question #21 – The Gujarat HC also had to order the various authorities under your administration to pay for the restoration of the hundreds of religious structures destroyed. Why did the situation come to this?
Offstumped Rejoinder: There is a legitimate Constitutional question on this on tax payer money being spent on religious structures. Let the Supreme Court appeal be settled. After all no compensation was paid for structures that were damaged or destroyed in the 2001 earthquake or during the terror attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar in 2003.
SD responds: So now after the HC order, is the state government challenging it in the SC? I ask out of curiosity.
Question #22 – What is your take on the high court blaming the 2002 riots on the “negligence of the state”?
Offstumped Rejoinder: The Srikrishna Commission Report on 1993 riots brilliantly highlighted how underlying the autopsy of every riot is a story of decades of systemic reform not undertaken. The High Court’s comments must be seen in this light.
The Truth of 2002 that thousands died is undeniable. The Truth of 2002 also is that the scale of violence overwhelmed a rickety Law and Order infrastructure in a manner no different from every other major riot in India.
Often we make the mistake of judging Governments from the perspective of events. Our public memory is short and our attention span limited to narrow episodes. We take Institution Building for granted. We grossly understate the effort it takes to build an Institution. We routinely overstate the lack of systemic reforms. Most often than not, we are too lazy to appreciate the considerable span of time it takes for meaningful systemic reforms to take root.
The decade of peace in Gujarat is the outcome of a decade of investment in making sure the Law and Order Infrastructure works all the time, every time.
It is with this decade long time span as the yardstick that we must judge the Governance in Gujarat and its Chief Minister Narendra Modi and not through the narrow prism of a single episodic event barely six months in to his first ever political office and 10 days after he won his first ever election.
On May 4th 2006 the Indian Express carried an interesting story out of Vadodara titled “Gujarat of 2006 versus Gujarat 2002”. The thrust of the story was on the Congress’ political response to events of the day but the story grudgingly acknowledged what had changed between 2002 and 2006. To enumerate that change may be in order as we mark the 10th anniversary of the 2002 riots....
SD responds: So either we dismiss everything as a giant conspiracy against the poor CM or hide behind technicalities or start quoting from a press report about something totally unrelated that happened in 2006. On his part, the CM goes around boasting that no court has ordered or said anything against him. A similar "defence" is employed as a whine by those who defend the 1984 riots or Bofors or anything else that one charges them with. Some 28 years after the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, the charge continues to be levelled against Mr Kamal Nath, a senior minister in the current central cabinet, and his defence also is that he has not been named in a court of law in India, leave alone those like Mr Jagdish Tytler who was finally denied a ticket because a journalist made bold to throw a shoe at him to lodge his protest at the Congress party. Ironically, much as I agree with the diagnosis of institutional collapse, it is rich to see it employed in the defence of Mr Modi's shenanigans. That the Gujarat (or even central) Congress or other parties are worse, or have been complicit, is beside the point. How the law and order infrastructure has been subverted in Gujarat under Mr Modi's watch is clear from the how his administration has treated the police officers who dared to do their duty.