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Leads From Purgatory

A citizens' panel confirms the post-Godhra riots were planned More Coverage

Leads From Purgatory
Jitender Gupta
Leads From Purgatory
Truth is like water. You can't hold it back forever. It was in the June 3 issue that Outlook broke the story of a meeting on the night of February 27 at Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's official residence. Godhra had happened that day. Present at the meeting were senior ias and IPS officials. Modi told those present that a Hindu reaction to the Godhra train carnage was to be expected and that no one should come in the way of this backlash.

The Outlook report was outright denied by Modi. But the controversial meeting at the CM's residence has now been confirmed. An eight-member inquiry commission—the Concerned Citizens Tribunal—which includes former judges of the Supreme and High Courts and retired IPS officials, released its findings in Ahmedabad on November 21, and it has confirmed the meeting. The tribunal's report also speaks of another similar meeting on the same night in the backward Panchmahals district where the "strategy of mass murder, that was to follow, was chalked out in the presence of two ministers of the Modi cabinet".

Details of the two meetings were provided by a minister in Modi's cabinet. To quote the report: "The tribunal received direct information through a testimony from a highly placed source (a minister) of a meeting where the CM, two or three senior cabinet colleagues, the CP of Ahmedabad, and an IG police of the state were present. This meeting took place on the late evening of February 27. The meeting had a singular purpose: the senior-most police officials were told that they should expect a 'Hindu reaction' after Godhra. They were also told that they should not do anything to contain this reaction."

The tribunal also has evidence on the second secret meeting, held in Lunawada village of Panchmahals district. "Shri Ashok Bhatt, the state health minister, was also intimated about the meeting. Transport minister Prabhatsinh Chauhan, who hails from Panchmahals, was also called to attend. Phone calls were made to invite 50 top people of the BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP. The plan was to assemble them at someone's house in Lunawada. Fifty top people, the tribunal was told, met at this undisclosed destination and detailed plans were made on the use of kerosene and petrol for arson and other methods of killing."

The voluminous report is a veritable chargesheet against the Modi government and the Sangh parivar. The three-volume report, the first two of which have been released while the third is in the process of being printed, has been put together by the tribunal, comprising, among others, retired judges of the Supreme Court, Justices V.R. Krishna Iyer and P.B. Sawant, retired judge of the Bombay High Court Justice Hosbet Suresh, ex-Tripura DGP Dr K.S. Subramanian and PUCL's K.G. Kannabiran. The tribunal squarely holds the Modi government responsible for its inability to anticipate and prevent the Godhra carnage, while it allowed and connived in the mass killings of minorities in the aftermath of the incident.

The report is very clear on Modi's role. "Chief minister Narendra Modi is the chief author and architect of all that happened in Gujarat after the arson of February 27, 2002. It is amply clear from all the evidence placed before the tribunal that what began in Godhra could have, given the political will, been controlled promptly at Godhra itself. Instead, the state government under Shri Narendra Modi took an active part in leading and sponsoring the violence against minorities all over Gujarat. His words and actions throughout the developments in Gujarat show that he has been openly defying the Constitution and indulging in actions which are positively detrimental to the interests of the country.

"Shri Modi was the one who took Godhra to the rest of Gujarat.He was the one who directed the police and the administration not to act. He was the one who refused to help the likes of former MP Shri Ahsan Jafri, and the large number of people in Shri Jafri's home, who were all butchered later on. He refused shelter and succour to the victims of the carnage. He refused, and continues to refuse, basic human amenities and was using coercion and other tactics to wind up refugee relief camps."

Here are some of the findings which led the tribunal to conclude that the post-Godhra riots were state sponsored:

  • It was the CM who declared that the Godhra incident was pre-planned even before investigating agencies reached such a conclusion. Modi's cabinet colleagues, notably the minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, reiterated repeatedly that a Pakistani hand was behind the Godhra actions.

  • It was Modi who decided that the charred bodies of the carnage victims be taken from Godhra to Ahmedabad in a cavalcade. As it headed there, senior members of his party and the Sangh parivar shouted slogans and incited mobs to retaliate.

  • From 8.30 am on February 27, just after the fire on the Sabarmati Express, until 7.30 pm that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra district collector, Jayanthi Ravi, relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio), stated that the incident was not pre-planned and that it was an accident. But, at 7.30 pm, Modi came on television and put forward the isi hand theory.

  • All that transpired after this was directly related to Modi's decision to "take Godhra to the whole state".

  • There is evidence to suggest the police were told to turn a blind eye to rioting.

The tribunal points out how the VHP gave a call for a Gujarat bandh on February 28 and how this was supported by the ruling party with state BJP president Rajendrasinh Rana declaring this publicly. The bandh call, says the report, "made possible exactly what the chief minister and the BJP, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal leadership wanted to happen after the Godhra incident". The inquiry panel observes in the report that "it is apparent that by the evening of February 27, a well thought out scheme to extract maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched".

The tribunal members, who toured all the riot-affected districts of the state and heard testimonies of victims, bureaucrats and police officials, concluded that "the state government and the administration, instead of appealing for restraint and peace, became the agents of a well-planned action against innocent Muslims of the state that was projected as a 'reaction'. The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra arson were used to launch a statewide pogrom of decimation that has not entirely stopped to date."
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