Godhra verdict fails to convince
I have followed the Godhra incident leading to the death of 59 persons including many Kar Sewaks as well as the Gujarat riots that followed very closely for two simple reasons.
Godhra and the riots had a close connection and therefore it is not easy to delink them.
In fact, it was only after news mixed with rumours and inaccuracies circulated in the state following what happened in Godhra, Gujarat burned resulting in its worse communal trouble and deaths of thousands of innocent persons.
It is also not merely a coincidence that the state was polarized to such a great degree that the Saffron brigade managed to wrest complete control of every nook and corner even though at one point peeved with the riots, the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asked Narendra Modi to observe Raj dharma (tenets of governance).
The verdict delivered on Tuesday has left several questions unanswered. If there was a conspiracy, why has the main accused Maulvi Umarji been acquitted? And what happens to the 63 persons who have now been acquitted and who is responsible for the years they spent in jail.
Many other questions also arise and I am sure that in the course of the judicial process, these may be answered or at least some contradictions in the judgement by the designated Judge P.R.Patel will get resolved. There is also a debate on whether Justice U.C.Banerjee committee appointed by Lalu Prasad Yadav was accurate or was the Nanawati commission appointed by the state government factual. It is possible that both these Judges may have reached conclusions which need to be thoroughly examined by a more experienced judge. This may be possible when the case reaches the Supreme Court stage.
Regardless of the Judgement, I have always felt that there was always a conspiracy angle to the Godhra incident. My late friend and former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandeya had told me that Gujarat was slipping out of the BJP’s hands. Every election contested by the party at any level was proving to be a setback and when Keshubhai Patel was removed and replaced by a totally inexperienced Narendra Modi in 2001, the party had reached its wits end. No one knew what to do and the Godhra incident came as an issue which soon got exploited politically.
Even during the run up to the 2002 Gujarat assembly polls where Haren Pandeya, a three time winner from the Ellisbridge assembly segment was denied the party ticket because Modi was vehemently opposing him, had told me at the Taj Residency Hotel in Ahmedabad that the state was never going to be the same again. I did not believe him since I traveled extensively in the state in the 2002 elections and till the morning of the polls was of the opinion that the fight was evenly poised. It was the month of December and on the morning of the polling, I was thinking that what a close call it was going to be.
But many TV channels had a different take and perhaps strategy on the polls. They started focusing on long lines in the Muslim dominated areas where the voting was taking place. They also kept focusing on Modi who was going from one area to the other and using his rabid language to rabble rouse even while the poll was on. Till 1 p.m. or so, it was anyone’s game but after that the BJP supporters came out in large numbers and changed the trend completely. By sunset, it was the BJP, which had proved victorious. Pandeya died a tragic death, a political career cut short by his differences with some in the party and of course bullets from his assassins. But he proved correct that Gujarat was never the same again. Many think today that it is better and going strong while others feel that the perpetrators of the riots must be severely punished regardless of the positions they hold.
A lot of things have been said about the Nanawati commission report, but the UC Banerjee report made some very interesting observations based on affidavits filed by three police officers, which went against the conspiracy theory. The Banerjee committee had ruled that the entire incident in Godhra was an accident and supported its findings based on railway records and logs maintained by officials at the Godhra railway station.
It brought to fore that when even the Gujarat government’s own CID was not aware that Kar Sewaks were returning by Sabramati Express, how would normal residents of Godhra know. It raised questions why the S-6 coach where the fire started was disposed off very fast instead of it being preserved as case property and why the then Railway minister Nitish Kumar did not order the mandatory inquiry by the commissioner of safety. Banerjee also pointed out that no Railway compartment can be locked from outside by any common citizen as there is no latch to do so. It is only a key, which is with the railway guard, and authorities, which can lock doors from outside. Finally, the fire burns sustained by victims were towards the lower portion of the body indicating that the fire had started from within and was not because of any fire bombs thrown from outside.
The legal battle will go and many questions will be raised again and again with the hope that answers also come from the judiciary. Everyone will want justice to prevail in the end whether in Godhra or in the rest of Gujarat.