Modi, the villain at Godhra.. Really?

First job, in simple words, I whole-heartedly admit that the heart rending stories of the riots, make me shiver and send a chill down my spine. I wouldn’t justify the killings and everything associated with it on any count.

Lest you start making judgments about my fundamentalist credentials, I must mention that I’m on an exploratory mission, trying to understand the different sides of the story and what happened thereafter, and where it leaves me today. Hoping to make an informed opinion, and try to inform the several others, who at this point are happy believing the sensations and villianhood bequeathed upon Modi by the media.

While IBN consistently maintained its stand about Godhra being a neglected sore corner in Modi’s government, a pieces of news mainstream media chose to completely ignore, is about Modi visiting Godhra’s muslim populated areas and receiving a warm welcome on Republic day in 2009. Perhaps a lot changed from the 2007 IBN report to 2009 January. And well, hardly any mainstream media houses were keen to cover this change, as a google search on the same reflects. The act of Modi’s visit, couldn’t possibly a concoction of the right wing, it’s utter absence from mainstream media, does point to something though.

Anyway, going back to the main story, I was trying to unearth from the archives of 2002 Feb, what the TOI had reported right after the train was burnt down in Godhra, killing some 57 people including women and kids. While there are statements from Modi, VHP’s protests and ABVP’s stance, there’s no first news report in the archives.

Would be keen to take a look at the hard copy of the cover page of TOI on Feb 28, 2002. I wonder if there’s a reason to the missing stories!

The way things started in Godhra – the burning of the train carrying the Karsevaks returning from ayodhya, and intermittently chanting/shouting slogans as they usually do. What followed, was the largest riot in my present memory. Hundreds were killed, looted, raped, mutilated, burnt alive – brutality inflicted upon humanity in every possible way. The state was alleged to have helped the rioters hunt down the muslims. Modi was labelled “mass murderer”, BJP leaders were called ” Maut Ke Saudagar ” , and villianized endlessly.

7 years hence, the story has been repeatedly enlivened, only to evoke very emotional, charged up responses from the young educated indians, who feel embarrassed to have any connection with a pogrom as that.

Anyway, in a quick review of the two reports – Justice Nanawati Commission(set up right after the riots in 2002)  and Justice UC Bannerjee commission(set up by Lalu, right after he was elected, in late 2004) , both said to be people of high stature with their backgrounds as senior judicial post holder:

Textual summary of reports sourced from IBN Live

Banerjee Commission report

  • Fire accidental

  • No outsiders involved

  • Death due to toxicity & suffocation

  • No crowd, just onlookers at railway station

  • Coaches were not locked

Nanavati Commission report

  • Fire deliberately set

  • Outsiders ignited fire

  • Death due to burning

  • Mob at railway station

  • Coaches locked from outside

The Nanawati commission is said to have more authority since it was set up right after the riots, (albeit by the state government), while the Bannerjee commission was set up by Lalu, the railway minister 2 years later,  in political hindsight, with the backdop of Bihar elections.

Clearly, there are several direct contradictions in the reports presented by the two commissions. The UC Bannerjee commision says it was an accident.

That the attack on the train was performed by a mob of over 2000 people was said by the cops on 28th Feb, as reported by the TOI .

Subsequent reporting by BBC, while it censures the state government of inaction, does assume as a fact that the train was really burnt by a mob.

“Riots were sparked off across Gujarat early this month after a Muslim mob attacked and killed a group of Hindu activists travelling by train in the town of Godhra.”

If it was an accident, and there was no mob, then logically :

– The story (that there was a mob) was planted with the policemen in advance, that they need to tell the media about the mob being responsible for the fire.

– Which would mean, the accident was planned/expected by the people wanting to push this story.

If it was indeed an accident, the train’s body must be highly flammable so that the fire engulfed the bogie fast enough to not allow any people to escape, and of course, whatever happened of the Fire Brigade, which couldn’t reach in time, unless wilfully/forcibly stopped enroute by the same miscreants who started the fire.

While I’d not entirely agree to what Nanawati Commission reported, I find the UC Bannerjee commission equally biased and untrue in its assertions. It’s disappointing how the reports of even ex Supreme Court Judges are biased and selective in their presentation of facts, and can be made to parrot the lines of their masters.

Oh, and incidentally, in October 2006, the Gujarat High Court ruled that the Bannerjee  panel was set up illegally, in violation of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 which prohibits the setting up of separate commissions by state and central governments to probe a matter of public importance.

And then, I landed upon something new, apparently a new dimension to the story, that of the train carnage being a planned act, at the behest of the Pakistani Government, to spur communal riots in the country and divert attention from the Borders that were heating up after the Dec 13 ’01 attack on the Parliament of India. New theory, but seems logical in it’s flow.

Plausible? To me it seemed the most logical/neutral piece across all that I’ve read.

The little known, or little publicized report from the Justice D.S. Newatia’s team, it’s been conducted a field study at the relief camps, talking to victims freely. While the report accuses the BJP of politicizing the issue, it states a few other things, which don’t exactly point to a genocide, or a pogrom of sorts. While you can look at the entire report on the link above, the Times of India did report the conclusions of the study.

Godhra carnage was an act of pakistan-sponsored terrorism and was executed in connivance with the jehadi forces based in the town,

:

The study team has specifically indicted two congress members of godhra municipality – Abdul Rehman Dhatia and Haji Bilal – for their alleged role in the ghastly incident.

:

“Given the dismal economic profile of godhra muslims, it was intriguing to find a large number of muslim youth mostly unemployed, with mobile phones,” said justice D.S. Tewatia, former Chief Justice of the Calcutta high court, one of the members of the team while referring to the unscruplous foreign funds pouring into the region.

To substantiate its allegations of a ‘pakistani hand’ in the godhra episode, the team claimed that there was a very high traffic of telephone calls from godhra to karachi before february 27.

Concluding the post-godhra violence to be partly planned and partly spontaneous, the fact-finding team said that backlash to godhra did not spread to entire gujarat but remained largely confined to those areas where the charred bodies of the godhra victims went.

Charging the local administration with laxity and poor riot-management and control, the team found that the police was outnumbered by the rioting mobs, who also happened to possess better weaponry.

“Socio-psychological understanding of the communal divide is lacking amongst the officials and they have no formal training in tackling communal tensions,” the team said. commenting on the state of relief and rehabilitation camps, the fact-finding mission said that though conditions were not “satisfactory”, it was largely so in the “unscheduled camps”.

Besides Tewatia, the other members of the team were senior advocate J C Batra, academician Krishan Singh, Jouranalist Jawaharlal Kaul and a professor of guru Jambeshwar university, Hisar B.K.Kuthiala.

The commission, while it points to several mistakes by the state/administration and machinery, it also presents some other points. (Feel free to read up the entire report on the link)

20. Adverse media reports about role of officials affected their performance and de-motivated them. Several officers were reluctant to take firm action.

21.Gujarati language media was factual and objective. Yet its propensity to highlight the gory incidents in great details heightened communal tension.

22.English language media, particularly the Delhi Press, is perceived by the Gujaratis to be biased. The information disseminated by it was neither balanced nor impartial.

23.By converting half-baked news stories into major headlines, print as well as electronic media widened the psychological hiatus between Muslims and Hindus.

24.By disseminating half-truths and lies, the media played no mean role in distorting country’s image in the World.

After this, I read about the Tehelka sting, which was perfectly timed to explode the the sensation just before the Gujrat Elections of 2007. Speculations abound whether it helped Modi or it didn’t. It did however, do its job to bring alive the goriness of the whole thing that happened in 2002, causing revulsion and swearing in my entire generation, caused by the spine chilling narrations.

The investigative journalist, recorded his interactions with said leaders of bjp/rss/vhp/bajrang dal, pretending to be a researcher studying the rise of Hindutva. Perhaps hoping to be idolized in the history of resurgent Hindutva, some of the men made some big claims.

Of the Tehelka Videos, I could find on Youtube titled The Truth of 2002 :

Babu Bajrangi’s statement that the FIR against him says he ripped a stomach apart….. and eventually that Modi helped him out by transferring three judges.

Then there’s Haresh bhatt, who was assured that he wouldn’t be quoted or named anywhere, when he said this. He apparently has a factory of firearms, preparing rocket launchers, and had ‘imported’ arson from other states including Punjab…and he’s also the originator of the ‘Three Day free for All‘ given by Modi.

The third one, Arvind Pandya, made a remark about the corruptness in the Nanawati-Shah comission and that he had nothing to fear of them.

While I might take some part of the story as truth, some of it seems more of bragging than truth. (Almost like b school essays of people – stories for a particular two-people-audience that nobody can/will verify). A story privately shared with a nobody could do no harm in self glorification – and no one’s gonna come back to verify it or censure me for it. So harmless extrapolations, like the drawing room stories of the great hunters or warriors – Just that these were caught on a sting.

And well, if all of Tehelka’s research is admissible in court, it would certainly clear out the case for quite a few people.These guys for sure would be well taken care of by the law. I’d be surprised they haven’t been, yet. Whether Modi is clearly implicated or not, remains to be seen.

Though with the indefinite examples of manipulation of evidence and people, I’m increasingly cynical/skeptical about the whole judicial/enquiry process. The ease with which witnesses seem to be bought, claims from non entities are used to attribute quotes to leaders – it just leaves you confused, disturbed and lost about the truth of the times.

The Congress Government at the center, refused to release the letters written by President Narayanan, using presidential priviledge, saying that it may not be in the best interests of the country. I wonder why this sense of responsibility did not come up when the gory details of godhra and post godhra, played out on the TV screens again and again, despite having the potential of spreading the disturbance to so far undisturbed areas.

So am I to believe the Tehelka Sting? Despite its not so honorable past, and despite the several holes poked in its theory? Much to shock/dismay, it was  sensationally and freely aired by our responsible media, even without cross examination of the points being made. Each spicy piece, magnified to whatever extents possible, to seem spicier

A bunch of Modi fans have put together a dissection of the Tehelka Sting, none of whose points I would take at face value. However, there’s some supportive evidence, including actual news clippings that validate some of the claims made. I can’t possibly validate all of them. So I’ll believe only what I find validated. If your opinion against Modi is really strong, I suggest you should go through that link, might just challenge your conviction, or maybe firm it even further.

In that pursuit, a first hand attempt to go through some archives, March 1, 2002, The Hindu reported,

“The Army units, frantically called by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, as the situation seemed to slip out of hand, started arriving in Ahmedabad and are likely to be deployed in the city on Friday.”

The riots started on Feb 28, and this is a newspaper reporting on the next day, Friday, March 1. The 3 day theory brought by Tehelka doesn’t quite match.

There are a bunch of articles from the Indian Express, one of which report the parading of the then Defence Minister, George Fernandes in the streets of Ahmedabad on the 1st morning, after he reached there at 1 AM at night. The archives of IE for these times, are surprisingly missing from it’s otherwise well maintained records.

The headlines in The Hindu on March 2,

Shoot orders in many Gujarat towns, toll over 200

AHMEDABAD, MARCH 1. The Army began flag marches in the worst-affected areas of Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot and Godhra cities and the `shoot at sight’ order was extended to all 34 curfew-bound cities and towns in Gujarat as the orgy of violence in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage continued unabated for the second day today.

So perhaps, the CM was making one statement to the press, and under cover, passing another set of orders to his subordinates. Wonder why, these pieces of press information, have been consciously kept out of public discussion… and not many in the media bring this up – allowing the myth to float around that Modi intentionally delayed calling the army etc.

And of course, aside of all this, there’s an allegation that the videos were actually shot under the pretext of shooting a TV serial and the select portion edited out.

Epilogue

The numbers presented in Union Home Ministry’s Annual Report 2002-03 said in Gujrat Riots, one hindu died for every three muslims. The total figure being 972 or so, with ~230 more peopled added after 7 years of being missing. It also said that, at one stage, 40,000 Hindus were in riot relief camps, compared to 100,000 muslims.

I wonder if the UPA government would’ve left a chance quote the REAL numbers, which, as many editorials claimed, were above 2000.

Surely these don’t look like signs of an ethnic cleansing by the state.

Apart from the 58 charred bodies in the train, there were several badly mutilated bodies of hindus found too, which the secularist media did not speak about. The police did shoot down over a 100 hindus in the first two days, again something which would be hidden away, since it doesn’t suit the state connivance or pogrom theory.


Riots happen, people lose all sense of morality, become brutal beyond imagination. There have been 400+ riots in Gujarat, small and big, from 1970 to 2002. To be noted, that Gujaratis have found better things to do after 2002, than riot. Perhaps, the minority’s too afraid to step out now. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know.

Ok, maybe, all this doesn’t complete or even convince enough. This may not lead me to a final answer. Perhaps I was looking for a clear situation where I could make a simple judgment. I couldn’t find it. It’s not as clear as it might have seemed, from the two polarized sides who don’t accept any truths but go on falsifying and blaming each other.

If you were reading through, expecting that I’ll create some theory to exonerate Modi entirely from the responsibility, I’m not going to do that. Blood shed, is blood shed, whether of a Hindu or that of a Muslim. If he’s guilty of intentionally not doing something that he could’ve, I believe, the UPA at the center, baying for his blood, (he’s the biggest threat to their continued power), would have left no stone unturned to get him out of the way. Perhaps, he’s smart enough to leave no real traces behind.

And till then, lets accept the ways of the Law, Modi”s innocent until proven guilty. Let not the media judgments bias our minds all that much, that we feel embarrassed about it, or start hating him, without completely knowing the facts. (which I’m afraid, we never will)

The point to remember, for the average educated young man, irrespective of religion, is to not take everything told by the media at face value. Try being a little inquisitive, reason out, ask questions. DEMAND Truth. Don’t be fooled too easily.

Gosh I knew so little about the whole issue till I started writing this one. Now, I am not sure if I’ve found all my answers, but I do believe, I’ve found some truth, and a LOT of understanding of the situation at hand.

I do acknowledge that I have a right bent of mind, and that might have given more weight to the evidence for the right, than against it. To cover the same, I’ve linked to all my sources, and would welcome if someone can point out biases in the way I’ve quoted things, or drawn conclusions.