The fiction of fact-finding: The charade of Clean-chit

Modi & Godhra

Arnab: What is your view, would like to expound your views, your PM accuses Narendra Modi in his press conference of presiding over “the mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad.” Mr. Rahul Gandhi my question to you is this, do you agree with your PM when he says that?

Rahul: Well, I mean what the Prime Minister is saying is a fact, Gujarat happened, people died but the real issue as far I am concerned…

Arnab: How do you accuse Mr. Narendra Modi of it?

Rahul: Gujarat happened, people died. The real issue at hand here is…

Arnab: How is Mr. Modi responsible?

Rahul: He was CM when Gujarat happened.

Arnab: The fact remains that Narendra Modi has been given a clean chit, in the Gulbarg massacre case by the SIT and the court Mr. Gandhi. My question to you is “can the Congress party sustain it’s attack on Mr. Narendra Modi on this issue when he has been given the clean chit by the courts in the Gujarat riots

This is the transcript of the part of the interview with Rahul Gandhi that Times Now boasts every now and then in its channel as “Interview of the year”. Rahul Gandhi dodged the question rather than confronting it. This “clean chit” undoubtedly gave a big boost and eliminated the last uncomfortable hurdle for Narendra Modi.

Manoj Mitta’s book The Fiction of Fact Finding: Modi and Godhra confronts the very question and brings out details after details that show how flawed the Supreme Court directed Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigation was and how SIT overlooked the evidences starting from Modi’s reaction to the Godra Massacre and his actions as a Chief Minister during the Post Godhra riots that deliberatly targeted Muslims, which could have nailed Modi. The demagogic forces are keen to reduce the intricate details of the incident to one line news and get away with it. Mitta’s book gains importance in this regard.

godhra-train-burning_0The Godra Train Carnage

In Feburary 17 2002, the far right Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organized a Sri Ram Mahayangna in Ayodhya despite the plea from the then Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee to wait for the court orders. It was a prelude to its decision to start building the Ram temple on March 15, 2002. VHP was mobilizing for this ritual and from Gujarat devotees came to Ayodhya on Feburary 22 and they started their return journey on Feb 25, 2002. Congress party disrupted the parliament on Feb 26th on why the ruling BJP government is not stopping VHP from performing the Yagna. Vajpayee, the supposed moderate face of the BJP, replied that the Mahayagna could not be stopped unless it created a law and order problem!

On the morning of Feb 27th 2002 the train arrived in Godhra railway station at 7:40 in the morning which was almost 5 hrs behind the schedule. The hawkers on the platform were predominantly Muslims as the station was near signal Faliya, a Muslim locality. Conflict broke out after the VHP kar sevaks provoked the Muslim hawkers and in the events that followed (that still remains unclear) the S-6 Coach was burnt which claimed 58 lives. Modi was quick to call it a terror attack even before any investigation began, though the reactions from his counterparts in Delhi, Advani and Vajpayee were more against VHP due to different political compulsions.

VHP was quick to call for a bandh on feburary 28th 2002. BJP and RSS were in complete support of the bandh. Between February 28 and March 2, 2002 retaliatory killings were carried out in an organized manner which included mutilation, burning and killing of innocent Muslims, looting and burning of Muslim homes, mosques and commercial institutions run by Muslims, brutal rapes of Muslim girls and women. The official death toll in the violence that happened is more than 1200 which included nearly 1000 Muslims. In the police firing alone 170 people died out of which majority were Muslims. The state government put that figure to 93 while the Concerned Citizens Tribunal states that 104 Muslims were killed in police firing. Whatever is the numbers it’s very clear that those who were the target for the rioters have been the target for the police also.


The Gujarat Model of Injustice

Those who now boast of the acquittal of Modi by the SIT safely forget the fact why the SIT itself was setup. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) visited Gujarat in March 2002 after the riots and submitted a list of urgent recommendations, one of which insisted 5 major carnage cases to be investigated by CBI as the FIRs filed by the Gujarat government have been poorly recorded and the investigations were influenced.

But the Gujarat Government reacted strongly to the report and dismissed its findings despite NHRCs warnings there were a series of disturning acquittals in the Gujarat riot cases. The magistrate accepted the closure reports filed by Gujarat police for 2215 cases even before trial began! The prosecution did not even file against the acquittals. And a year later when the actual reason was demanded by the Supreme Court, the Gujarat government claimed that there was no reporting from the prosecutors who were handling the cases to the legal department. The Citizens for Justice and Peace, a human rights organization led by Teesta Setalvad pointed out that many of the prosecutors were from VHP, the very organization which led the post-godhra carnage!

The acquittals went unchallenged until the verdict of Best Bakery case when all the 21 accused were acquitted. NHRC filed a petition to the Supreme Court to re-investigate the case outside Gujarat. The prosecution filed an appeal against the acquittals in the Gujarat High court. Supreme Court thrashed the appeal as a complete eye wash following which a revised appeal was filed. But the Gujarat high court upheld all the acquittals in its verdict on 26th December 2003.

When the case went to the Supreme Court against the high court verdict the bench ordered retrial of the Best bakery case to be held outside Gujarat. The Supreme Court noted in its verdict “The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when innocent children and helpless women were burning and probably deliberating how the perpetrators can be protected”. The Supreme Court similarly handed the investigation of gang rape of Bilkis Bano and killing of 14 members of her family along with her 3 year old daughter to Central Bureau of Investigation in December 2003. This case was one among the 2215 cases which were closed even before the trials could begin. The Supreme Court by then had realized that justice in Gujarat was not possible and it stayed the trial of 9 cases. Finally in 2006 the Mumbai trial court convicted nine of the accused with life sentence in the Best bakery case, in 2008 life sentences were awarded to 12 rioters and a 3 year imprisonment to Assistant Sub inspector Somabhai Gori for distorting facts. In March 2008, Supreme Court finally setup the Special Investigation Team (SIT).

As Mitta rightly points out “The miscarriage of justice that had taken place in Gujarat before the Supreme Court’s shock treatment showed that the BJP rule, left to itself was nowhere near living up to it much trumpeted slogan of ‘justice for all’.”Such is the Gujarat Model of justice under Modi, which the nation is awaiting to face incase BJP wins the ongoing elections.

But the injustice to Gujarat Muslims does not stop here. Even the SIT failed to not live up to the expectation which is clearly brought out in Mitta’s book. SIT was entrusted with the task of investigating nine cases of riots in Gulberg Society, Ode, Sardarpura, Narodao Gaon, Naroda Patya, Machipith, Tarsali, Pandarwada and Raghavapura. Apart from that SIT was also asked to look in to Zakia Jafri’s complaint on the wider role of Modi in the post-godhra riots. The supreme court appointed a amiiscus curie to monitor SIT. Harish Salve was the Amicus curie for the nine case and for Jafri’s complaint the amicus curiae was Raju Ramachandran. The SIT submitted one interim report on 12th May 2010 and a final report was submitted on May 2012. In this time frame it summoned Modi only once on March 27th 2010!

An Unwonted Interrogation

Modi was questioned for nine hours in the SIT office in Gandhinagar on 27th March 2010. He was not interrogated under CrPC which is generally the norm. A retired CBI office AK Malhotra asked 72 questions to Modi. But surprisely Malhotra never asked a follow up question to Modi. Whatever Modi replied was never challenged. Such was the folly in the name of interrogation!! Had it cornered him with facts as Mitta shows in various cases Modi would not have walked free of the allegations against him starting from his reaction to Godhra incident. The official press release issued on the evening of Feburary 27th 2002 described the incident as “preplanned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism”.

The Gujarat Hight court in 2009 declared that the Godhra incident cannot be taken as a terror attack. The important reasons that the high court gave such a decision was there were no use of firearms or explosives and the coach was attacked from only one side and the attackers had allowed the passengers from other side. But curiously it admitted that there was conspiracy behind the attack despite these reasons.

When Modi was questioned on this he said “I had told (the media) that nothing could be said until the investigation was completed” and from the interaction he had with the survivors in Godhra it appeared to be a conspiracy. The SIT could have easily nailed him if they have questioned him about the official press release. But it failed to do so. The terror rhetoric gains importance because the responsibility to protect the Muslims befalls on Modi as the Chief Minister of the state.

His appeal for peace was broadcasted only at 6:55 PM while he claimed that he broadcasted the peace message in the afternoon itself. He did not even visit the riot hit areas till March 5th even thought he visited Godhra on the same day. Further Mitta points at the official language used to describe the events. Godhra was described as “inhuman genocide”, “inhuman carnage” and “massacre” but the post Godhra riots were described “violent disturbances /incidents”.

Two newspapers in Gujarat “Sandesh” and “Gujarat Samachar” carried false inflammatory news which added fuel to the fire and it definitely contributed to the post Godhra riots. For example Sandhesh carried a headline story “Avenge Blood with blood”. It also falsely carried a story that fifteen Hindu girls were dragged out of Sabarmathi Express and breasts of two of them were cut off. It was exactly opposite to what the Gujarat Court stated in its Godhra Train Burning case. The judgment observed that “Some karsevaks have misbehaved with Muslim girls on the platform”. And how did Modi react to the behavior of press in his state? Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar along with 14 other Gujarathi newspapers received letters of appreciation from Modi on March 18th 2002 for “giving full support to the state government”. And yet we are asked to believe that Modi is an Impartial Administrator!

GODHRAbodyparadeBodies Paraded for Bloodshed

In the aftermath of the Godhra incident the bodies of the 54 of the dead people were handed over to the VHP and they were taken to Ahmedabad and paraded to whip up communal frenzy. The situation after the Godhra incident was already tense. VHP had already called for a bandh (shutdown) on 28th February and BJP was in full support of it. Who then made the decision to take the bodies to Ahmedabad? Was Narendra Modi involved in the decision making? This was one of the thirty two allegations framed by SIT based on Zakia Jafri’s complaint, the widow of Eshan Jafri (Congress MP who was killed in the riots). Zakia Jafri’s complaint was against the Modi Government for its complicity in a bigger conspiracy in the post Godhra killings.

On the night of 27th February 2002, district revenue officer, executive magistrate Mahendra Nalvaya penned a formal letter addressed to Jayadeep Patel, the then joint secretary of State Unit of VHP, authorizing the VHP to take custody of 54 bodies, though the law doesn’t permit the bodies to be given to anyone other than the legal heir or guardian of the deceased. When the Nanavati commission (set up by the Gujarat govt. after the riots) sent a notice to him in 2009 he defended him by claiming that the decision was taken by his superiors, the district magistrate Jayanti Ravi and additional district magistrate of Godhra. Even without summoning Narendra Modi on this matter the Nanavati commission passed its verdict that the decision to send the bodies was taken by the officials of the lower rank, overlooking the disclosure by Ashok Narayan, the then chief bureaucrat of Home department that the decision was made by Narendra Modi himself.

But the SIT had to summon Modi for the investigation owing to the monitoring by the Supreme Court and had to interrogate him. It had before itself a myriad of contradicting evidences. Modi when appearing before the SIT conceded that he was involved in the decision to send the body to Ahmedabad and the claimed that bodies were under the custody of government authorities. Jayanti Ravi the district magistrate defended herself that she had given no such instructions and Jayadeep Patel was to merely accompany the dead bodies. But Jayadeep Patel admitted to have met Jayanti Ravi in the midnight before departure of the convoy carrying the bodies to Ahmedabad and yet she claimed to be unaware of the contents of the letter that was contrary to the decision taken earlier in her office. In its May 2010 Report, SIT suggested a strong departmental action against Mahendra Nalvaya and made him bear the blame for the letter.

But the Supreme Courts Amicus Curiae Ramachandran pointed to a conflicting testimony on one issue that was still left unresolved. Both Modi and Jayadeep Patel during their interrogation claimed not to have met each other in Godhra. But Jayanti Ravi claimed that Jayadeep Patel was present in the meeting that happened on 27th February in her office where the unanimous decision was taken. Inspector General of Police Deepak Swaroop revealed that after Modi came to the collectorate, he met Hindu leaders and the media apart from holding discussions with the administration. By SIT’s own admission Jayadeep Patel was the most important Hindu leader present in Godhra on that day.

Ramachandran observed in his interim report that “the statement of Jayadeep Patel that he did not meet Shri Narendra Modi does not inspire confidence. This has to be examined as Nalavya would not have handed over the dead bodies to a non-government person until and unless somebody very high told him to do so”. The SIT reconciled these contradictory evidences by claiming in its final report that Jayadeep Patel was present in the collectorate but he was not present in the meeting. The testimony by Deepak Swaroop was conveniently swept under the carpet. Further call records show 4 calls exchanged between Patel and Gordhan Zadafia (another right wing leader of the BJP) between 8 PM and 9:30 PM and Patel had also called the Prime Minister’s office the same night. The SIT clearly failed to connect all these dots to Modi and his government was involved in the decision to move the bodies to Ahmedabad. As a result even in its final report it held that only Nalavya was culpable for the letter.

Within hours after the bodies arrived in Sola civil hospital Jayadeep Patel, by SITs own finding, was involved in organizing Naroda Gam Killings. K.N Barot the inspector of Ahmedabad’s Bapunagar police stations in his affidavit filed in 2002 before the Nanavati Commission said “when the dead bodies of the hindus killed in godhra had been brought to Ahmedabad Communal passions were inflamed and huge number of people started pouring out like ants on the streets to vent out their anger”.

“Awfully busy” to ignore a massacre!

The first massacre post godhra happened in Gulberg society where former Congress MP Eshan Jafri was hacked to death in the most brutal way along with 69 others. In the nearby district of Naroda more than 100 were killed. All this happened on Feb 28th, the very next day of the Godhra train burning, the day when VHP had called for a bandh. SIT questioned Modi regarding the delayed response these two incidents he claimed that he came to know about the attacks only in the review meeting which he had in the night.

Mitta in his book brings out the exact timeline of events on 28th Feb 2002 which shows how Modi has blatantly lied to the SIT.

11:00 AM: Senior Police office P.B.Gondia reaches Gulberg society
11:30 AM : Joint Commissioner Tandon visits Gulberg society and tear gas shells are used to disperse a mob of 1000 Hindu rioters and goes to Naroda patiya
12:20 pm : Police control room receive message asking for reinforcements as the mob has grown to 10,000.
12:30 pm : Tandon reaches Naroda Patiya and sees the situation tense between Hindus and Muslims. Taking consent from commissioner P.C.Pande imposes curfew in Naroda police station jurisdiction
1 pm : Modi holds a review meeting Gandhinagar
2:05 pm : Tandon asks for reinforcements stating that Jafri and his neighbours have been surrounded
2:14 pm: Erda a police officer on spot send a message to control room stating that the mob is going to set fire to the entire society
2:20 pm: P.B Gondia flees from Naroda Patiya to a less critical area.
2:45 pm: Erda tells the control room the Mob has surrounded the police also
3:16 pm: Ahmedabad police commissioner P.C.Pande sends instructions asking senior office P.B.Gondia to go to Gulberg society
3:45 pm: Eshan jaffri is killed along with other Muslims in the Gulberg society
4:00 pm: Modi holds a law and order review meeting in Circuit house annexure in Ahmedabad. Tandon arrives at Gulberg society and orders firing.
4:05 pm: P.B Gondia reaches Gulberg society
4:30 pm: Modi holds press conference
6:00 pm: Modi records his peace appeal for Doordarshan. Sometime after 6:00 PM massacre in Naroda Patiya happens.
8:30 pm: Modi holds a meeting after reaching his home in Gandhinagar

When the escalation of violence has happened in the morning itself Modi wanted the SIT to believe that the information was not shared during the 1:00 PM meeting with him. And the SIT actually believed this! If at all what Modi claims is true then he himself should have held the officers responsible for not passing on the right information. The SIT accepted Modi’s reply at face value and did not further interrogate him on this. It further added in its report that Modi visited the riot hit areas only after five days as he was “awfully busy”!! Had the SIT dealt with the facts right, as Mitta points out “The unexplained incongruities in Modi’s account would have lent credence to Zakia Jafri’s allegation that he was complicit in the massacres of Muslims”.

The most absurd of all was when SIT investigated Zakia Jafri’s allegation that Modi in a closed room meeting asked the police officers to vent out their anger. The SIT exonerated Modi of this charge in its 2010 report saying that there was no reliable material available to prove this allegation. Ramachandran, the amicus curiae however disagreed with SIT on this and recommended further investigation to be done under CrPC. The SIT in response said “Even if such allegation (against Modi) are believed for the sake of argument mere statement of alleged words in the four walls of a room does not constitute any offence”. Such is the impunity that Mass murders enjoy in a nation where an innocent teenager can be convicted for allegedly buying a battery (Perarivalan) that was allegedly used in the bomb (that killed Rajiv Gandhi) and kept in waiting for more than 2 decades for his mercy petition to be replied with a noose hanging above his head.

The only time SIT came close to indicting Modi was when it was investigating the Becharji speech during his Gaurav Yatra where he blamed that Muslims were procreating in relief camps and alleged that the Muslims were coming in the way of progress because of their “ame paanch amara pachees” (we are five and we have twenty-five) way of life. When Modi was questioned about it he denied the allegation that his speech was not towards any religious group. The SIT conceded that Modi’s explanation was unconvincing in its 2010 report. But however in its 2012 report it exonerated him of this charge also without giving any reason.

Who is to be blamed?

“The integrity of fact-finding” Mitta writes “hinges on a deceptively simple factor: The nature of the questions that have been put or not put”. And Mitta observers that in this case the right questions were not put because the composition of SIT was flawed from the right beginning. Two other officers originally appointed to the SIT, Geeta Johri and Sivanand Jha were also removed in April 2010. Geeta Johri was accused in Sohrabuddin fake encounter case and Jha came under the scanner of SIT for the Gulberg massacre case. In Feb 2010 R.K.Shah the SITs public prosecutor quit the post citing the reluctance of SIT to provide him material during the trial. Mitta however weighs the appointment of R.K.Ragavan as the head of SIT as an important reason for the SIT’s failure as he was indicted in the past when he was entrusted with the task of ensuring security to the meeting of Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudhur before his assassination by a suicide bomber. But the SIT had failed to indict Modi inspite of the monitoring by amicus curiae appointed by Supreme Court. So laying all the blame for the failure of SIT on a single person does not reveal the real face of the system.

If it’s a matter of right questions, then who decides the set of right questions that has to be asked? If its left solely to the discretion of the officials who are appointed by the state, whose behavior change under changing circumstances of government, as Mitta cites, then such miscarriages of justice is bound to happen in future also. Nothing less than a open democratic process under public scrutiny can ensure justice for such horrendous State organized crime against humanity.

None the less the book comes at a right time with a wealth of information when Modi led BJP is being propelled by backing from major corporate funding to win the General Elections. The book also draws interesting corollaries with the 1984 riots highlighting the impunity enjoyed by the political class of this country irrespective of belonging to “opportunistically communal Congress or ideologically communal BJP”.

“my question is” Arnab Goswami asked the same question more than once to Rahul in the same interview “do you acknowledge the role of Congress men in the 1984 riots because there must be justice”. When speaking of the 1984 Riots corporate media speaks about the Congress party and when it comes to Gujarat riots it speaks of Narendra Modi in isolation. The Media doesn’t speak of involvement of BJP as a party, despite the fact that Maya Kodani, a sitting MP was sentenced to imprisonment of 28 years and was named the “kingpin of the Naroda Patiya massacare” or the role of BJP’s ideological partner RSS and its affiliated Sangh outfits in the riots. It is not about defending Congress, but to point out how the corporate media subtly lays its bias towards BJP.

In a six part BBC documentary movie “Nazi’s a warning from history” an ex-nazi describes the circumstances for the rise of Hitler as follows “It was really a (economic) collapse. People said it can’t go like this. Then the debate began about the need for a strong man. And the call for the strong man became louder and louder”. Capitalism is facing its worst crisis on a global scale that has affected India as well and the voices for a strong man are being heard again, this time in India. Are the warnings being ignored?

Arun Kali Raja