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Contextualising Godhra
By M. Zeyaul Haque

The Sangh combine, within and outside government at Centre, in Gujarat and rest of India, has been insisting on Godhra being central to understanding of the Gujarat pogrom. A closer scrutiny, however, shows that the case may not be quite as simple.

M. Zeyaul HaquePrime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee speaks for the entire Sangh Parivar when he says that had there been no Godhra train attack, there would have been no Gujarat pogrom. Echoing this, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi declares grandly: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction". He goes on to elaborate upon the Newtonian idea, explaining and justifying the pogrom (which has active state support) as only a "natural" reaction to Godhra.

There is a need to put the Godhra violence in perspective here. However, it must be clarified at the outset that as Godhra does not justify Gujarat pogrom, the events leading to Godhra attack too do not justify the attack. Independent enquiries into the Gujarat pogrom and Godhra train attack nonetheless have suggested that the events leading to the attack must be put on record. If we do that, we find that both Godhra and Gujarat are part of a long sequence of events driven by the Sangh’s lawless, anarchic and dangerously divisive Ayodhya campaign.

Over the last few months, the way the Sangh had been orchestrating its campaign and the way it had been losing support all over India, made minorities, liberals, leftists and centrist worry about great trouble coming their way in near future. 

A few weeks before Godhra, Ahmedabad had an unprecedented shortage of cooking gas. Independent enquiries into the Gujarat pogrom have established that thousands of cylinders had been carted away and stored by RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal volunteers weeks ago, which they used to burn down and blow up Muslim houses. This, and many other indications, have led Indian and foreign investigators to conclude that the pogrom was pre-planned. They have pointed out that had there been no Godhra, the Sangh would have created another flash point to ignite the fuse.

Among investigating groups are Amnesty International (London), Human Rights Watch (New York), the UK high commission enquiry group, and the European Union. Among Indian groups are Sabrang (Communalism Combat people), the Independent Fact Finding Mission (Dr Kamal Mitra Chenoy, SP Shukla, KS Subramanyian, Achin Vanaik), Women’s Panel (Muslim Women’s Forum, National Alliance of Women, Sahrwarn, Accord) and CPIM-AIDWA. These are just a few of the organisational reports. Responses in writing by men of stature like Harsh Mander (senior IAS officer who has resigned from the service in disgust), VN Rai, a serving IPS officer, and Maj. Gen. (retd.) Eustace D’Souza PVSM, point towards monumental dereliction of duty on the part of the state at the Centre and in Gujarat. Worse, the Sangh-led state has openly colluded with rioters.

What we are witnessing is a Sangh-orchestrated pogrom in which every effort is being made by Sangh-led Central and Gujarat governments to provide centrality to the Godhra incident, which was as reprehensible as all the other incidents that have followed. Why the Sangh insistence on Godhra is questionable becomes evident from the following report in Jan Morcha, a Hindi daily from Faizabad (Ayodhya’s twin town), dated February 24, 2002:
This report shows that serious attempts were being made by Sangh men before the Godhra incident to spark off a massive communal flagration, for which they had prepared long in advance. The mysterious disappearance of LPG cylinders (noted by several independent observers in their reports) from Ahmedabad before the Godhra incident was only one element in the meticulous Sangh planning.

Another element was the thorough identification of Muslim homes and business premises throughout Gujarat for ethnic cleansing. The same observers have noted that many of the business which had non-Muslim, vague or general names like "Gujarat Traders" or "National Enterprises" but were owned by Muslims, were also marked. This could be done only with the help of government departments, most of which have been thoroughly communalised by the Sangh. Even the Gujarat police, in a secret circular (Ref: D.2/2, Com / Muslim / Activity 184/99 1/2-2-99) sent to "all police commissioners, all district police officers and for information Police Ahmedabad, all range IGPs, DIGPs" tried to make a one-sided dossier on Muslims, leaving aside VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal trouble makers. The circular was sent by Director of Police (Intelligence) of Gujarat. It was withdrawn only after a lot of hue and cry was made by civil society organisations against the blatant communalisation of police force.

Once the Sangh had meticulously prepared the ground for a massive communal holocaust, it tried to lit the fuse by promoting wanton lawlessness of the kind indulged in by kar sevaks frequently as reported by Jan Morcha. It is interesting to note that the incident reported by Jan Morcha too occurred in the same Sabarmati Express. The Sangh had possibly hoped that Muslims would take the bait and retaliate, which they would use as a justification for starting ethnic cleansing in Gujarat. Sadly for the Sangh, Muslims did not take the bait.

Two days later, at Godhra, kar sevaks were successful in provoking some foolish Muslims to retaliate. Independent observers recording the episode have noted that this time too the Sangh-trained kar sevaks had to work hard to provoke Muslims. Right from Faizabad, the ticketless kar sevaks had started behaving wildly, forcing the bona fide passengers to sit on the floor (of S-6 compartment of Sabarmati Express), while they themselves took over the berths illegally. If they found Muslims in the train or at platforms along the way, they made it a point to abuse and beat them. Some Muslims (with their women and children) were forced to get down from the train at night at stations they did not even know.

When the train reached Godhra in the morning, some kar sevaks bought tea from a Muslim vendor and refused to pay. Incidentally, this has been the standard kar sevak behaviour since 1992. For demanding payment, the vendor was abused and beaten up, and his beard pulled. In the melee, they grabbed a young Muslim woman and began to drag her towards the S-6 compartment. Somehow, the girl was snatched back by the Muslims. (Press persons were later able to identify and meet the woman). On hearing of this unexpected assault, Muslims gathered at the platform and began to stone the S-6 compartment (Godhra has a 50 percent Muslim population). Soon the train started to move, but somebody pulled the alarm chain at Signal Faliya, a Muslim locality close to the station. Some kar sevaks got down and tried to attack the Faliya mosque. Others took off their pants and showed their genitals to Muslim men and women in Signal Faliya. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and a couple of compartments were set on fire. S-6 was badly damaged, and 58 passengers died a horrible death. Most of the kar sevaks escaped. Innocent women and children died instead. ( This account has been constructed from the independent enquiries mentioned earlier in this article.)

Once the trouble started, it was Sangh’s victory all the way. Just to ensure complete success VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres prevented fire tenders from coming to Signal Falia and extinguish the fire, as per some of these reports. Form there onwards, government ministers (including the CM) were busy overtime implementing the Sangh project of ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, they tried to suggest that all this was the handiwork of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Independent observers have not found any substance in these remarks which echoed the earlier utterances of Sangh leaders. (After demolishing the Babri Masjid, Sangh spokesmen went on claiming for years that the mosque was demolished by the ISI.)

In Godhra, ISI agents were difficult to find, except, of course, unless one treated the kar sevaks themselves as ISI agents. Once one looks at the sequence of events, one finds it very difficult to treat Godhra as central to everything. What emerges instead is a picture in which Godhra is a part of a chain of Sangh-orchestrated events of hooliganism and lawlessness rather than a stand-alone incident as claimed by Sangh people in and outside government. 

The most tragic part of it is that some people still hope that Sangh leaders in government at Delhi and Ahmedabad would try to extinguish the fire. They would not, because they stand to gain from genocide and anarchy. By sparking off a similar chain of events in 1992, they came to power in Delhi, climbing over a pile of dead citizens of India. 

The Sangh hate campaign, which began in 1984, continues unabated. It is this campaign that has pushed BJP strength in parliament from two to 181. They are not going to easily give up their divisive project in Gujarat or elsewhere. In short, it is not Godhra at which one has to look to understand what is happening in Gujarat today, but at Sangh’s lust for power and its willingness to break law at every step.

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