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Published in the 16-30 Jun 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Laloo goes full-steam ahead
By Sanjay Kapoor

Newly-instituted Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, the mercurial chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), insists that he will only start work in his ministry after he receives the file on the fire that engulfed the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002. The Godhra conflagration sparked off an unprecedented pogrom in Gujarat that left more than 3,000 people - mostly Muslims - brutally dead.

Who really burnt Coach S-6: Message sent in the early hours of 27 Feb 2002 by Railways staff to the Western Railways HQ in Mumbais said that “A mob of about 4000-5000 supporters of the VHP and Bajrang Dal gathered at the spot and started pelting stones” but all this changed subsequently...

Laloo Yadav's tough stance is making some Railways officials break into a sweat. Hardnews investigations reveal, for the first time, that certain Indian Railways officials may have connived with the ruling party, till recently the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to tidy up some of the early reports sent by the Godhra railway staff to Western Railway headquarters in Mumbai.

One of the early messages received at 0905 hrs (9.05 am) on February 27, 2002 states: "On 27.02.02 at about 0742 hrs, the train no.9166 UP (Varanasi-Ahmedabad) Sabarmati Express arrived at Godhara Railway station. Some passengers of the train (supporters of VHP) shouting slogans of "Jai Shree Ram" started beating two bearded men. A mob of about 4000-5000 supporters of the VHP and Bajrang Dal gathered at the spot and started pelting stones. The mob set three general coaches of the train on fire. City Police, GRP and RPF Godhra attended the spot at 0835 hrs and tried to pacify disperse the mob…"

Thereafter, a team of senior Railways officials was sent to Godhra. The subsequent report on the incident had no mention of the role played by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal members. Interestingly enough, parts of this sanitised report were used during the Parliamentary debate by the then railways minister, the Samata Party's Nitish Kumar.

What is also intriguing is that, for quite a while, the Railways authorities were unwilling to give the details of all passengers who travelled in the Sabarmati Express that fateful day. It was only after an exposé by this reporter that they decided to make the details public. The curious thing about this passenger list was that there were six empty berths in coach S 6, which was actually supposed to have been packed to the seams with participants of the Bajrang Dal rally. Only six people from the reserved list had died - and all of them were between seat numbers 18 and 24. The rest who perished were travelling on unreserved tickets.

Railways ministry insiders reveal that in an attempt to curry favour with the BJP bosses, the Railways top brass played dirty to make things look clean. To ensure that no one blew the whistle on the murky happenings and that the truth was not leaked to the news-hungry media, the home ministry parked a number of Intelligence Bureau (IB) sleuths to keep tabs on people who met officials who were aware of what really happened. If Laloo succeeds in getting hold of all the uncensored material on the Godhra incident, hats off to him.
Look at it this way: it takes a politician to catch a politician. (Hardnews - reproduced with permission)

See also Laloo Yadav examining Godhra files

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