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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT

Bannerjee report on Godhra

By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Milli Gazette Online

The Sangh Parivar is understandably upset at the U. C. Banerjee inquiry committee Report on the Godhra train burning incident. The subsequent Gujarat carnage was justified by the Sangh Parivar solely on the basis of this incident describing it as a conspiracy by Muslims of Godhra with involvement of ISI of Pakistan. Even the BJP Prime Minister Shri A. B. Vajpayee justified the Gujarat carnage saying that the Muslims of India did not 'condemn it enough' and hence this carnage took place. Mr. L. K. Advani had similarly justified the Bombay riots of 1992-93 saying that "Hindus were anguished" by burning of few Hindus at Jogeshwari. Subsequently the Supreme Court discharged all the accused in the Jogeshwari incident. But the Sangh Parivar took the law into its own hand and perpetrated communal violence in Mumbai in 1992-93. 

In case of Godhra too, before the truth was out, within 24 hours communal carnage started in other parts of Gujarat in which more than two thousand citizens were butchered or burnt alive most brutally. Without any preliminary inquiry, Narendra Modi and his cohorts drew definite conclusions and, before any one could know what had happened, started the butchery. Narendra Modi propounded theory of action and reaction referring to Newton's theory. 

Now that Banerjee Committee, appointed by Lalu Prasad Yadav as Railway Minister, has come to conclusion that the fire probably started by cooking from inside, the Sangh Parivar is denouncing it as a 'political act' as if their theory of conspiracy was established beyond any ken of doubt. More than hundred persons (135 persons) were accused of pre-planned terrorist attack by one community. Ten charge sheets have already been filed. 

The conspiracy theory has several loopholes. How did the conspirators know that there were Karsevaks on Sabarmati Express? The train was also running more than four hours late. And as for Karsevaks being on the train, inquiries show that even RAW, L. B. and Railway Police did not know anything about it. In fact Karsevaks were scheduled to return a day earlier but were delayed by a day. How could the conspirators know that Karsevaks were on the train that day? They could not know more than government intelligence agencies. Even if they did, delay of more than four hours could have upset their plans. In such matters even minutes matter, let alone hours. 

Even pulling the chain, cross examination in the court clearly brings out, was not the handiwork of Muslims, the chain was pulled by Karsevaks themselves as some Karsevaks chasing the vendors on Godhra railway platform were left out when the train moved. They pulled the chain twice. The conspiracy theory maintains that the accused had pulled the chain, stopped the train to carry petrol or inflammable liquid into S-6, and set fire. The forensic report also clearly states that no traces of hydrocarbon were found on the floor of S-6 compartment. That clearly means no petrol was spread on the floor of S-6 to set fire to it. However, Modi maintained that Muslims had used 140 litres of petrol. He never said what was his source of information. With so much petrol, the whole compartment would have exploded and charred completely. 

The Dy. SP, Railway also said in his statement that he did not see petrol or any other liquid being carried by anyone inside the compartment. The survivors had superficial injuries on upper part of their bodies. Had petrol been thrown on the floor and set to fire, they would have had injuries on lower parts of the body. Also, no Karsevak has admitted petrol being smuggled in and poured out on the floor 
Haribhai Joshi, an income tax officer from Ahmedabad, who was travelling in S-6 with his wife, said he saw only smoke and no fire. His wife died and he crawled out of the compartment. Though he crawled on the floor he had no burn injuries. If petrol had been thrown on the floor to set fire, Mr. Joshi could not have crawled on the floor. His wife was sitting near the window and did not come out in time and died of asphyxiation. In fact all those who died do not seem to have died of burns but of asphyxiation. 

The post-mortem reports the less said the better. Unfortunately much has not come out in the press about it. Mr. Mukul Sinha, the defence lawyer rolled out startling information in a talk recently. His information was based on cross-examination and examination of relevant documents. There are several flaws in the report. Post mortem was done before the inquest report. Inquest was done at 6.45 P. M. whereas post mortem began at 4.30 P. M. Post mortem is always followed by inquest. 

What is more important is to note that post mortem was done at railway station itself and one doctor has signed it on 14th March though it was done on 27th February. This doctor was perhaps very honest and put the date when he signed the report. Mr. Mukul Sinha concluded that perhaps post mortem was never done as there were no signs of severe burns on the bodies of the deceased. Also very few bodies actually had been identified. Most others could not be identified at all. 

The then Railway Minister Mr. Nitish Kumar obliged the BJP led Government by not holding any inquiry as long as NDA was in power. Actually inquiry should have been immediately held following the incident. It was Lalu Yadav of the UPA Government who ordered inquiry headed by U. C. Banerjee, a retired Supreme Court Judge. Justice Banerjee has concluded that the fire was result of cooking inside the compartment as some traces of grains were found inside. It is incidental spark which fell on rubber fittings causing dense smoke which later at a higher temperature turned into fire. 

It has been testified by witnesses that smoke was noticed before fire. Also, looking at the other aspect of the matter the train stopped hardly for five minutes after pulling of chain and it was physically impossible to carry out such in operation in such a short time. To carry several cans of petrol (about 60 litres as estimated by forensic experts) inside S-6 through the vestibule cutting its canvas is almost impossible. [The claim is that?] In fact they entered through S-7 and the rubber cover of that S-7 vestibule was not cut. That evidence was also sought to be destroyed. S-7 was not preserved as an evidence and was used for 7 days after the incident. In fact if the culprits had entered through S-7 cutting its canvas, how could it be used for seven days before it was grounded?

Also, the terrain was such as to make such an operation impossible. There was a deep drain between the Signal Faliah and the track and thick shrubs asking it impossible for the miscreants to cross it and enter the train. The Karsevaks were also carrying trishuls and how could they allow without resistance outsiders to enter the compartment with petrol to set fire to the compartment. 
All these factors have to be taken into account if the conspiracy theory is to be substantiated. It is unfortunate that Justice Nanavati inquiring into Gujarat communal carnage and Godhra incident has hurriedly debunked Justice Banerjee report without having any concrete evidence to support conspiracy theory. It is not becoming of a Judge inquiring into these incidents to dismiss other judge's inquiry report. He should have waited for completion of his own inquiry before making such statement. Remember he had given a statement absolving the police from its role in Gujarat riots before he started the inquiry. It was only after public hue and cry that he took back his statement. 

This clearly shows that Narendra Modi has appointed a Judge with careful consideration to obtain the result he wants. For Sangh Parivar minorities are always to be blamed and for this there is no need for any judicial inquiry. It is a forgone conclusion for them that Muslims are violent and any violent incident should be blamed on them. That also gives them opportunity to seek revenge and kill them ruthlessly. Even the person of the stature of the Prime Minister also could not refrain from making provocative statement like who set fire to the train in Goa in 2002. When he said this and that Muslims did not condemn the Godhra incident enough he clearly took it for granted that Muslims from Signal Faliah were real culprits and had hatched the conspiracy to set S-6 ablaze. It is highly regretted that the Prime Minister of the country could become so blatantly partisan for his party totally forgetting his constitutional duties. 

Of course Banerjee Committee's report is still not final as many police officials avoided appearing before it perhaps to conceal the real truth. It is being said that Government is thinking of giving it the status of a commission under the Inquiry Commission's Act so that justice Banerjee could summon the police officials and other witnesses. If that happens it would be possible to know the truth, which was sought to be suppressed so far by those who were waiting for an opportunity to fan fires of communal violence. It is highly necessary that truth be known, not for seeking revenge but to avoid such incidents in future and keeping the communal zealots under check. 

As for the charge that Lalu Prasad Yadav is using it for election purposes let those who are making this charge against him [not] forget that Narnedra Modi had exploited the Godhra incident blatantly for his election campaign in December 2002 and he had not hesitated to carry dead bodies of unfortunate victims of Godhra incident in procession in Ahmedabad to ignite communal fires. Now the Chief Election Commissioner is objecting to such use of the Banerjee Committee Report but why the Election Commission allowed Narendra Modi to exploit the Godhra incident for is election purposes? It is for the Election Commission to clarify this issue. Of course ideally no one should exploit such issues for electoral purposes. But then who will throw the first stone? 

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