Godhra Verdict: whither Justice?
On 22nd February 2011, the session’s court gave its verdict on Godhra train burning of Sabarmati Express. It accepted the Gujarat state’s theory that the local Muslims had hatched a conspiracy to burn S-6 Coach of Sabaramati Express. At the same time, of the 94 people being tried for this crime 63 were exonerated of the crime and 31 were held “guilty” of planning to burn the Kar Sevaks. This conspiracy theory was initially put forward by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who within half an hour of the burning of the train came to this conclusion. He had gone on to say that the conspiracy has been hatched by international terrorism, in collusion with the local Muslims through Pakistan’s ISI. At that time the Godhra collector Jayanti Ravi had ruled out the conspiracy theory.
In such ghastly Railway accidents it is mandatory to investigate them but the Railway Ministry sat quiet, as the then Raliway Minister Niteesh Kumar was part of BJP led NDA Government. This conspiracy theory was given wide currency and was used as a sort of justification for the post Godhra anti Muslim pogrom. The NDA Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee went on to say, Gujarat happened because Godhra took place. UP Chief Minister Mayawati, who was then an ally of BJP, campaigned for Modi and in response to the question about Gujarat carnage, said that there was Godhra also! Later with change of Government Lalu Prasad Yadav who became Railways minister in UPA Government, initiated the much delayed obligation to investigate every major railway accident, and instituted Bannerjee Commission. This Commission opined that there is no evidence of a conspiracy by local Muslims.
To prove that it was a conspiracy the Gujarat police investigated the case in a manner in which many witnesses were made to confess to selling 140 liters petrol, carrying the same, cutting open the vestibule between S6 and S7, pouring petrol in the S6 coach and then burning it by throwing the fire balls into the train. The present judgment accepts the conspiracy theory but finds no evidence at all against the culprit-in-Chief, the chief conspirator as per the Gujarat Government, Haji Umarji and also no evidence against other major accused! The whole judgment seems to fall flat on this ground.
The mainstay of conspiracy theory has been the selling of loose petrol, throwing burning fire balls into the train, for all this there is no eye witness, and even those who initially confessed to having sold petrol did not stand the scrutiny and one of them said that he was paid Rs 50000, like the other person who is saying that they sold loose petrol. As such there have been many loose ends in the conspiracy theory. The point that Muslims wanted to take revenge by burning Kar Sevaks does not stand the scrutiny of logic due to multiple reasons. To begin with, Muslims and also the state officials did not know that Sabarmati Express is carrying Kar Sevaks. The only people who knew that Kar Sevaks are travelling in the train were VHP people. Secondly; the train that day was late by close to five hours; normally it comes to Godhra in the midnight. In case of planned conspiracy from outside it is difficult to plan for such circumstances. Thirdly; as vestibule was being cut open, what was being done by the Railway protection force? Cutting-open the vestibule and entering it is not that easy a job. Fourthly, if windows and doors were closed how can burning fireballs enter the train? It was initially propagated that train was stopped by Muslims, but investigations show that the first stoppage of train was due to chain pulling by kar sevaks and the second due to technical failure. There is a general impression that train was locked from outside. The very simple fact that train coach cannot be locked from outside was forgotten while propagating this falsehood.
So as the matters stand there are enough grounds to doubt the theory that it was a conspiracy by Muslims. Another dimension to the whole incident has been added by the latest issue of Tehelka (March 5, 2011). Ashsih Khetan in this path breaking investigation (http://www.tehelka.com/story_main48.asp?filename=Ne050311CoverStory.asp) shows that there is no substance at all in the theory that it was a conspiracy by Muslims. In a meticulously argued expose he shows that this whole theory is not only fallacious, it distracts attention from the truth of another conspiracy which was going on. As per him it was a conspiracy yes, but not by Muslims. He points out that:
- It’s important to recall that, in its 2007 sting investigation (The Truth about Gujarat 2002),Tehelka had exposed that the nine BJP men who were cited as eyewitnesses were, in fact, not even present at the scene of crime. They had been asked to give false testimonies by the police to further the Modi government’s communal and political agenda, and they had gone along to “serve the cause of Hindutva”.
- Ajay Baria, a Hindu vendor, forced into the plot; saw it all, Judge Patel has relied hugely on Baria’s account. But why would Muslim conspirators pick a Hindu man at the last minute to help load the petrol and burn the train? Tehelka tried to track him but failed. His mother said he had been coerced into becoming a police witness and lived under constant police surveillance.
- Two petrol pump attendants who claim they sold 140 litres of fuel to some Muslims on 26 Feb, Ranjitsinh and Pratapsinh Patel had first told the police that they had not sold any loose petrol that crucial night. In a shocking turnaround, six months later, they changed their version. However, Tehelka caught Ranjitsinh admitting on camera that he and Pratap had been bribed Rs. 50,000 by police officer Noel Parmar to do that. He also tutored them to identify particular Muslims in court as being the buyers
- Jabir Bahera, a petty criminal, first named Maulvi Umarji as a mastermind. Bahera claimed it was Umarji who picked coach S-6 as the target, but also said Umarji was not present at any conspiracy meetings. He later retracted everything
- Sikandar Siddique, another petty criminal, had said Maulvi Punjabi had incited the mob. But Punjabi was not even in the country that day
Khetan’s path-breaking investigation makes it clear that the real conspiracy is not from the side of Muslims. Truth is many a times stranger than fiction. We have been made to believe for the last many years that it is Muslims who are responsible for Malegaon, Samjhauta, Ajmer and many such blasts. Those writers and social activists who doubted this police-Hindutva version of the cause of terror were totally ignored by the investigating authorities and by the big media. Their investigations did show the involvement of Hindutva elements. These writers and social activists were criticized and intimidated for being anti Hindu and anti nationals. Now as the matters stand today, thanks to Hemant Karkare’s investigations and later Swami Aseemanand’s confessions, the truth is that in all these cases of acts of terror, Hindutva groups were involved. Now by piecing together the observations from one of Godhra Collector Jayanti Ravi to the Sting operations byTehelka Khetan points out “That there was a conspiracy afoot in Gujarat those years is beyond doubt. But as this story shows, it was a conspiracy of a different kind. It was a conspiracy designed to rent the fabric of this country: a conspiracy by State machinery to blacken one community’s name. And declare them the enemy.”
In this case the nature of shoddy, biased investigation done by the police is very obvious. We do need an impartial investigation; a CBI inquiry into the whole thing is called for. We are living in strange times. The sectarianism, the politics of religious identity has overtaken the better of us. What is aggressively propagated is far from truth, and the truth remains submerged in the din of hysteria created by politics in the name of religion. Be it terrorism, be it communal violence, we need to invoke our humane, rational faculties, honesty and professionalism, overcome our biases, investigate the acts of crime properly and punish the guilty, irrespective of their religion. So many innocents have lost their lives, 59 Kar Sevaks, over 2000 innocent Muslims! We do need to reject the politics of communalism and try to follow the path of justice, the path of peace and communal amity as shown by the greatest Gujarati-Indian of all the times, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. (Issues in Secular Politics)