Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s allegation that the NHRC was biased against his government during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots — revealed in the leaked WikiLeak cables on Tuesday — drew a sharp rebuttal from the panel’s chief during the period.
Former chief justice of India JS Verma, who was the NHRC chairman when the riots took place, said Modi’s statement was “pure rhetoric which lacked factual basis”.
“The gentleman (Modi) certainly does not know about the facts. It was mainly due to the credibility of the NHRC report on riots that international organisations including the United Nations did not interfere,” Justice Verma said.
“The reports were based on my personal eye-witness account of Gujarat in March 2002 and not on any hearsay.”
American diplomat Michael S. Owen, following his meeting with Modi in November 2006, sent a cable to Washington in which he pointed out that the chief minister was annoyed at the mention of the 2002 communal riots in the state.
On being told by Owen that the NHRC report had cited the Gujarat government’s failure to prevent violence during the riots, “Modi grumbled that the NHRC was biased and its reports wildly inaccurate”, the cables say quoting the diplomat.
On Tuesday, an upbeat Modi, following the WikiLeak cables having described him as being successful in branding himself as a non-corrupt and effective administrator, said “America should not give us advice on human rights.”
Justice Verma, however, was unsparing in his criticism of the Modi government’s role during the riots. “There were allegations of inaction and complicity against the state government and their answers in response to the NHRC queries were unsatisfactory.”
The two NHRC orders in April and May 2002 formed the basis for the Supreme Court to take up the cause of the victims. “The results are before everyone to see,” the former CJI said.
Justice Verma said, shortly after the preparation of the two reports, he attended a UN conference on human rights. “The then UN high commissioner for human rights ...told me that she had decided against any intervention in Gujarat since the NHRC reports were impartial and fair,” he said.
“Right from then PM Vajpayee, none of the top leaders or jurists ever raised apprehensions on the NHRC role during the riots, such unfounded statements were certainly avoidable.”