The findings of the GT Nanavati Commission Report into the Godhra incident on February 27, 2002 are essentially a weak attempt to absolve Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar from the responsibility of engineering riots in the aftermath of the fire in Sabramati Express. The timing of the report’s submission, which seeks to show that the fire was a result of a pre-planned conspiracy to target kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, leaves several doubts in the mind. The timing coincides with a conscious effort being made by a section of the BJP to project Modi, accused of mass murders by his opponents, on the national stage.
Propounding the conspiracy theory six-and-a-half years and several extensions after the incident took place is in total variance with the findings of another Supreme Court Judge, UC Banerjee who had concluded that the fire was accidental. What is most alarming is that the rumours that were spread in the wake of the Godhra train tragedy led to the worst riots in the state conducted by lumpen elements of the Parivar and supported by the state police.
Several questions are bound to be asked after the release of the report as it has failed to answer many questions. Further, it is being argued that no commission can submit its report in parts and, therefore, the presentation of the report in the Gujarat Assembly itself lacks legal sanction. Second, there are allegations that Justice Nanawati’s son, Maulik, was appointed as the standing counsel of the Gujarat government by Modi. This itself raises several questions about legal ethics and whether the judge should have been on the panel if the charge is correct.
There are several other factors that show that the ‘clean chit’ and the ‘conspiracy’ theory are bunkum. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on his visit to the state in early April 2002, had advised Modi to observe the tenets of governance (“Raj dharma”). He was sure that something wrong had happened and even wanted the CM to be removed. But at the BJP meeting in Goa in mid-April, the younger leaders, along with Advani, helped bail out the CM and Vajpayee did his infamous ‘flip-flop’.
What nails the lie in the report are the sworn testimonies of three IPS officers before the Banerjee Commission: Raju Bhargava, SSP, Panchmahal, RV Sreekumar, then Additional DGP, state IB, and Rahul Sharma, DCP, Control Room, Ahmedabad. Bhargava and Sreekumar had said the state CID had no information about the return of the kar sevaks by the Sabarmati Express on February 27. The departure of the sevaks had been recorded, but no information on their return was available with the state police. When the CID did not have information, how could common people accused of burning the train know that kar sevaks were on board?
Second, the local units of the VHP had provided certain phone numbers in Pakistan from where calls are believed to have been made or where the calls were made on cell phones by some of those arrested. Rahul Sharma, while examining the records, did not find any such communication activity between Godhra and Pakistan.
The fire had broken out in coach S-6 where 59 of the 200 passengers died. On the basis of meticulously kept railway records, it was established that the fire broke out at 7.55 am — not at 8.20 am as stated by the local police. Those familiar with train travel will concede that no coach can be locked from outside except by a key that is with the guard. Also, the hurry with which coach S-7 was disposed of prevented forensics from examining the vestibule connecting it with S-6 to ascertain the truth in the ‘petrol-pouring’ theory.
There are several other loopholes and the Americans are no fools to have repeatedly refused to give a US visa to Modi. Justice Nanavati has let down not only the judiciary but also the people of India in concealing the truth. Between us.