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Godhra: not an accidental conspiracy

Either the Nanavati Commission or the UC Banerjee Commission has got it wrong. The truth, anyone?

india Updated: Sep 26, 2008 20:25 IST

The function of a commission report is usually to shed light on contested facts. The Justice Nanavati Commission, which was instituted to probe the 2002 Sabarmati Express fire at Godhra in Gujarat, has ended up throwing more questions than answers. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that just because Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government had set up the commission, the findings are all skewed in his favour. What the Nanavati Commission findings state is that there was indeed a “conspiracy to burn coach S-6” of the ill-fated train and this was to cause “harm” to the kar sevaks inside.

This is exactly the opposite of what the Justice U.C. Banerjee Commission report had stated in 2005-06. According to that commission, the fire was “accidental”. Between these two disparate versions there is only one truth that we can confirm: 58 people were burnt to death on February 27, 2002. So, nearly six years after the tragic incident, all we have are two versions to choose from, depending on our ideological view. That doesn’t make for closure at all.

It’s one thing to look at a cloud, as Hamlet points out to Polonius, and find it shaped like a camel at one moment and then like a weasel, then like a whale at another moment. It’s quite another to make a fatal event sway between an ‘accident’ and a ‘conspiracy’. It is the pity of politics in this country that even the investigations into deaths that went on to trigger one of the most violent riots in post-Independence India are coloured by bias — perceived or real. Lalu Prasad, the then Railway Minister, had set up the Banerjee Commission whose findings left many eyebrows raised. Now it’s Mr Modi’s turn to be in the centre of public scepticism.

What happened on February 27, 2002, did happen and it can’t be both an accident and an attack. The fact that the Nanavati Commission gives a clean chit to the Modi government’s response to the post-Godhra riots, adds fuel to the speculation that the die had already been cast. But very objectively, we want to know the truth about the Godhra deaths. And it isn’t about taking sides.