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Unclouded by prejudices

A verdict that delinks ‘Godhra’ from ‘Gujarat’ and exorcises politics from a heinous crime.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2011 21:22 IST

It must have been a rare occasion when the nation, on Tuesday, focused on the terrible Godhra ‘incident’ without immediately hitching it to its bloodier aftermath. The case before the sessions court at Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Central Jail was to determine whether the death of 59 passengers travelling in the ill-fated Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002, was caused by a violent mob of conspirators or by ‘accident’. With the conviction of 31 people for ‘criminal conspiracy’, the verdict is that Godhra was no accident. In the scheme of things that took place in February-March 2002 in Gujarat, it is indeed difficult to not see Godhra as a simple ‘cause’ leading to the ‘effect’ of independent India’s bloodiest riots. This hyphenation has not only allowed politics to muddy any unbiased investigation into the case, but it turned the whole discourse into a Godhra-Gujarat ideological see-saw. This, at the cost of finding out what really happened and bringing the guilty to justice. With Tuesday’s verdict, reason unclouded by politics reigned.

The court verdict will be challenged in a higher court. One expects the political class to allow the judiciary to do its job now without interference. As an emotive issue, Godhra-Gujarat is well past its expiry date. After the carnage, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi queered the pitch by stating that the Godhra deaths were caused by a “pre-planned” attack even before any investigation was underway. Prime Minister AB Vajpayee went on to publicly ask why Gujarat’s Muslims had not condemned the attack. The politicisation of a tragedy was made more ‘representative’ when the UC Banerjee Commission, formed by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Prasad, tabled its report just before the 2005 Bihar elections, insisting that the train fire was “accidental”. It was left to the Gujarat high court in 2006 to rule the Banerjee report as being “opposed to the prima facie accepted facts on record”. Two years later, the Godhra Commission stated that there was a mob attack, which Tuesday’s verdict confirms.

But Godhra is no ordinary case of rioting. Apart from being a spark that led to a wildfire, it also saw the law being bent to a communal tune. Many suspects were picked up and arrested simply because of their names. Which is why Tuesday’s verdict is as important for the 63 acquitted as it is for the 31 convicted. Perhaps, even more.