Journalist Manoj Mitta’s investigative book, The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, deserves more than just a book review. The author has clinically revealed the convoluted process through which Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian state of Gujarat was declared to have not been culpable in the communal riots of 2002.
Modi is now the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in India’s general elections. To prove that the fact-finding in the 2002 riots was a sham is tantamount to expressing deep worry about Modi’s style of governance and suitability for the post he covets.
This is why the media’s silence on Mitta’s charges is inexplicable. Shouldn’t it have been questioning the clean chit given to Modi by none less than the Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT)? Should it not be asking the man who chaired the SIT, RK Raghavan, to account for his pronouncements? These questions haven’t been asked even by The Times of India, where Mitta works as a senior editor.
To begin with, Mitta questions the suitability of appointing Raghavan as SIT chairman. Reason: Raghavan was responsible for the security at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, where former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed. An inquiry commission disbelieved Raghavan’s affidavit, which claimed Gandhi had beckoned a group people to come near him, thus allowing the LTTE suicide bomber to slip into the sterile zone.
Raghavan’s ‘beckoning’ theory was dismissed because photographs of the site, fortuitously discovered, showed the bomber had been present in the sterile zone long before Gandhi arrived there. Worse, Raghavan, wasn’t near Gandhi at the time he was killed, having ‘turned around’ to make arrangements for his return journey. He couldn’t consequently have witnessed Gandhi’s gestures. Mitta asks if it was appropriate to appoint as SIT chairman a man who tried to save his own skin through a plainly absurd story in the past, particularly as the Gujarat administration he was asked to probe was, to say the least, as guilty of dereliction of duty as he had been?
It wasn’t a surprise, therefore, that the SIT created an elaborate smokescreen to conceal Modi’s controversial role in the 2002 riots. Thus, when Modi claimed he had described the burning of a train coach by Muslims on 27 February as only a pre-planned conspiracy, the SIT didn’t confront him with the official press release which quoted him saying that it was a “pre-planned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism”. His characterization of Godhra as an act of terror, as is well known, provoked the Hindu backlash.
Again, Modi told the SIT that he came to know of the massacre at the Gulberg Society, a Muslim residential complex where former MP Ehsan Jafri was brutally killed, five hours after its occurrence. However, Mitta says Modi’s claim is highly improbable given that the state’s top police brass knew of the tragedy unfolding nearby. Really, how could they have not communicated to the chief minister the massacres in the city?
In a damning chapter, Shifting Bodies, Shifting Facts, Mitta demonstrates how the SIT strained itself to ensure Modi wasn’t linked to the contentious decision to hand over the bodies burnt in the Godhra train fire to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Jaydeep Patel and bring them to Ahmedabad for cremation. Unfortunately for the SIT, this decision had been recorded in a letter issued by the revenue officer of Godhra to Patel. The question to ask was: could a junior officer have given the custody of the bodies to a non-government person without instructions from a person high in the administrative hierarchy?
No, thought Raju Ramachandran, who was an amicus curiae in the cases the SIT was investigating. The SIT thought otherwise, prompting Mitta to note, ‘The SIT’s exoneration of Modi owed much to its reluctance to link the dots and get the big picture of Gujarat as it stood on the eve of the post-Godhra carnage …’
Ramachandran wanted the SIT to further investigate Modi, but it balked at calling the chief minister afresh. The contradictions between Modi’s replies and the evidence collected as well as narratives of other eyewitnesses were not explained. Modi’s answers were simply accepted as true. The book is full of hitherto unknown stories about investigations into the 2002 riots which provide an extraordinary rich material for the Indian media to report and debate. Are we then to assume that the media, including The Times of India, is either too apprehensive of writing against Modi or has decided to back his prime ministerial ambitions? Either way, Mitta names and shames them all.
This article first appeared in Nepali Times, a leading publication of Nepal. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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