Unraveling the Truth: Gujarat Carnage 2002

Dr. Ram Puniyani
Communal violence has been the major painful sour of our body politic. While the post-Partition violence shook the nation no end it also resulted in the biggest ever mass migrations in the World. That was not the end of the story as far as divisive violence is concerned. It resurfaced, and went on intensifying more so after the decade of 1980s when Ram Temple movement started deepening the emotions of a section of society. There was a parallel rise of the temple movement on one side and the rising degree of communal violence on the other. In the series of these ghastly episodes, which shattered the fabric of the nation seriously, one such was the Gujarat carnage of 2002. This carnage was orchestrated on the pretext of Godhra train burning. The real truth of train burning is still mired in lots of mysteries. It led to the death of 58 innocent lives, those of Kar Sevaks and their families. At this point it was the duty of the state, the ruling Government, the state administration to undertake the damage control exercise and limit the future losses of lives and property.
Contrary to this there are reports that in the aftermath of the train burning, a meeting was called on the same evening by Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He is alleged to have told the officials to go soft against the possible reaction to the train burning. This was stated by Sanjeev Bhat, the police officer, who was present in the meeting. Justice Suresh who was part of the Citizens tribunal to investigate Gujarat violence also confirmed that such a thing was said in the meeting. Now it seems to be reconfirmed yet again with what is there in the autobiography of Lt. General Zameeruddin Shah (The Sarkari Musalman), which was released on 13th October by the ex-Vice President of India Dr. Haamid Ansari.
Shah in his memoirs states that he got instruction from General Padmanabhan, the then Chief of General Staff, to leave for Ahmadabad on 28th itself. As he was landing in Ahmadabad, he could see the burning city. As he landed he inquired on the attending officer about transport vehicles and other logistical support for army to intervene to stop the violence. On having received negative answer, Shah went straight to the residence of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, where, the then defense minister George Fernandez was also present. He repeated the request to the Chief Minster. Army Jawans reached Ahmadabad by morning of 1st March. For one full day when the city was burning; the army kept camping on the airstrip as transport and other logistics was not provided. This seems to confirm what Justice Suresh commented as the member of Citizens tribunal.
Shah also observes that once provided with support; army brought the mayhem under control in two days time. In India where this communal sore has been festering; the question always comes up as to why the violence goes on and on? How come it is not brought under quick control? One of the retired DGP’s, Dr. Vibhuti Narain Rai, conducted a path breaking study on the issue. As per this study, ‘Combating Communal Conflicts’, no violence can go on beyond 24 hours unless the state administration is complicit in it. His observations also relates to biased nature of our police machinery, which comes out well in Shah’s book also. SIT records that there was no delay in deploying the armed forces. The SIT did not approach army for its testimony on the matter. Shah says that he was unaware of SIT and that what SIT is saying is a lie. Shah affirms that what he is telling is the Gospel truth; it is part of ‘After Action Taken’ report, which he had submitted to General Padmnabhan. It is also recorded in the military ‘war diaries’, which will be provided when the time comes.
As such there is also an impression that SIT gave a clean chit to Modi. It’s not true. On one hand the Court appointed amicus curiae Raju Ramchandran in his report to the Apex Court on SIT report, had stated that there is enough in the SIT report to prosecute Modi. SIT did say that there is no prosecutable case against Modi, still while saying so SIT also observed that Modi had communal mindset, Modi could visit Godhra which was 300 KM away but did not go to any refugee camp right within the city till much later when Mr. Vajpayee came to visit Juhapura camp. SIT observed that the decision to hand over bodies of Godhra tragedy to Jaideep Patel of VHP was harmful. The SIT also recorded Sanjeev Bhat’s attending the meeting where administration was told to go slow and finally SIT does criticize the transfer and prosecution of upright police officers like R B Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma, Himanshu Bhat and Samiullah Ansari, who were penalized by Modi regime.
The Tehelka Stings on Babu Bajrangi, who is in jail for his role in the Gujarat carnage, had stated that Modi had given them three days to do whatever they wanted to do. Shah reconfirms the tragedy of communal violence is multifactorial. How delay in army deployment for a day gives the signals to the rioters to carry on with mayhem cannot be under emphasized. This also shows how decisions of those in power affect the lives and property of society in an adverse way. And finally the communal mindset of our police machinery needs to be tackled, it’s overdue.
It’s time we as a society learn from the pangs of past, as recalled by the likes of Lt General Zameeruddin. His other experiences are also very instructive. Aspersions were cast on him to be assigned for controlling violence despite our army being the institution least affected by communal virus. A lot to learn and set right from the memoirs of an upright officer!