"It (burning of the Sabarmati Express) was a pre-planned act. The culprits will have to pay for it. It was not communal violence. It was a violent, one-sided, collective act by only one community."
- Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, in a press statement made during his visit to Godhra on February 27, 2002. few hours after the tragedy.
After Narendra Modi pronounced this verdict, the Godhra incident was used to carry out a retaliatory pogrom, in which more than 1,000 people were killed. Modi then manipulated the public sympathy and sense of insecurity generated in the post-Godhra phase and was able to win two State Assembly elections.
The Police in Gujarat from the day of the incident was trying their best to prove the Chief Minister's verdict was correct.Now the Special Court has accepted the conspiracy theory and convicted 31 people. Has justice been delivered?
At the offset it is clear that it is Narendra Modi and his party BJP which will get maximum advantage if the Godhra killings were proved to be a pre-planned attack.That is why immediately after the incident Modi,in charge of Governing the State clearly pronounced without any evidence it was pre-planned attack.
The first FIR only speaks about a mob fury and not any conspiracy,But after Modi has declared it was a conspiracy Police began to change stance. Several FIRs were made. On 3 March 2002, the stringent anti-terror law POTA was invoked and the Godhra case became an act of terrorism. But since mob fury could not be called terrorism without introducing the element of conspiracy,on 9 March, the police invoked section 120(b) of the Indian Penal Code, which pertains to criminal conspiracy.
But was there really a conspiracy?
Read here how Ashish Khetan picks apart Judge Patel’s verdict of conspiracy in this article in Tehelka.
Here are some excerpts.
What the Police claim?
On the night of 26 February 2002, two secret meetings were held at Aman Guest House near Godhra railway station. It was decided there that petrol should be bought and used the next morning to set coach S-6 of the passing Sabarmati train on fire.
Five Muslim vendors were present at the first meeting. At the second meeting, which happened after the buying of the petrol, two vendors and two Muslim corporators — Bilal Haji and Farooq Bhana — were present.
Though Maulvi Umarji himself was not present at any of these meetings, it was he who had chosen coach S-6 as a target and it was at his behest that the meetings were held and 140 litres of petrol were bought from a nearby petrol pump called Kalabhai Petrol Pump. The police claimed that two attendants from Kalabhai Petrol Pump had told them that the accused had indeed bought 140 litres of petrol.
The police also claim that the next morning, taking advantage of an altercation between karsevaks on the train and Muslim vendors on the platform, the conspirators mobilised a violent Muslim mob and used the petrol bought the previous night to set the train on fire. According to the police, though Kalota was not part of the original conspiracy, he incited the rioters to burn the train once the mob had built up.
The police also claim that the Muslim conspirators forced a Hindu tea vendor to help them burn the train. Ajay Kanu Baria claimed that on the morning of 27 February 2002, just after the arrival of the Sabarmati Express, nine Muslim hawkers whom he knew since they all sold wares at Godhra station, forcibly took him to the house of Razzak Kurkur, the owner of Aman Guest House. Once there, the nine went inside Kurkur’s house and brought out carboys filled with ‘kerosene’ (he doesn’t specify the number of carboys and he specifically uses the word kerosene). One of the hawkers, he said, then forced him to load a carboy onto a rickshaw while the other hawkers loaded the rest.
The prosecution’s conspiracy theory against Godhra Muslims rested primarily on five sets of witnesses
1. Nine BJPmen who claimed to be eyewitnesses to the carnage
These men accused 41 Muslims who spent nine years in jail. A TEHELKA sting caught two of these BJP men admitting on camera they were actually at home that day and the police fabricated their statements. They went along to “serve the cause of Hindutva”. The judge has now discarded all nine testimonies
2. Ajay Baria, a Hindu vendor, forced into the plot; saw it all
Judge Patel has relied hugely on Baria’s account. But why would Muslim conspirators pick a Hindu man at the last minute to help load the petrol and burn the train? TEHELKA tried to track him but failed. His mother said he had been coerced into becoming a police witness and lived under constant police surveillance.
3. Two petrol pump attendants who claim they sold 140 litres of fuel to some Muslims on 26 Feb
Ranjitsinh and Pratapsinh Patel had first told the police that they had not sold any loose petrol that crucial night. In a shocking turnaround, six months later, they changed their version. However, TEHELKA caught Ranjitsinh admitting on camera that he and Pratap had been bribed Rs. 50,000 by police officer Noel Parmar to do that. He also tutored them to identify particular Muslims in court as being the buyers
4. Jabir Bahera, a petty criminal, who first named Maulvi Umarji as a mastermind
Bahera claimed it was UmarjiUmarji was not at any conspiracy meetings. He later retracted everything
5. Sikandar Siddique, another petty criminal, said he had pulled the chain the second time
Siddique is an obvious unreliable witness. Besides Umarji, he had said Maulvi Punjabi had incited the mob. But Punjabi was not even in the country that day
The main questions raised by the defence were:
There was no reason why the accused would specifically target coach S-6. There was no material to show Maulvi Umarji had any knowledge of who was travelling on this coach, or of having any enmity with them.
. The entire train was full of karsevaks drawn from VHP and Bajrang Dal. Why would Umarji and his co-conspirators target coach S-6 alone?
. There was nothing to show that on or before 26 February 2002, there was any friction between karsevaks and Godhra Muslims grave enough to provoke premeditated carnage.
. Nothing to show that any Godhra resident was even aware that karsevaks were travelling back on this train.
. Nothing to show the altercation between tea vendors and karsevaks on February 27 or the alleged molestation of a Muslim girl were ever an element of the conspiracy.
Let me add
The Sabarmati Express was late by about 5 hours. If it came on time it would have reached Godhra around 230AM. At that time every body would have been sleeping in the train and outside. What was the conspirators original plan assuming the train is on right time? How would they be able to mobilise a mob at that time?
Curiously all the attack on train was from one side. Not a single stone was thrown from the other side.If it was a conspiracy one expects attackers to surround the train from both sides.
It seems that Narendra Modi, being an opportunist and a clever/wicked politician as he is,used the horrific burning of 59 people in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on 27 February 2002 by a Muslim mob to his and his Party's advantage.By reiterating the Godhra incident was a pre-planned attack [before any investigation] by Muslims on Hindus, he set the tone for the carnage in Gujarat which resulted in deaths of more than 1000 people. By further dividing the Gujarat society on religious grounds he ensured his election victory.
Using his loyal followers in Gujarat Police he must have tried to and succeeded in manufacturing evidences and even some verdicts so as to further malign the name of Muslims and to ensure that he remain in power.
There is no doubt that the culprits who formed the Muslim mob who attacked and burned the train and killed the Hindu Karsevaks should be given the harshest punishment possible.But that do not mean that there should be a Government led conspiracy to manufacture evidences and witnesses so that whole Muslim community of an area could be painted as enemy of the State.Such an attempt may give you some short term gains as votes but the long term consequences for the Country will be disastrous.