THE TRUTH ABOUT THE GODHRA SIT REPORT
Narendra Modi is the first sitting CM to be interrogated for his role in a communal massacre. Smooth, evasive, his answers — accessed exclusively by Ashish Khetan — give fascinating insights into the ‘Iron Man’ of Gujarat
AT AROUND 9 am on 28 March 2010, Chief Minister Narendra Modi walked into the SIT office in Gandhinagar, waving at the assembled television crews. The interrogation that followed makes for fascinating insight into the ‘iron man’ of Gujarat.
“Please see the text of the public speech delivered by you at Becharji, Mehsana district, on 9 September, 2002, as a part of your Gaurav Yatra,” said inquiry officer AK Malhotra, as he placed the text of one of Modi’s many inflammatory speeches on the table.
“What brothers, should we run relief camps? Should I start children-producing centres? We want to achieve progress by pursuing the policy of family planning. We are five, they have 25! Can’t Gujarat implement family planning? Whose inhibitions are coming in our way? Which religious sect is coming in the way? Why is money not reaching the poor? If some people go on producing children, their children will do cycle puncture repair only.” This is what Modi had said in the middle of his poll campaign cynically dubbed Gaurav Yatra in September 2002.
“Did these remarks refer to Muslims?” asked Malhotra.
Modi replied, “This speech does not refer to any particular community or religion. This was a political speech, in which I tried to point out the increasing population of India.” He added, “My speech had been distorted by some interested elements who had misinterpreted it to suit their designs. It may be mentioned here that no riots or tension took place after my election speech.”
Malhotra found it difficult to buy Modi’s explanation. In his report he wrote, “The explanation given by Modi is unconvincing and it definitely hinted at the growing minority population.”
As the interrogation progressed, Modi seems to have pulled every trick in the book: selective facts, evasion, amnesia, outright lies and rhetoric.
“Please refer to your interview given to Sudhir Choudhary of Zee TV on 1 March, 2002. In this interview you have stated that ‘Kriya pratikriya ki chain chal rahi hai. Hum chahte hain kina kriya ho aur na pratikriya (This is a chain of actions and reactions. We want both action and reaction to stop)’. You also reportedly stated in the said interview that ‘the Godhra incident caused a big shock in India as well as abroad. These people from the Godhra area have criminal tendencies and had earlier killed lady teachers also and now they have committed this heinous crime, for which the reaction is being felt.’ Please explain,” asked Malhotra.
Modi evaded a direct reply. “Those who have read the history of Gujarat would definitely be aware that communal violence in Gujarat has a very long history. Since long and even before my birth, Gujarat has witnessed a series of incidents of such communal violence. As per available history, from 1714 AD to now, thousands of incidents of communal violence have been recorded in Gujarat.”
He had still not answered the question. “As far as the Zee TV interview of 1 March 2002 is concerned, today, after a period of eight years, I do not recollect the exact words. But I had always appealed only and only for peace. I had tried to convey to the people to shun violence in straight and simple language.”
It is difficult to spot the Modi of the election rally in these answers. On 4 December 2007, months after the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Modi had asked a heaving crowd — “What should I have done with Sohrabuddin?” The exhilarated crowd had shouted back: “Kill him, kill him.” Modi had then jeered: “Should my police seek Sonia Gandhi’s permission for that?”
But that Modi was now in complete abeyance.
“Did you make a statement to the media about the post-Godhra riots by citing Newton’s law that every action has equal and opposite reaction?” asked Malhotra.
“The Times of India published a news item about this. The truth is nobody from Times of India had met me,” Modi answered. “The falsehood of my so-called action-reaction theory is evident from this fact. The state government issued a denial about me having given any interview. This was belatedly published in a remote corner of the newspaper.”
At this point, Modi says, “There is a saying in Gujarati — Ver thi ver same nahi. It has been my constant opinion that violence cannot be a reply to violence. I had only appealed for peace. I had not and would never justify any action or reaction by a mob against innocents.”
On more tricky questions, Modi opted for vague replies. He could afford to do this simply because the SIT probe against Modi was not given any teeth. There was not even an FIR against him. If he had wanted, Modi could have refused to appear before the SIT. He had come simply because he didn’t want to be seen as evading the law. But he knew the inquiry officer could not press him beyond a point.
So when Malhotra asked him about his movements on 28 February 2002, the worst day of the communal massacre, Modi said, “On the afternoon of 28 February 2002, I met the press at Circuit House Annexe, Shahibaug. I informed the media about the announcement of an inquiry commission by the government and also made an appeal to the general public through them to maintain peace and communal harmony. It may be added here that on that day itself, I had recorded a message for the general public to maintain peace and harmony which was continuously broadcast on Doordarshan.”
Since he took over as Gujarat chief minister in October 2001, Modi has also been the home minister. In this capacity, all matters related to law and order and intelligence come under his direct purview. But when the SIT asked him questions on these issues, Modi feigned ignorance.
“What were the intelligence inputs collected by the State Intelligence Bureau in Gujarat in connection with the ‘Ram Mahayagna’ (in Ayodhya) proposed to be held by the VHP in the year 2002?” asked Malhotra.
“I would like to say that I became chief minister, Gujarat state, in October 2001. Before that I was general secretary of the BJP with headquarters at Delhi. It was only after the earthquake in 2001 that I was deputed by the high command to do relief as well as constructive work in Gujarat state. It may be further added here that I had contested my first election from Rajkot Assembly constituency. The byelection to this constituency was held on 24 February 2002. As regards the intelligence reports about the Ram Mahayagna, these reports are normally received by the DGP and ACS (Home) and as per the rules of business they only look after this issue.”
When the inquiry officer still persisted, Modi passed the buck on to his bureaucrats and police officers.
Malhotra asked him “whether the intelligence inputs received by the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) were communicated to the government. If so, when and to whom?”
“I did come to know that some of the Ram Sevaks from Gujarat were going to Ayodhya for Ram Mahayagna, but I had no knowledge of their programme as it was the duty of the police and home department to make necessary bandobast in this regard,” replied Modi.
“Did the SIB send any communication about the movement of the kar sevaks? If so, when and to whom?” Malhotra asked again.
“I am not aware of any such communications received from SIB and if at all it was received, the same must be with the department,” Modi replied.
On more tricky questions, Modi could offer vague replies because the SIT probe against him was not given any teeth
Given that the first thing a chief minister does every morning is to take a brief from his intelligence chief, Modi’s claim not only seems absurd, it also dents his image of being an able administrator with a firm grip on the affairs of his government.
Modi’s questioning went on till 1 am with two short breaks in between. A total of 71 questions were posed. Besides the questions mentioned above, here are some other key ones. The answers are a study in dilatory evasion.
Did you declare the Godhra incident as pre-planned and that Pakistan/ISI hands were behind the incident? If so, on what basis?
I did not utter any such words in the Assembly. Of course, the media had put some question to me on that, but I told that nothing could be said till the investigation was complete.
Who took the decision of transporting the bodies to Ahmedabad and on what basis?
In the meeting held at the Collectorate, a collective decision was taken in consultation with all those present there to transport the dead bodies of the victims to Ahmedabad. I instructed that the dead bodies should be kept at Sola Civil Hospital on the outskirts of Ahmedabad so that the tension should not mount. The decision was taken in light of the fact that it was learnt that most of the victims belonged to Ahmedabad and other places beyond Ahmedabad and that their relatives need not come to Godhra for their identification and claiming the dead bodies, as Godhra town was under curfew.
Did Smt Jayanti Ravi, the then collector, Godhra, object to the transportation of the dead bodies to Ahmedabad?
It was a unanimous decision in the meeting to take dead bodies to Sola Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, as most of the victims belonged to nearby places. Further, Smt Jayanti Ravi, the then Collector & District Magistrate, Godhra, was of the view that the dead bodies should be immediately taken from Godhra as the same would have mounted further tension in Godhra city.
Did you know Jaydeep Patel, the then VHP general secretary, and whether he met you at Godhra and made a request that he should be allowed to accompany the dead bodies to Ahmedabad?
I know Jaydeep Patel, the then VHP general secretary. I do not remember to have met him at Godhra. After the decision was taken to transport the bodies to Ahmedabad, it was the duty of the district administration to chalk out the modalities for its transportation. I do not know the details, as to how and when the bodies reached Ahmedabad. However, the custody of the dead bodies remained with the district administration, police officers and thehospital authorities.
On your return from Godhra on 27.02.2002, did you call for a meeting for the review of the situation, including law and order and repercussions of the Godhra train burning incident?
On my return to the residence, I called for a law and order meeting, which was attended by top officials of the administration, home and police departments.
When and where did the aforesaid meeting on 27.02.2002 take place? Who all were present at the said meeting? Who were the ministers/MLAs present at the meeting?
The meeting took place at my residence for about half an hour. Smt Swarna Kanta Verma, the then acting chief secretary, Ashok Narayan, the then ACS (Home), K Chakravarthi, the then DGP, PC Pande, the then CP, Ahmedabad City, K Nityanandam, the then home secretary, Dr PK Mishra and my other PS Anil Mukim were present at the meeting. As far as I can recollect, GC Raiger, the then ADG (Int.) was not present. Sanjeev Bhatt, the then DC (Int.), did not attend as this was a high-level meeting. None of my Cabinet colleagues attended the said meeting.
What were the discussions held in the said meeting on 27.02.2002 night? Please give an exact account of views and suggestions given by each participant?
In the meeting, I shared information about my visit to Godhra. The officers present briefed me about the precautionary measures taken by them. I issued instructions to them to take all the possible steps to maintain law & order and peace. I also asked ACS (Home) to make an inquiry in the local army headquarters about the availability of army personnel. I asked them to seek assistance for additional force from neighbouring states. I instructed the officials of the Home Department and police to make necessary bandobast to avoid untoward incident. It may be added here that by that time I had been informed about the Gujarat bandh call given by the VHP on 28.02.2002.
Did you tell the police officers as well as the officials of Home Department that ‘in communal riots, police takes action against Hindus and Muslims on one-toone basis. This will not do now, allow Hindus to give vent to their anger?’ If so, what was the reaction of the officers of the Home Department and police officers present in the meeting?
It is a baseless allegation. On the contrary, I had given categorical and clear-cut instructions to maintain peace and communal harmony at any cost. A similar appeal had earlier been made to the people at Godhra through media.
Who gave the call for Gujarat Bandh on 28.02.2002 and Bharat Bandh on 01.03.2002? Were these bandhs supported by the ruling party?
On 27.02.2002, I remained busy throughout the day and even visited Godhra. In the night only, I had come to know that bandh call had been given by the VHP. However, on 28.02.2002, I came to know from newspaper reports that the bandh had been supported by BJP.
Did Ashok Bhatt, the then health minister and IK Jadeja, the then minister for urban development attend the said meeting?
Both these ministers must have attended the Cabinet meeting but they were not present in the law and order meeting as it was not their subject.
Did you take a decision to allow Ashok Bhatt and IK Jadeja to sit in the State Control Room and the Ahmedabad city Control Room, respectively, which adversely affected the supervision of the riot situation by DGP and CP, Ahmedabad city, respectively?
No such decisions were taken and no such discussions took place in the meeting. Subsequently, I came to know about this allegation from media. However, I do not have any personal knowledge about the positioning of these two ministers in the Control Rooms.
Did you receive any information on an attack by a mob on Gulberg Society? If so, when and through whom? What action did you take in the matter?
To the best of my recollection, I was informed in the law and order review meeting held in the night about the attack on Gulberg Society in Meghaninagar area and Naroda Patiya.
Did you know late Ehsan Jafri, ex-MP, who was residing in Gulberg Society?
I had not known late Ehsan Jafri, ex-MP, as he was elected as MP sometime in 1970s, when I was not in politics. I was told subsequently that late Ehsan Jafri, ex-MP, was residing in Gulberg Society and had been killed during the attack on the society.
Did late Ehsan Jafri, ex-MP, contact you over phone and request for help? If so, what was the action taken by you?
In this connection, I would like to add here that no such phone call had been received by me.
After taking over as Addl DG (Intelligence), did RB Sreekumar send any intelligence report to the government about the possible communal violence in Ahmedabad city. If so please give the details of the same.
He might have sent such report to the DGP or ACS (Home). I do not recollect having seen any such report.
Please see a copy of DO letter dated 19.04.2002 addressed by PC Pande, the then Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad city, to DGP with a copy to Addl DG (Intelligence) and ACS (Home) about the alleged involvement of Bharat Barot, a minister in the government, in a rioting incident. Was this letter brought to your notice? If so what was the action taken by you on the matter?
Ashok Narayan, the then ACS (Home), had brought this matter orally to my notice and I had reiterated my earlier instruction to the concerned.
Please see a copy of DO letter dated 22.04.2002 addressed by PC Pande, the then CP, Ahmedabad city, with a copy of DGP and Addl DG (Intelligence) about the undesirable activities of Sangh Parivar activists. Was this letter brought to your notice? If so what was the action taken by you on the matter?
In this connection, it is stated that I do not remember now, whether this issue was brought to my notice or not. But, it has been my and my government’s approach right from the first day, that a culprit is a culprit irrespective of his caste, creed, religion and socio-political background, as nobody is above law.
Please see a copy of DO letter dated 22.04.2002 addressed by RB Sreekumar, the then Addl DG (Intelligence), to ACS (Home) with a copy to DGP regarding the current communal scenario in Ahmedabad city. Was this letter brought to your notice? If so what was the action taken by you on the matter?
No such letter was ever put to me and Ashok Narayan, the then ACS (Home) never orally briefed me about it. However, it may be mentioned here that during March- April 2002, elections were held in 1,700 panchayats of the state peacefully, around 6,000 Haj pilgrims who had arrived in the state were welcomed at their respective places, various examinations were held peacefully. In view of this, the claim of RB Sreekumar, the then Addl DG (Intelligence), that the Muslims had lost faith in the administration, police and judiciary does not seem to be sound.
Please see a copy of the law and order assessment report sent by RB Sreekumar to PS Shah, the then Addl Secretary (law & order) regarding cancellation of the rath yatra in July 2002 till an atmosphere of durable peace and goodwill between the majority and minority community was established. Was this letter brought to your notice? If so, what was the action taken by you on the matter? Did you agree with the view of ADG (Intelligence)?
Yes, this matter was brought to my notice by Ashok Narayan, the then ACS (Home). I asked Ashok Narayan, the then ACS (Home), as to whether there was anything specific or it was a general perception. Ashok Narayan, the then ACS (Home), informed me that Sreekumar had not cited any specific instance but his report was general in nature. In view of this, I did not agree with RB Sreekumar, the then Addl DG (Intelligence). The rath yatra took place on 12.07.2002, and the event passed off peacefully. All this goes to show that the apprehensions were without any basis.
Did Nitinbhai Patel and Narayan Lallu Patel, the then sitting ministers in the government, lead the violence, arson and sexual assault on women in Kadi and Unjha in Mehsana district respectively?
This is absurd. No such incidents had ever taken place.
Did you ask GC Murmu, secretary (law and order) Home Department, and Arvind Pandya, a government advocate, to brief RB Sreekumar before his deposition in Nanavati Commission of inquiry and also influence the latter for not making any deposition against the government?
No. This allegation is false and baseless.
‘I had always appealed only and only for peace. I had tried to convey to the people to shun violence,’ Modi told the SIT
Please see the entries made by RB Sreekumar, the then Addl DG (Intelligence) and confirm the authenticity of the same.
I do not have any knowledge about such a personal diary maintained by Sreekumar. I came to know of this from media reports after a long time. In view of the fact that this diary was not a government record, I do not want to comment upon the authenticity or otherwise of the same.
Whether Jaydeep Patel, Babu Bajrangi and Mayaben Kodnani were in touch with you during the riots from 28.02.2002 onwards?
I came to know Babu Bajrangi through media reports and he is not known to me. Dr Mayaben Kodnani is an MLA from BJP and used to meet me. Jaydeep Patel is a VHP leader, who is also known to me. As far as I recollect, they never contacted me over phone during the riots.
Please see the interviews given by Haresh Bhatt, the then MLA, Babu Bajrangi, Rajendra Vyas, VHP president, Ahmedabad, to Ashish Khetan and published in the TEHELKA special issue dated 2.11.2007 and confirm the contents thereof.
The allegations levelled against me by any of the aforesaid persons are false and incorrect. It may be added here that this particular issue was raised in November 2007 through TEHELKA magazine after about six years of the incident and that too at a time of elections that were held in December 2007. These issues were again raked up when SIT was appointed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in April 2008. This issue was again raised in this week on 22.03.2010, when I was to appear before the SIT for my examination. In view of all these factors, I would say that the whole episode is motivated and stage managed. I have no personal knowledge about the authenticity of the said CD.
Did the CM’s office intervene in a case of rioting in which a Home Guard commandant has been arrested? Is it correct that when Vivek Srivastava, the then SP, Kutch, didn’t oblige the office, he was transferred in March 2002?
No, there is no such instance of any such interference by the CM’S office. The postings/transfers of the police officers are handled by the Home Department in consultation with the DGP. In case the CM’s approval is required, the file comes to me for approval. I do not recollect any such instance and moreover, I never interfered in such matters.
It has been alleged that after the riots the public servants who connived with those responsible for carnage were doubly rewarded and those who tried to uphold the law were punished by way of transfers and supercessions and this sent a message to the government. Functionaries were committed to the political agenda of the CM than their Constitutional obligations for which every government servant had taken oath. What do you have to say?
The allegation is vague, false and without any basis. It appears that serious attempt has been made by the complainant to attribute all the movements in the government to the chief minister. The posting and transfers are the prerogative of the administrative ministry and a routine affair. In the election year, those who had completed three years of stay in a particular post are transferred by the government itself or otherwise the Election Commission would do that. In this chain of transfers, those who had put in less than three years in a particular year are also transferred. In view of this, it cannot be said that the postings/transfers are punitive in nature.
It has been further alleged that Anupam Singh Gehlout, the then SP, Mehsana district, was transferred, as he had refused to toe the government line in a case in which prominent persons of Kadi, including Ramesh Pachubhai Patel, a municipal councillor, was named as accused.
As already stated postings/transfers are routine administrative matters, which are dealt with by the concerned administrative ministry and my approval is obtained in routine course. The allegation is therefore without any basis and substance.
It has been alleged in the complaint that the public prosecutors appointed in Gujarat to handle the riot cases were either members or supporters and sympathisers of the ruling party or the Sangh Parivar widely believed to be involved in the carnage and that there was deliberate attempt to scuttle most of these cases. What do you have to say?
The procedures with regard to selection of the public prosecutor in quite transparent in as much as district judge writes to the district collector regarding the vacancy and the district collector advertises the post. The applicants who applied for the vacancy are interviewed by a committee and a district collector. On the basis of the interview held, a panel of three advocates for each post is forwarded to the government. It is binding upon the government to appoint an advocate out of that panel only. It may thus be seen that the government has no role to play in the selection of a public prosecutor. This procedure is in vogue since 1960.