Last word on Godhra yet to be heardKingshuk Nag 23 February 2011
I did not believe in 2002 that there was an organised conspiracy that led to the Godhra train burning and nine years later in 2011 my belief remains the same. Notwithstanding the judgment delivered by the trial court.
Well, it was always not like this. For the first month after the February 27, 2002, carnage, I believed like most others that coach S6 of Sabarmati Express had been deliberately put on fire. But at that time I had not visited Godhra. I went to Godhra at the end of March 2002 and ran into the deputy superintendent of police Bava, who was investigating the case and his boss inspector general of police Agja. Both were at the police post adjacent to the platform of Godhra station when we ran into them. (I say we because with me was our then bureau chief in Vadodara and now editor of Chandigarh edition, Raja Bose). I asked the duo how far they had proceeded in unravelling the conspiracy. The cops said that if there was a conspiracy they were yet to come across any evidence. I could not believe what they were saying but managed to keep a straight face. "If there was no evidence how did the coach get burnt?" I asked. Mr Agja said that he was not sure but added that at any time there were 20-30 vendors on the platform hawking their wares like tea. Most of them carried small-sized gas cylinders with burners with them. In the midst of a fracas that had broken out between the kar sevaks and these vendors things could have turned ugly with some vendors throwing in burning rags inside the train. This could have caused a fire, Agja concluded but emphasized that this was a possibility but not his definitive account of what had happened. I asked the inspector general whether he could be quoted by name on what he had said: "Yes," he said and became emotional and said that he had merely a year and a half of service and at this stage he cared for nothing other than the truth. He looked at Bava and said: "He has only a month left, why should he bothered either?"
Before running the story I checked Agja's story with many top police officers. They agreed with the argument and said that the belief in the top police echelon was also this. Curiously when the story was front-paged in TOI, in all its editions, the reaction was muted. Late in the afternoon, a distressed Agja called me and said: "Nag sahib, yeh kya kar diya apney?" I said I had checked with him and asked him to cool down. Later in the evening an apologetic public relations officer of the police department called me. "Everyone knows what you wrote is correct, but yet Mr Agja wants us to issue a clarification. You are free to do whatever you want to. When the clarification arrived I found it wishy-washy and threw it into the dustbin. Later I came to know that Narendra Modi had summoned Agja who told him that he had not said anything. This was recounted to me by none other than Mr Modi and when I told him that in fact Agja had said so, the Gujarat chief minister kept quiet. A little later Agja was transferred.
It appeared to me that thereafter there was an effort by the police to quickly fit the conspiracy angle. In their zealousness, the cops started recording all sorts of evidence including that of purported eyewitnesses. One such eyewitness was found to be present at a school where he taught some 25 km away from Godhra! Random arrests were made from Singal Falia, the area located next to the Godhra railway station, whose main inhabitants were Ghanchi Muslims (many of them poor). Ultimately this was to spoil the police case because my belief is that this zealousness to fit evidence to a pre-decided theory, all sorts of dubious evidence was collected. The police investigation at this stage was to influence the future of the case. Thus when a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was put in place to supersede the earlier Gujarat police probe, this went further using information gathered by the previous investigations. The investigating officer (of the rank of DSP) also continued to be the same.
The end result is there for everybody to see: the judge says that there was a conspiracy behind the burning of the train but lets off the main conspirator, Umarji. Well, if you ask me here is where the conspiracy angle is knocked out straight away. Interestingly the case is proven on the testimony of some of the accused who later retracted their statements. Little surprise that the judge upholding the conspiracy angle has let off most of those arraigned before his court of law.
I am aware that many of the readers of this blog post will heap many accusations on me: of being a pseudo-secularist and going out of the way and appeasing the minorities. Of being anti-Hindu and not being sympathetic to the families of all those who perished. My submission to them: Don't treat Godhra like the Ramajanmabhoomi issue as a matter of faith. Truth is often stranger than fiction. It is the merely the trial court that has delivered its judgment. There are two more levels of courts that the verdict will have to pass through. The last word has not been heard on Godhra.