Manoj Mitta’s The Fiction Of Fact-Finding… is a fine example of how authors can investigate, research, and cross-question

The other day, a Facebook friend defended the Gujarat Chef Minister against any charges of complicity or inaction in the 2002 pogrom. A well-established journalist, she noted that Modi had been given a clean chit by the Special Investigation Team probing the large scale hate violence. “To still doubt Modi is unfair. And it is just not on to call him a mass murderer. After all in the violence, 790 Muslims died and 254 Hindus lost their lives...” she went on.

I realised I was trying to reason it out with somebody who refused to see reason, somebody who saw a human tragedy from the prism of religion and was desperate to defend a man who could not (by her figures) defend the lives of a thousand countrymen. Immaterial whether the victims were Muslims or Hindus, they were all human beings and Indians, I feebly protested. I did try briefly to encourage her to think from the point of view of a seven-year-old boy in Naroda Patiya who had seen his mother and 10-year-old sister gang-raped in front of him, then burnt alive; his father mutilated, then burnt, limb by severed limb. And 12 years later all that the boy wants is justice, not smooth roads and power or automobile industries. She refused to consider this.

However, her vehemence forced me to revisit the Gujarat violence data, articles and comments, etc. And I laid my hands on a Harper Collins publication, The Fiction Of Fact-Finding: Modi And Godhra by Manoj Mitta, a man as much respected for his journalistic skills as for his books on the 1984 and 2002 hate killings. (His earlier book When A Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage And Its Aftermath has been a goose-bump reading experience for many)

Though the book has 10 chapters, I started my reading with the fifth. It is called ‘Modi’s Interrogation: Unasked Questions’ and goes on to delineate the weak, almost-rehearsed interrogation of the Chief Minister with the inquisitors going by questions prepared in advance and refraining from asking any supplementary questions. “The SIT’s failure to pin him down on the terror issue pales in comparison to its disregard of Modi’s prevarication on the post-Godhra massacres. Though his responsibility to control the attacks on Muslims was more direct, the SIT’s questions turned out to be as evasive as his replies… The SIT was wary of questioning him on his failure to respond to the violence at Gulberg Society although he had been in its vicinity for over two hours on 28 February. In his testimony, Modi made out that he had no clue to any of the violence at Gulberg Society… till he was told about it about five hours later by the police… Modi’s claim to have been ignorant about the massacre seems inconsistent with his own larger claim to have been tracking the post-Godhra violence as it unfolded. This contradiction was…lost on the SIT.”

Then through the following pages, Mitta goes on to demolish the myth of a caring CM running from pillar to post to control the mob, and asks, “Why did Modi take five days to visit riot-affected areas in Ahmedabad and a month to meet Muslim victims in the largest refugee camp? Why were the forensic experts called to see the burnt Godhra coach only after two months, although it had been open to the public through the period?” Through such trenchant questions, Mitta draws chilling parallels between the mass murder of the Sikhs on the streets of Delhi in 1984 and the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. The book, not a literary masterpiece by any yardstick, however, gives a new dimension to the oft-expressed purpose of literature. A book does not have to have literary flourishes; it does not always have to read well or be a happy read to take to your bed at the end of the day. It can, like Mitta’s book, have a purpose; it can shake the reader out of his stupor, expose the inadequacies of the administration, the frailty of human beings. An author does not have to command attention, he can merely persuade the reader.

Such books, in the end, do the job of journalists. Investigation, research, cross-questioning, fact-finding and then putting all the details together. Does it sound familiar to any journalist? Well, yes. It, will, from hereon, be as familiar to an author writing on a real-life tragedy of contemporary India. As for my FB friend, a reading of the book shall cure her of some of the misconceptions.