The Supreme-Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, which submitted a closure report on the probe into the Zakia Jafri petition levelling serious charges against Narendra Modi and 62 others in connection with the 2002 communal riots, has not found any evidence of the Chief Minister having promoted enmity among various communities on religious grounds.
In the section dealing with Mr. Modi in its 541-page report, the SIT on the contrary claimed that the Chief Minister had repeatedly appealed to the people for peace and had also taken due care for the rehabilitation and medical facilities for the riot victims in the relief camps.
The report has dismissed the suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt as a “tainted witness”, whose claims of Mr. Modi having “instructed” the police officers to “allow the Hindus to vent their anger” could not be relied upon, and held retired Additional Director General of Police R.B. Shreekumar's charges of having been “pressurised” by some government officials to draft his affidavits before the G.T.Nanavati-Akshay-Mehta judicial inquiry commission in a particular way to protect the interests of Mr. Modi and the State government, as an “afterthought and motivated”, brought out by him only after he was superseded and denied promotion as the DGP.
The SIT disagreed that there was any delay in deploying the Army in the riot-affected areas and came to the conclusion that the Army and the paramilitary forces were deployed to control the riot situation as soon as the force was available and in full measure, depending on the personnel available.
The SIT also did not agree that the decision to bring the bodies of the victims of the Godhra train carnage to Ahmedabad, which was alleged to have inflamed the riots, was Mr. Modi's “personal decision” but claimed that the decision was taken “unanimously” by the Ministers, government officials and police officers present in Godhra on the evening of February 27, 2002, and was also consented by the then Panchamahals district collector Jayanti Ravi. The SIT was also of the opinion that the bodies were brought to Ahmedabad in the dead of night and disposed of quietly the next day without being paraded before the riotous mob as was alleged by the Chief Minister's critics.
The SIT maintained that contrary to Mr. Bhatt's claim of being present at the crucial meeting at the Chief Minister's residence on the night of February 27, 2002, in which he allegedly passed the objectionable “instructions,” the suspended IPS officer was not present at the meeting. Similarly the then Minister of State for Revenue, Haren Pandya (since deceased), who was claimed to have given a similar statement before a Citizens' Tribunal, was also not present in the meeting and any such testimony could not be relied upon. It stated that none of the police and bureaucratic officials, “who definitely were present at the meeting,” have denied Mr. Modi having passed any such instructions and except the then acting chief secretary Swarnakanta Varma, who said she could not recollect now if Mr. Bhatt was present in the meeting, all others had categorically denied his presence in the meeting.
“Mr. Bhatt is a tainted witness and therefore, can not be relied upon keeping in view his background in the police department as he was involved in criminal cases of serious nature and departmental inquiries are also in progress against him,” the report said. There also was nothing to show that even if the Chief Minister had made such oral observations as alleged by Mr. Bhatt at the meeting, the same had been passed on to the subordinate police officials and that the police on the streets acted accordingly. Even Mr. Bhatt had pleaded ignorance “about the fact as to whether the Chief Minister's alleged instructions were passed on the subordinates and also as to whether the same was complied with or not,” it said. The Supreme-Court-appointed amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, however, had given due weightage to Mr. Bhatt's claims in forming his opinion that Mr. Modi could be prosecuted for promoting enmity among various communities.
The SIT report said after closely scrutinising all the telephone call details that it had come to the conclusion that the allegations that Mr. Modi and senior police officers had ignored the “frantic calls for help” from the slain former Congress member of the Lok Sabha in the Gulberg Society massacre, Ahesan Jafri, and deliberately allowed the riotous mob time to massacre the 69 people along with Mr. Jafri. The SIT report said neither Mr. Modi nor the then Ahmedabad city police commissioner, P.C. Pande, or his deputy, M.K. Tandon, and other senior police officers, had received any call from Mr. Jafri for help. The report said it had closely checked the mobile call records of all the concerned police officers and the personal secretaries of the Chief Minister on February 28, 2002, but there was not a single call from Ahesan Jafri's landline number, nor at any time of the crucial day were any of these mobile phones “switched off”, as was alleged. Mr. Jafri did not hold any mobile number, nor there was any other landline or mobile number in the entire Gulberg Society, it pointed out.
The SIT also gave a clean chit to Mr. Modi in respect of his having “instructed” two of his then senior Cabinet Ministers, the late Ashok Bhatt and I.K. Jadeja, to interfere with the functioning of the police forces here and at the State police control rooms on the “Gujarat Bandh” day on February 28. Though the Ministers did visit the police control rooms on that day for short durations for various reasons, there was no evidence that they were acting under Mr. Modi's instructions, nor was there any evidence that at any time they interfered with the police operations, it said.
About the alleged delay in deploying army in the affected areas, the SIT found that the then Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Ashok Narayan, had alerted the Army headquarters on February 27 itself. There, however, was no Army personnel available in the Army headquarters here as they had been deployed in the sensitive border areas. After reviewing the situation on the riot day, Mr. Modi himself had made an oral request to the then Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, for the Army in the afternoon itself, while an official request was also sent through the home secretary K. Nityanandam to the defence secretary. A high-level decision was taken by the Centre to withdraw some forces from the border areas and send them to Gujarat. Army personnel were airlifted from forward positions and they started arriving in the city from the midnight of February 28 and were promptly deployed in affected areas, depending on the developing situation and availability of the army personnel, from the next morning itself after arranging for its necessary logistic supports, it concluded.