“On the contrary, I had issued orders to maintain peace, communal harmony at any cost”
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had told the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team — which is probing some of the gruesome carnages during the 2002 communal riots in the State — that he never issued any instructions to top police officers to allow Hindus to “vent their anger” against Muslims in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage.
“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,” Mr. Modi had told SIT Investigating Officer A.K. Malhotra, who questioned him on March 27 and 28, 2010.
The statement made by Mr. Modi before the SIT, which was the first and by far the only investigating agency to question him on the 2002 riots, was considered a classified document and formed part of the SIT report submitted before the Supreme Court. But surprisingly, on Thursday, the “signed statement” found a place on the website of a local Gujarati daily. How and who “leaked” Mr. Modi's statement before the SIT was not known.
According to the statement, countersigned on every page by Mr. Modi on March 28, 2010, the investigating officer had put to him 71 questions and each of them was answered by Mr. Modi, rarely avoiding an answer, claiming “I do not remember.” The Chief Minister was questioned on almost the entire gamut of the riots, the decision to shift the bodies of the Godhra train carnage victims to Ahmedabad, the security arrangements made to meet the tense communal situation, deployment of the Army and his knowledge about the attacks on the minorities in Gulberg Society and Naroda-Patiya localities in Ahmedabad.
Mr. Modi had claimed that shifting of the bodies was a “collective decision” of the top police and administrative officers present in Godhra and was taken to defuse “building up of tension in Godhra.” He claimed that the Army was deployed in the affected areas without any delay and denied that the slain former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, had ever contacted him on phone before being killed in the Gulberg Society attack. The Chief Minister denied having any prior knowledge of the attacks on Gulberg Society or Naroda-Patiya. He also denied having asked the then Cabinet Ministers, Ashok Bhatt and I.K. Jadeja, to sit in the Ahmedabad city and State police control rooms and interfere with the functioning of the police on the “Gujarat Bandh” day, February 28, 2002.
Mr. Modi refuted the allegations that he was in “constant touch” with some of the leaders of the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who were later registered as accused in the riots, and denied that the controversial Gujarat cadre IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt — who created a flutter later by filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the Chief Minister — was present on the crucial law and order meeting at his official residence in Gandhinagar on the night of February 27, 2002, during which he was alleged to have “instructed” the police officers to “allow Hindus to vent their anger.”
Mr. Modi denied that his first reaction to the Godhra train carnage was to declare it a “pre-planned conspiracy,” but admitted that after visiting the site and talking to the police and administrative officials as well as those present at the Godhra railway station who were witnesses to the incident and the injured passengers of the ill-fated coach, he did tell the media in Godhra that the incident “appeared to be a pre-planned conspiracy.” But he had also added that nothing could be said with finality until the investigation was completed. The Chief Minister also denied having ever talked about “Pakistani spy agency ISI's hand” behind the conspiracy.
Asked about the crucial February 27, 2002 meeting, Mr. Modi had said among those present were the then acting Chief Secretary, Swarna Kanta Varma; the then Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Ashok Narayan; the then Home Secretary, K. Nityanandam; the then Director-General of Police, K. Chakravarthi; Ahmedabad Police Commissioner P.C. Pande; and two senior officials of the CMO, P.K. Mishra and Anil Mukim. “As far as I recollect, the then Additional DGP [Intelligence], G.C. Raigar, was not present. Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt, the then Deputy Commissioner [Intelligence], did not attend as this was a high-level meeting. None of my Cabinet colleagues was present in the said meeting.”
At the meeting, the Chief Minister said he shared information with the officers about his visit to Godhra and the officers briefed him about the precautionary measures being taken by them.
The Chief Minister denied that the State Intelligence Branch (SIB) had given any information about the movement of VHP kar sevaks to and fro from Ayodhya and said if there was any such information, it must be with the departments concerned. On being informed about the train carnage by about 9 a.m. on February 27, he had issued directions that necessary steps be taken to ensure that other passengers were not held up as it could lead to tension and imposition of curfew in Godhra immediately since it was a communally sensitive place.
The Chief Minister said that after reaching Godhra in the evening the same day — after the day's session of the Assembly was over — he visited the spot and other places and later held a meeting with the government and police officers at the District Collector's office where a “collective decision” was taken by all present to shift the charred bodies of the victims to Ahmedabad in view of the mounting tension in Godhra. Mr. Modi said the decision was taken because of the knowledge that most of the victims belonged to Ahmedabad or other places beyond Ahmedabad and that their relatives need not go to Godhra for identification and claiming the bodies as Godhra then was under curfew. He also denied that the then District Collector, Jayanti Ravi, had opposed the decision and, on the contrary, she was insistent that the bodies be moved away from Godhra to ease the tension. He also denied that the bodies were handed over to VHP leader Jaydeep Patel as was claimed later. Mr. Modi maintained that the bodies were in the custody of the district administration.
Mr. Modi denied that he had ever given any interview to The Times of India advocating the famous theory of “every action has its reaction.” The newspaper was forced to carry the denial but it was published in an obscure corner and the allegation was repeated against him time and again. He also denied the allegations purportedly made against him by some BJP and VHP leaders in a “so-called sting operation” by the Tehelka Magazine.
The Chief Minister also refuted the allegations made by the retired Additional DGP, R.B. Shreekumar, in affidavits filed before the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission that his (Mr. Modi's) officers were trying to influence the retired officer to file false affidavits in favour of the government.
On the petition filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of the slain Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, in the Supreme Court, Mr. Modi said her charges “deserved to dismissed completely and such false and frivolous complaints should not be entertained.”