The Nanavati-Mehta Commission on Wednesday gave a clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which more than 1000 people were massacred across the State after a train bogey was torched, killing 59 pilgrims returning from Ayodhya by a mob.
The Commission’s report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly by Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja, five years after it was submitted to the then government.
The Commission also absolved the State administration, Ministers and police officers from any complicity, direct or in direct, and also ruled out any conspiracy to organise the large-scale riots. It refused to call the riots as a result of any “pre-planned conspiracy” or “orchestrated violence.”
“There is no evidence to show that these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abetted by any Minister of the State," the Commission said in its report, which runs to over 1,500 pages and is compiled in nine volumes.
‘Police ineffective at some places’
However, the panel, comprising former Supreme Court judge Justice G.T. Nanavati and former Gujarat High Court Judge Justice Akshay Mehta, observed in the report that police at some places were “ineffective in controlling the mob because of their inadequate numbers or because they were not properly armed.”
On the riots in Ahmedabad city, where a former parliamentarian was among those killed by the rioters, it held that “The police had not shown their competence and eagerness which was necessary” to control the mob violence.
It said, “On an overall consideration of the entire material, the commission finds that the communal riots which followed the Godhra incident were really by way of an aftermath of those incidents.”
The panel blamed the Godhra train-burning incident as the trigger for the riots. “Because of the Godhra incident, large sections of Hindu community became very angry and ultimately indulged in violent attacks on Muslims and their properties,” it said.
According to the Commission, it did not find any evidence against “any religious or political party or organisations as such” in connection with the riots and violence.
It said: “The only thing that can be said with some certainty, on the basis of evidence which has come before the commission, is that local members of the VHP and Bajrang Dal took part in the incidents which happened in their localities.”
The Commission questioned the credibility of three former IPS officers - Sanjiv Bhatt, Rahul Sharma and RB Sreekumar - who had alleged that there was a role of the government in the riots. After a close scrutiny of the evidence, it was not possible to say that there was any negligence on the part of police, it held. However, it added that it was very much necessary the State had a disciplined police force to ensure that peace and tranquillity of society was not disturbed.
“While considering the evidence relating to the incidents which happened during the communal riots, we have noticed that the absence of police or their inadequate number emboldened the mobs to indulge in violence,” it said.
The report recommended inquiries or action, which were halted after the Commission was formed, against the erring police officers.
Role of media
On the role of media during the riots, the panel observed that the authorities should see that the media acted with restraint during such difficult times (as of riots), and that immediate effective action should be taken against the media if it was found to be transgressing the limits.
In February 2002, Mr. Modi as Chief Minister, announced a one-member commission to inquire into the cause of the train-burning incident and subsequent incidents of communal violence. The government subsequently reconstituted it, with Justice Nanavati as its chairman and former Gujarat High Court Justice K.G. Shah as member. After Justice Shah died, Justice Mehta took his place.
The government also expanded the terms of reference of the Commission, bringing under its purview the role and conduct of the Chief Minister, Ministers and police officers in the riots.