Gujarat riots: key witness “goes underground”

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:40 am IST

Published - April 24, 2011 12:53 am IST - AHMEDABAD:

Arsonists take to the streets of Ahmedabad during the post-Godhra riots on February 28, 2002.

Arsonists take to the streets of Ahmedabad during the post-Godhra riots on February 28, 2002.

Even as a key witness, named in the affidavit of Gujarat police officer Sanjiv Bhatt against Chief Minister Narendra Modi, has “gone underground,” Mr. Modi addressed a huge public gathering on the outskirts of Palanpur town in North Gujarat on Saturday but his usual ebullience was missing.

The usual flow was not evident in Mr. Modi's address at the function, part of the year-long ceremony to mark the golden jubilee of the State. Also missing was his usual scathing attack on the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre except for a passing reference about the “discriminatory attitude” against the State in charging higher prices for CNG gas supplied to Ahmedabad compared to some metro cities in the country.

Since the gathering was to celebrate the progress made by the State in the energy sector, Mr. Modi delivered only a topical address, concluding his speech in less than 35 minutes.

Mr. Bhatt, serving senior state cadre IPS officer, submitted in his affidavit in the Supreme Court, that Mr. Modi did issue a “directive” to the police on the eve of the 2002 Gujarat riots to “allow the Hindus to vent their anger” so that Muslims “could be taught a lesson” in the wake of the Godhra train carnage.

Mr. Bhatt was the second state cadre IPS officer to “disclose” about Mr. Modi's “directive” to the police after the former Additional DGP, R.B. Sreekumar, filed similar affidavits before various forums, including the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission, the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team and others. But while Mr. Sreekumar was quoting the then State DGP K. Chakravarthi, as having told him about Mr. Modi's remarks, which Mr. Chakravarthi promptly denied, Mr. Bhatt claimed that he was personally present at the Chief Minister's meeting and was giving a first person account of his comments.

The witness named by Mr. Bhatt in his affidavit to corroborate his claim of having been present at the meeting — K.D. Panth, an assistant intelligence officer in the State intelligence bureau in 2002 — remained out of bounds to the media. He could not be contacted for a statement and the police sources said Mr. Panth had “gone underground” due to “threat perception” to his life after his name appeared in Mr. Bhatt's affidavit. “He will resurface only when he feels safe,” a senior police officer said.

As quoted in his affidavit, Mr. Panth had reportedly told Mr. Bhatt that he was “treated like an accused and was threatened with dire consequences” when he answered the SIT's summons to ascertain Mr. Bhatt's presence at the meeting earlier this month.

In a sharp reaction to Mr. Bhatt's affidavit, the veteran leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Acharya Dharmendra, who was on a day's visit to Gujarat, accused the IPS officer of being a “traitor” and named the Congress leader from the State, Ahmed Patel, the political adviser to the party's national president, Sonia Gandhi, and the “coterie of the so-called human rights activists,” as being behind the deliberate leak of the affidavit to the media.

The Acharya wondered why it took more than nine years for Mr. Bhatt to bring the “truth” before the nation. He demanded that a thorough inquiry should be held to “ascertain the truth and the forces behind Mr. Bhatt's allegations” against Mr. Modi.

Meanwhile, Mr. Modi in his address at Palanpur said Gujarat would soon emerge as a power-surplus State. He said the fruits of his government's long-term planning in the last 10 years would be reaching the people in the next few years.

He made no reference to the on-going turmoil over his alleged remarks against Muslims.

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