News Analysis: In absolving Modi, SIT mixes up Godhra, post-Godhra perpetrators

Cites five instances where CM promised punishment for train attack as proof of lack of bias

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:39 am IST

Published - May 14, 2012 11:01 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

In its closure report filed in the Zakia Jafri case, the Special Investigation Team appears to have mixed up the Godhra and post-Godhra violence, citing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's promise to ensure justice in the former case as proof that he could never have asked his officials to allow Hindus to vent their anger against Muslims in the wake of the 2002 Godhra carnage.

Apart from insisting no official present at the February 27, 2002 meeting where the Chief Minister allegedly gave this instruction corroborated the charge, the R.K. Raghavan-led SIT says there is evidence in the form of the Chief Minister's public statements made on February 27, 2002 and February 28, 2002, which establish his commitment to punish the guilty and uphold the law. The content of the statements disproves the allegation that he passed any illegal order against Muslims, it says.

But far from proving that Mr. Modi could not have given the alleged instruction, the speeches the SIT produces are only likely to fuel suspicions about what might have happened at the February 27, 2002 meeting.

The SIT cites five speeches in defence of Mr. Modi only to come to this conclusion: “At least on five occasions, which are fully documented, during 27.02.2002 and 28.02.2002, Chief Minister addressed Media, Assembly and General Public and every where the genesis and intention was the same, i.e., to punish the culprits responsible for the Godhra incident in an exemplary manner so that such incident did not recur ever again.” (emphasis added)

The SIT is unable to cite a single speech — or statement — where Mr. Modi warns against retaliatory violence and threatens punishment to anti-Muslim rioters. Admittedly, there was a valid context to Mr. Modi's sense of outrage immediately following the Godhra carnage, in which 59 train passengers, all Hindus, were killed. Any administrator would vow to bring to justice the perpetrators of a crime so horrendous. However, by all accounts, reprisals had started within hours of the incident, and by the afternoon of February 28, 2002, the violence had turned into a full-blown anti-Muslim pogrom.

The SIT should have been able to show some evidence that at least after February 28, 2002 — by which time Muslims had been killed and rendered homeless — Mr. Modi sent out a strong message to communal hotheads taking the law into their own hands. But there is no speech where Mr. Modi warns against revenge attacks and threatens exemplary punishment to the rioters.

In her complaint, Ms. Jafri accused Mr. Modi and 61 others of direct involvement in the anti-Muslim violence. The charge that the Chief Minister instructed his officials to allow a ‘Hindu backlash' to Godhra was central to her complaint because, according to her, the administration derived its mandate from this instruction.

Setting out to demolish her charge about February 27, 2002, this is what the SIT says: “Even before this meeting, when Chief Minister visited Godhra on 27.02.2002 evening, he addressed the media at [the] Collectorate and asserted that the culprits would not be spared and the victims would be paid Rs. 2 lakh. The CM also appealed to the public through media to maintain peace. Furthermore, on 28.02.2002, that is within less than 12 hours of the alleged meeting that took place on the night of 27.02.2002, the CM has stated on the floor of the Assembly, where the Opposition was also present, that the “State Govt. has taken this heinous, inhuman and organised violent act very seriously and is committed to give exemplary punishment to the culprits so that such incident never recur anywhere.”

Further, “The Chief Minister repeated almost the similar facts in his press conference held on 28.2.2002 afternoon at the circuit house, Annexe, Ahmedabad. It would not be out of place to mention here that in his appeal made to the public through Doordarshan on 28. 02. 2002, Chief Minister reiterated that Gujarat will never tolerate any such incident and the guilty will be punished for their heinous crime. He also said that the culprits would be awarded such exemplary punishment so that no one would dare to involve himself in such incident.”

In this entire sequence, Mr. Modi is shown as making a single, token appeal for peace — in Godhra, not in places where the rioters are on the rampage.

The SIT concludes: “In the light of the aforesaid discussion, the interpretation made on alleged illegal instructions … appear to be without any basis.” Because, “everywhere the genesis and intention was one and the same, i.e., to punish the culprits responsible for the Godhra incident in an exemplary manner, so that such incidents did not recur ever again.”

Ms. Jafri charged Mr. Modi with passing an anti-Muslim order that resulted in no punishment being given to the post-Godhra rioters. In response, the SIT shows the Chief Minister wanted maximum, exemplary punishment for Godhra. Was this merely a misinterpretation?

On September 9, 2002, Mr. Modi made a speech which was included in Ms. Jafri's complaint and which left no scope at all for misinterpretation. Yet in its closure report the SIT dismisses the speech. Stopping by at Becharaji in Mehsana district as part of his state-wide Gaurav Yatra, Mr. Modi made an implied attack on Muslim polygamy — “hum paanch, hamare pachhees (we are five and we have twenty-five) — and made fun of refugee camps. This, at a time when thousands of Muslims were languishing in refugee camps across Gujarat.

The Gujarat government withheld the speech from the SIT. In January 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the government to hand over the speech and other documents to the SIT “without further delay.” This is the verbatim reproduction of what Mr. Modi said: “My dear brothers, we built the (Sardar Sarovar) dam and so water is available. Let me ask a question to my Congress friends, if water is brought during Shravan month … what is paining them? Since we are here, we brought water in Sabarmati during the month of Shravan, when you are there, you can bring in the month of Ramadan (the holy month for Muslims). When we brought water in the month of Shravan, you feel bad. What brother, should we run relief camps? Should I start children-producing centres there? We want to achieve progress by pursuing the policy of family planning with determination. Ame paanch, Amara pachhees! (we are five and we have twenty-five) … Can't Gujarat implement family planning? Whose inhibitions are coming in our way? Which religious sect is coming in the way? ...”

In its preliminary report submitted in 2010, the SIT took a serious view of the inflammatory words, which Mr. Modi explained away as a general speech on India's growing population. The SIT said, “The explanation given by Mr. Modi is unconvincing and it (speech) definitely hinted at the growing minority population.”

But in its closure report of 2012, the SIT concluded: “No criminality has come on record in respect of this aspect of the allegation.”

Anyone with an understanding of Hindutva-speak would know the communal context of “paanch aur pachhees.” Indeed, Mr. Modi is not its original author. The “paanch aur pachhees” reference first cropped up in the speeches of Sadhvi Rithambara and Sadhvi Shiva Saraswati who campaigned for the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1996. Said Sadhvi Shiv Saraswati: “Hinduon ke liye, hum do, hamare do, aur Muslamaanon ke liye hum paanch aur hamara pachhees (For Hindus it is we are two, we have two; for Muslims it is we are five, we have twenty-five).”

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