Commissions of inquiry into communal violence in India rarely end up indicting culprits but there are some like the Srikrishna Commission report on the Bombay riots of 1992-93 which at least present a surgical account of the state’s complicity and wilful ignorance by its agencies in preventing violence. The report of the Justice (retd.) Vishnu Sahai Inquiry Commission, set up to probe into the >2013 Muzaffarnagar riots , and tabled in the State Assembly on Sunday, does neither.
If there is one thing the report clearly does though, it is to completely exonerate the Samajwadi Party (SP) government despite the failure of the top leadership of the government to prevent and control the riots, one of the worst episodes of communal violence in recent memory. The 700-page account of the violence, prepared by the retired justice of the Allahabad High Court over a period of over two years, squarely blames intelligence failure and laxity on the part of administrative officials for the riots which claimed 62 lives and resulted in the displacement of over 60,000 people in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh.
The commission scrutinised the actions of 40 officials and names four of them — then Principal Secretary (Home) R.M. Srivastava, then Circle Officer Jansath Jagat Ram Joshi, then Muzaffarnagar District Magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma and then Muzaffarnagar Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Subhash Chandra Dubey. However, it holds the then Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) Inspector Prabal Pratap Singh responsible, citing his failure to give correct intelligence inputs on the mahapanchayat held in Nagla Mandaur on September 7, 2013 which triggered the violence. The mahapanchayat was attended by 40,000-50,000 people, while intelligence inputs claimed that 15,000-20,000 people would be in attendance, the single-member commission said. “The Inquiry Commission has held that prima facie the main responsibility for the riots goes to Prabal Pratap Singh. Hence there will be departmental action against him,” says the 14-page action taken report submitted by the State government in the Assembly.
Clean chit to politicians The Justice Sahai report gives the Akhilesh Yadav government a clean chit despite listing the reasons for the riots which directly indicate its abdication of responsibility. Even when the report highlights the laxity on the part of some top officials, it shies away from connecting the last few dots leading to the Chief Minister’s door. For instance, the report lists 14 reasons which led to communal polarisation and riots after the deaths of three young men, Shahnawaz, Gaurav and Sachin, in Kawal village of Muzaffarnagar on August 27, 2013.
The second most prominent reason, the report says, was the transfer of the then District Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar Surendra Singh and then SSP Manzil Saini just before the riots. “Their transfers resulted in antagonising the Hindu community (specially Jats) against the government and this antagonism was a major reason for the riots,” says the report, choosing to gloss over the fact that Mr. Yadav also holds the Home portfolio. It also says that the release of 14 Muslim youth who were not named in the FIR relating to the murders of Gaurav and Sachin, was seen as an attempt by the government to favour the Muslim community.
The report virtually gives a clean chit to politicians of all hues, including saffron. It talks extensively about the role of Bharatiya Janata Party >(BJP) MLA Sangeet Som in uploading a video on social media — showing some youth being brutally killed in Afghanistan — and falsely linking it to the death of two Jat men, but does not recommend more charges against him than have already been pressed. The intention, it appears, is to deny any fresh ammunition to the BJP to bring Muzaffarnagar back into the political discourse. This, after ruling party realised that its strategy of playing along with the BJP in polarising western U.P. has not helped much, its candidate having lost in the recent Muzaffarnagar bypoll.
The government’s pre-emptive ploy seems to have worked somewhat. BJP leaders in Muzaffarnagar this reporter spoke to didn’t quite know how to react to the report’s findings. One of the main organisers of the Nagla Mandaur mahapanchayat called it a “bakwaas (nonsensical)” report.
With acquittals already happening in the riot-related cases amid allegations of pressure on witnesses to turn hostile, the victims were not expecting any radical justice from the report. But its denial of what thousands of men and women witnessed — the political ambition behind the incitement of violence — still shocked many.
Why table the report? Uttar Pradesh, and its western belt in particular, has been witness to a long history of communal violence — and of inquiry reports into such outbreaks being given a quiet burial, be it the report of the Gyan Prakash Committee constituted to probe the Hashimpura massacre of 1987, in which 42 Muslims were killed by Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel; that of the Ghulam Mohammad Committee that investigated the killing of more than 60 people in Maliyana in 1987; or the report of the Ram Asrey Mishra Committee probing into the killing of 25 men in unprovoked police firing on an unarmed crowd of protesting Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in 1976. Why, then, was the Sahai report tabled? Perhaps because this once, it’s politically convenient for the ruling dispensation to do so, with a year to go for the Assembly elections. Not only because it takes the sting out of the BJP’s polarisation plans but also because, as some local-level SP leaders averred, it will dent the BJP narrative of the ruling party being “pro-Muslim”. The report thus has a political purpose to serve, much like the communal violence it was tasked to probe into did.