Business, Economics and Jobs

Revisionist journalism

This December, Indian newspapers reported that a special investigation team (SIT) tasked with probing the role of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in riots that killed some 2,000 people in Ahmedabad in 2002 had given the leader a "clean chit."  But the real story is very different, reports India's Tehelka magazine, which claims to have gained access to the original SIT report.

The expose will be a bitter pill for supporters of the BJP, many of whom view Modi as their best candidate for prime minister. And it will probably reignite anger against the Gujarati leader, even as his brilliant success in courting big business has started to rehabilitate his image.  

Already, since the riots Modihas been re-elected three times--even as the court system and civil society were endeavoring to put him behind bars. He has transformed Gujarat into the most vibrant hub of business activity in the country by slicing through red tape and clearing the way for foreign direct investment and huge industrial projects like Tata's Nano factory -- which he scooped up after politics forced Tata to abandon West Bengal. His popularity continues to grow at home, where a re-evaluation by the new head of India's most influential board of imams has even cleared the way for rich Muslims to embrace him. And even the US-India Business Council is stumping for the removal of the ban preventing him from traveling to the US along with anybody who is "responsible for, or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

But the SIT report will likely scuttle any attempt to perfume over the whiff of fascism that follows him.

Asserting that "now, for the first time, there is damning official confirmation of many things victims and human rights groups have been accusing Modi of," Tehelka says the SIT report found the fiery BJP leader guilty of "a communal mindset, inflammatory speeches, destruction of crucial records, appointment of [Rashtriya Swayamsevak] Sangh (a Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim group) members as public prosecutors, illegal positioning of ministers in police control rooms during the riots, and persecution of neutral officers."

Tehelka claims that the SIT report makes the following key findings:

1. “In spite of the fact that ghastly and violent attacks had taken place on Muslims at Gulberg Society...[Modi] tried to water down the seriousness of the situation at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and other places by saying that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

2. "In an extremely 'controversial' move, the government of Gujarat had placed two senior ministers — Ashok Bhatt and IK Jadeja — in the Ahmedabad city police control room and the state police control room during the riots. The SIT chairman comments that the two ministers were positioned in the control rooms with “no definite charter”, fuelling the speculation that they “had been placed to interfere in police work and give wrongful decisions to the field officers”.

3. The report affirms that police officers who took a neutral stand during the riots and prevented massacres were transferred by the Gujarat government to insignificant postings. SIT’S Raghavan has termed these transfers “questionable” since “they came immediately after incidents in which the officers concerned were known to have antagonised ruling party men”.

4. The report says “The Gujarat government has reportedly destroyed the police wireless communication of the period pertaining to the riots.” It adds, “No records, documentations or minutes of the crucial law and order meetings held by the government during the riots had been kept.” (Page 13)

5. The report says Modi displayed a “discriminatory attitude by not visiting the riot-affected areas in Ahmedabad where a large number of Muslims were killed, though he went to Godhra [where Hindus died in a burning train] on the same day, travelling almost 300 km on a single day.” 

6. The SIT confirms that the government appointed VHP and RSS-affiliated advocates as public prosecutors in sensitive riot cases. The report states: “It appears that the political affiliation of the advocates did weigh with the government for the appointment of public prosecutors.” (The VHP, or Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and the RSS, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are both Hindu nationalist / fundamentalist organizations that are heavily prejudiced against Muslims).

7. According to the report, the Gujarat government did not take any steps to stop the illegal bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on 28 February 2002. On the contrary the BJP had supported the bandh. (Page 69)

(It is important to remember that it was Hindu mobs mobilised by the local VHP and BJP leaders in the name of bandhs that had carried out the horrific massacres at Naroda and Gulberg Society on 28 February 2002.)

8. The SIT report also says that, in an inexplicable move, the police administration did not impose curfew in Naroda until 12 pm and Meghani Nagar (Ahmedabad city) until 2 pm on 28 February 2002. By then, the situation had severely deteriorated at both places.

9. According to the SIT, despite detailed reports recommending strict action submitted to Modi by field officers of the State Intelligence Bureau, the Modi government failed to take action against a section of the print media that was publishing communally- inciting reports, inflaming base emotions. This had vitiated the communal situation further. (Page 79)

10. The SIT also asserts that in August 2002, in a bid to ensure an early Assembly election, top officials of the Modi government misled the Central Election Commission by presenting a picture of normalcy when the state was still simmering with communal tension. (Page 79 to 86)

(The BJP had prematurely dissolved the Assembly on 19 August 2002, nine months before the expiry of the five-year term, and demanded an early election. The BJP clearly wanted to take electoral advantage of the communal polarisation.)

11.The SIT discovered that the state police had carried out patently shoddy investigations in the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society massacre cases. It deliberately overlooked the cell phone records of Sangh Parivar members and BJP leaders involved in the riots — prominent among them were the Gujarat VHP president Jaideep Patel and BJP minister Maya Kodnani. If these records had been analysed and used as evidence, it could have established their complicity. (Pages 101-105)

12. Many senior police are now being investigated by the SIT for their suspected complicity in the riots. The former Ahmedabad joint commissioner of police MK Tandon, in whose area around 200 Muslims were killed, has been found guilty of deliberate dereliction of duty. (Post the riots, however, far from being censored, he got one lucrative posting after another and retired as additional director general of police in June 2007.) His junior, former deputy commissioner of police PK Gondia, has also been found guilty of willfully allowing the massacres. The SIT says that if the two had just carried out their duty hundreds of Muslims could have been saved. (Pages 48-50) Neither of these officers was held accountable by the Modi government.

13. The SIT has also found evidence against the then minister of state for home Gordhan Zadaphia (who was reporting directly to Modi) for his complicity in the riots. Another BJP minister Mayaben Kodnani has already been booked in the Naroda Patiya massacre. (Pages 168-169) 

So why weren't any criminal charges filed against Modi? And why weren't the findings of the SIT made public?  That's where the so-called "clean chit" comes in, according to Tehelka: 'In his concluding statements, SIT Chairman RK Raghavan says: “As many as 32 allegations were probed into during this preliminary inquiry. These related to several acts of omission and commission by the state government and its functionaries, including the chief minister. A few of these alone were in fact substantiated.’ He goes on to add, “the substantiated allegations did not throw up material that would justify further action under the law.”'

"This itself is a shocking conclusion," the magazine argues. "How much more violation of public duty will it take for something to be deemed sufficient “justification” for further investigation or penal action in India? Both through testimonies of victims, human rights groups, independent media reports and now the SIT’s own findings, it is clear that, in many cases, riots were either allowed to happen or directly abetted. It is also clear that after the riots were controlled, both the courts and the police were either manipulated or subverted; guilty officers were rewarded, upright officers were penalised or cut to size; official records were destroyed. As chief minister, Narendra Modi presided over this terrible implosion of a just and fair society. By virtue of also being the Cabinet minister for home, the entire law and order machinery — both police and intelligence — were directly under him. How much more culpability does an elected representative of India, inducted into office on Constitutional oath, have to display before further investigation and action is warranted against him? As chief minister, he did not have to physically patrol streets with mobs to be held culpable. He only needed to look away or send a tacit signal for utter mayhem to take over. That itself would have been crime enough. But from the SIT’s findings, Modi clearly did more than that."