South Asia Citizens Wire
8 February 2003

A New Twist in the Gujarat ěConspiracyî?

by Arvind Rajagopal

In the latest twist in the Godhra case, Maulana Hussain Umarji, a respected figure among Muslims in Godhra, has been arrested on suspicion of masterminding the attack on the train that left 58 dead. The arrest follows a ěconfessionî by Zabir Behra, one of the accused who is in custody, alleging that Maulana Umarji had planned the action.

Now, a confession extracted from a prisoner in custody is not reliable evidence, needless to say. The police have ways of producing truth that the truthful cannot trust. But there is more reason to suspect that the latest ěrevelationsî may be fabricated. The BJP government has maintained that the attack was preplanned, and is part of a pattern of terroristic behavior by Indian Muslims. The BJPís recent election victory in Gujarat rested, to some extent, on the claim that only the BJP could provide national security. All Muslims are agents of Pakistan, and are always bent on violence against India, that is, against Hindus, in this view. The arrest of a Muslim cleric fits with the BJPís preferred view, which is not only that Muslims are the culprits, but that the wrongdoing arises from religiously-minded Muslims, who can only be murderous fanatics, according to the BJP.

But all the accounts of the February 27 attack make it clear that it was an intemperate response of Muslim youth in Godhra to VHP hooligans who misbehaved at the railway station. There seems to have been no advance plan, and no conspiracy to set the train alight.

The BJP and its affiliates are determined to prove the opposite. If Godhra was just an accident, then the reaction to Godhra was unjustified. If Godhra was a deliberately conceived plot, then the BJP are confirmed as right, and we need anticipatory violence against Muslims to stem the outbreaks of more carnage against Hindus.

In fact, numerous discrepancies in the investigations into Godhra throw doubt on the BJPís own case.

For instance, none of the eyewitness accounts from BJP leaders claiming to have been present at Godhra overlap. Each of the 15 accounts identifies different members of the crowd that attacked the train on February 27. The police have conceded that basing the prosecution on single-witness testimonies weakens their case. Meanwhile two of the witnesses have filed affidavits retracting their earlier statements. One, Dilipbhai Dasadia, who claimed to identify six accused, later stated he was not even present at the spot, and that the police had never recorded his statement. The other, Kakun Pathak, has said that the person he identified was Ismail Chungi, not Ismail Chunga, as mentioned in the police records. Investigators have said that after these two affidavits were filed, they did not have any other witness who could identify the seven accused. (See Bharat Desai, ěContradictions in names of Godhra,î Times News Network, 31 Aug, 2002).

Then there is the report of the Forensic Lab of Gujarat State in Ahmedabad, authored by Dr. M.S. Dhaiya, which has reported that the fire in S6 could not have been started from outside the compartment. The initial claims were that the fire was started by miscreants who pelted stones and later threw petrol on the train from outside and set it on fire. Later, however, this story was modified, and witnesses were found who testified that the fire was begun by youth who boarded the train, and poured petrol from within.

There is also the now well-known story of the missing passengers. The Railway Minister Nitish Kumar has said that only 9 of the 58 persons killed in the S6 compartment of the Sabarmati express could be identified from the reservation chart. 41 of the 52 reserved travelers survived the burning of the coach, and several may not even have traveled. Further, although the passengers were returning from Faizabad, the reservations appear to have been made onward from Lucknow, about 120 km west of Faizabad on the journey to Ahmedabad. We donít quite know who was on the train then. The VHPís story is that those killed were VHP volunteers returning with their families from ěa religious ceremonyî at Ayodhya.

That the sangh parivar is anti-Muslim, everyone knows. But Muslims in India are not necessarily anti-Hindu. Therefore, the sangh parivar has to cultivate myths and fantasies about nonexistent violence against Hindus. Former members of the RSS have described how they would routinely write letters as if written by one Muslim to another, describing plans to attack Hindus because of course, that is what Muslims do. These letters would then be ědiscoveredî and used as hate propaganda. Inflammatory antiHindu posters are posted in public places in order to provoke Hindu youth to commit ěpreemptiveî or ěretaliatoryî violence against Muslims. An important film by Lalit Vachani, ěThe Men in the Tree,î about the RSS, records accounts by former RSS members of such activities.

To get a sense of the BJPís mode of political reasoning, here are some excerpts from Narendra Modiís statement on Feb 28, the day after the attack, on Ahmedabad Doordarshan:

ěYesterday inhuman atrocity took place in Godhra. About 40 women and children were burnt alive. About 58 persons in train were roasted by the savages. This barbarous act in the history of mankind will bring tears even in the eyes of the most hardhearted. This demonic act in the land of Gujarat, is the most devilish act against humanity. This is unbecoming of any civilized society. It is something which can never be pardoned. I want to assure the people that Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident. The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams thinks of committing a heinous crime like this. The Gujarat government shall safeguard the lives of the common people and shall not allow those who want to take the law into their own hands to destroy the peace of innocent citizens. Such culprits have no place in civilised society. I appeal to you with folded hands we must maintain peace and selfrestraint. It is our resolve to punish the culprits. No one will be spared.î

The language in this speech is extraordinary. Modi is engaged in systematic doublespeak, inviting vigilantism while also asking for peace and restraint. Faced with an incident of communal violence, Modi responds by promoting it further, asking for vengeance: the savages will be punished and ěno one will be spared.î But in any incident of crowd violence, numerous conflicting accounts of the story persist, as with Godhra; guilt and motive are difficult to establish in any act involving a crowd. Modiís speech, given the day after the attack in Godhra, shows no hesitation. There is no question whom he is referring to when he condemns ěthe savages;î the identity of ěthe culpritsî and the nature of ětheir sinsî is to him crystal clear. And he makes no mention of conducting an inquiry into the event.

This fits, not with the idea of a Muslim conspiracy, but rather of the BJPís own readiness to vilify Muslims and provoke violence against them. Their political survival has depended on it.

return to New collection at South Asia Citizens Web

Return to South Asia Citizens Web