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India: The fine art of fact-fudging

by Javed Anand, 7 April 2014

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ASIAN AGE, 06 APRIL 2014

THE FICTION OF FACT-FINDING: MODI AND GODHRA
By Manoj Mitta
Harper Collins, 599

Through painstaking research and analysis, Manoj Mitta has amassed enough evidence to damn the SIT’s closure report mock India’s commitment to its national motto: Satyamev Jayate’

The 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat under the watch of chief minister and home minister Narendra Modi was arguably the worst communal carnage in India since Independence.

On the petition of Zakia Jafri — a survivor of the massacre at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad in which 69 persons, including her husband and former MP Ehsan Jafri, were killed — the Supreme Court appointed a Special Investigation Team in 2009 to probe Ms Jafri’s complaint that the violence was the result of a criminal conspiracy in which Mr Modi was the prime accused.

In February 2012, the SIT submitted its final report before a magistrate’s court in Ahmedabad claiming there was no evidence to prosecute Mr Modi or the 59 other co-accused — top politicians, civil servants and police officers. Towards the end of December 2013, the magistrate’s court rejected Ms Jafri’s protest petition which challenged the SIT’s so-called “clean chit” to Mr Modi and others.

Ms Jafri’s appeal against the magistrate’s verdict is now being heard in the Gujarat high court. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the lower court’s clean verdict, here’s a safe bet: the SIT’s chief and retired Central Bureau of Investigation director R.K. Raghavan dare not venture a face-to-face at any public forum with Manoj Mitta, author of The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra.

For, through painstaking research and analysis, Mitta has amassed enough evidence to damn the SIT’s fact-fudging: “The anomalies of the SIT’s closure report mock India’s commitment to its national motto: Satyamev Jayate (Truth alone shall prevail) ...The fact-finding conducted by the SIT has ended up eroding the institution of the Supreme Court.”

How could this be? Didn’t the SIT’s A.K. Malhotra “grill” Mr Modi himself for nine long hours on March 27, 2010? Yes, but, “Malhotra studiously refrained from challenging any of his (Mr Modi’s) replies, however controversial… he refrained from asking a single follow-up question”. Why would Mr Malhotra engage in such a charade? “It seemed as if Malhotra’s brief was more to place Modi’s defence on record rather than to ferret out any inconsistency or admission of wrong-doing.” From whom did Mr Malhotra receive his brief is anyone’s guess.

Here are a few examples of the SIT’s many subterfuges unravelled by Mitta.

On the very day — February 27, 2002 — of the gruesome burning to death of 58 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya in a coach of the Sabarmati Express near Godhra station, Mr Modi stoked mass rage declaring without an iota of evidence that Pakistan/ISI were behind this “act of terrorism” in Godhra.

Mr Malhotra did ask Mr Modi on what basis he had declared that the inferno was “pre-planned and that Pakistan/ISI hands were behind the Godhra incident”. Mr Modi’s reply: “I did not utter any such words in the Assembly. Of course, the media had put some questions to me about it, but I had told (them) that nothing could be said until the investigation was completed.” The question, clearly, was not where but whether Mr Modi had made such a baseless, incendiary statement. Yet Mr Malhotra chose not to confront Mr Modi with the press release issued by his own government the same evening quoting him as asserting that the Godhra incident was a “pre-planned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism”. Had Mr Malhotra done so, he would have established a crucial link in the conspiracy chain, as alleged by Ms Jafri.

Here’s another. While claiming before the SIT that he had meticulously kept himself abreast of the situation through frequent law and order review meetings on February 28, Mr Modi simultaneously maintained that he first got to know of the two worst carnages of 2002 — Gulberg Society and Naroda Patia in Ahmedabad, the city adjoining Gandhinagar — only at 8.30 pm, hours after 165 innocents had been butchered in broad daylight.

Who will buy the yarn that top police officers would dare conceal such information from the chief/home minister throughout the briefings? The SIT did! Besides, if he really had been kept in the dark, what did Mr Modi do subsequently to hold the police officers accountable? He rewarded them with promotion after promotion. Here is another clear indicator of larger conspiracy, but the SIT shied away from probing the “unexplained incongruities”, Mitta observes.

In 2002 itself, Rahul Sharma, a conscientious Indian Police Service officer, had collected a goldmine of evidence in the form of mobile call records exposing the nexus between mass murderers, police officers, top politicians and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders. The Ahmedabad crime branch simply ignored the damning evidence and no one, including home minister Mr Modi, was the least concerned when the original CDs went “missing”.
The SIT simply ignored the tell-tale call records, just as it overlooked piles of other incriminating evidence detailed in the book, leading Mitta to the conclusion, “The SIT’s exoneration of Modi owed much to its reluctance to link the dots and get the big picture of Gujarat”.

The book, however, does not stop at exposing the SIT’s farcical “fact-fudging”. It proceeds to examine how this happened under the Supreme Court’s watch, the same apex court which has delivered landmark verdicts and set precedents for justice in the context of communal violence. Also under the scanner is the highly problematic conduct of the ongoing Nanavati Commission, the role of the Supreme Court’s amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran (“his failure to notice the farcical nature of the SIT’s questions to Modi”), even judge Jyotsna Yagnik — for not pursuing the issue of police complicity to its logical end — whose judgment in the Naroda Patia case Mitta otherwise lauds as “historic”.

Perhaps, the “original sin” lies in the decision of retired Justice Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court — the very man whose verdicts relating to Gujarat 2002 cases set new benchmarks in judicial activism — in choosing Mr Raghavan to head the SIT appointed by him.

Perhaps, opines Mitta, the problem lay with the “opaque fact-finding” of the J.S. Verma Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu in 1991. The commission did indict Mr Raghavan, the “overall in charge”, for security lapses. It left sufficient room to enable the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre to elevate him as chief of CBI in January 1999. Perhaps Mr Raghavan has been thanking his benefactors since.

As in the case of his book on the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage in Delhi, When a Tree Shook Delhi, Mitta once again leaves us with a deeply disturbing thought: “When it came to the high and mighty the system betrayed a deep-seated inhibition to take the evidence to its logical conclusion”, whether in case of Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002.

Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

P.S.

The above article from Asian Age is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use