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Keeping Alive The Ghost Of Godhra

By Farzana Versey

17 October, 2006

Godhra is back in the news.

The Gujarat High court has dismissed the very existence of the union government setting up the U.C.Banerjee committee and its findings into the death of 59 people who were burnt in the train on February 27, 2002.

The state government's 'every action has a reaction' theory – an uncivilised way of justifying the riots that followed, to begin with – had been turned to smithereens when the Banerjee interim report pronounced, "With the elimination of the 'petrol theory', 'miscreant activity theory' as well as the ruling out of any possibility of 'electrical fire', the fire in S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express can at this stage be ascribed as an 'accidental fire'.''

On Friday, October 13, 2006, Justice D N Patel repeated what Narendra Modi and the saffron parties have been saying. It is an endorsement of their insecurities. The arguments do not work.

They say: The committee's interim report was released just before the Bihar assembly polls with mala fide intentions.

What were the intentions of the Gujarat government when it distributed pictures of the damaged Godhra train during the polls? How bona fide were its intentions when leaflets in Gujarati were asking people to boycott the minority community and do worse?

Where was it when in Bihar the BJP's Shahnawaz Hussein was asking voters, "Ai Mussalman, BJP se nahi, Khuda se dar. Aur Khuda se darega to zaalim ka saath nahin dega"?

How did the BJP get away with such pressure tactics and insulting the Muslims by referring to them as the "rakhails" (mistresses) of Laloo Prasad Yadav? And then they accuse Yadav of politicising.

They say: Since the Nanavati Shah Commission constituted by the state government was probing the incident and subsequent carnage, there could not be another commission probing along the same lines.

Why should we wait and trust the yet-to-be-tabled Nanavati Report when the Committee was set up by the then ruling party whose state government was an active participant in the riots? When did the Gujarat government ever observe "Constitutional norms"?

They say: The railways had no authority to appoint such a committee; it was a gross violation of the Indian Railways Act and also the Commission of Inquiries Act.

The incident happened in a train. All evidence of that bogey was destroyed. It was the business of the then railway minister to have instituted an enquiry; instead, the ruling party whose hoodlums created the reactionary mayhem set up a committee. The railway ministry has every reason to get involved because the railway tribunal paid compensation.

According to one account less than a year after the incident, "The immediate kin of 25 victims were given away cheques amounting to Rs 1 crore as compensation. The tribunal had ordered the Railways to pay a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the relatives of each victim. The amount has been given away along with the interest at the rate of nine per cent, payable from the date of application to the date of disbursement. Calculating the interest, the amount comes to around Rs 4.5 lakh which is in addition to the sum of Rs 15,000. This was paid as ex-gratia by the Railways, immediately after the massacre."

Narendra Modi justified the alacrity of the move because "it was a terrorist-related incident".

78 Muslims were arrested after the incident under POTA. The police made up false cases against them. And why did the government not bother about the 104 relief camps in Gujarat that gave refuge to 1,11,176 people all due to what happened with the connivance of the State?

They say: The matter went up to the Supreme Court but it refused to interfere and asked the Gujarat high court to resolve the matter.

It is time the Supreme Court realised when it has to interfere.

What do we know about the dead kar sevaks? While it is clear who was behind the riots that followed in Gujarat, there has always been ambiguity about the Godhra deaths of 59 people. It is important to look into this.

These sevaks were shouting religious slogans and were obviously motivated. Has the possibility of them being a suicide squad not occurred to anyone? Could they not have been militants out to create trouble?

If it is conclusively proved that Godhra was a rail accident, then who do we hold responsible? The Gujarat government cannot be trusted to deal with this.

Farzana Versey can be reached at [email protected]

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