An Intelligence Bureau official's testimony before the Nanavati Commission in the form of a letter he wrote in early 2002 comes as another indictment of the Narendra Modi regime.
COULD the Gujarat government have curbed the violence that persisted even three months after the Godhra train burning incident on February 27, 2002? Could it have averted the atmosphere of fear and insecurity that lingers in the minority community even now?
According to a letter written by R.B. Sreekumar, Additional Director-General of Police (Intelligence) to Ashok Narayan, Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) officials had alerted the government about further planned attacks by extremist communal groups led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal against Muslims in Ahmedabad in late April 2002. Sreekumar's letter was part of his testimony before the K.G. Shah and G.T. Nanavati Commission probing the communal violence that engulfed Gujarat in 2002. Sreekumar is yet to appear before the commission.
The letter also warned of the complicity of many police personnel in shielding the accused and that their failure to record and investigate cases properly had made Muslims feel insecure, and, even belligerent. The police bias against Muslims was one of the reasons for Ahmedabad not returning to normalcy even two months after violence broke out, Sreekumar wrote in the letter. "They [Muslims] perceive themselves as a section of the population left at the total mercy of the radical communal elements led by Hindu organisations like [the] Bajrang Dal and [the] Vishwa Hindu Parishad."
Sreekumar's warnings on the deteriorating law and order situation in the State and the organised persecution of minorities is the first official document on the issue to be made public (The Times of India, August 18). "The Muslim community started developing a severe grudge against the criminal justice system, which they perceive to be heavily biased against them," Sreekumar told Ashok Narayan in April 2002. But not much was done to redress the situation.
Inspectors in police stations were taking orders from politicians directly, rather than their superiors, which was weakening the effectiveness and the morale of the police force, he warned. "Such officers have become quite adept in the art of deceptive law enforcement for the benefit of their political friends, who ensure their placement and continuance in their choicest executive posts, at the cost of the spirit and letter of the laws of the land," Sreekumar wrote.
Other policemen who have testified before the commission have also spoken about political complicity. In his deposition, Ashok Narayan said that Chief Minister Narendra Modi gave orders to allow the bodies of those killed in the Godhra incident to be brought to Ahmedabad. The VHP had organised a procession of the bodies in the State capital, which triggered the riots. Narayan said that at that time he was not aware that the Chief Minister himself had announced the BJP's support for the VHP-sponsored bandh.
On the day of the massacre itself, the State Intelligence Bureau had issued three warnings to the police. One warned of trouble breaking out as a consequence of the bodies being brought to Ahmedabad. The other two warned of violence the next day when the VHP had called for the bandh.
Inspector K.K. Mysorewala of Ahmedabad's Naroda police station said that field officers like him had instructions not to send messages to the police control room from their wireless sets. More than 100 people were killed in Naroda on February 28, 2002, but Mysorewala could not inform the police control room of the massacres in his jurisdiction.
LISTING the lapses by the police, Sreekumar said: "A major complaint of the Muslims is that the investigating officers are avoiding the arrest of Hindu leaders, even though their names are figuring in the FIRs of major offences... the accused persons belonging to the Hindu community arrested for non-bailable cases are also immediately released on account of the partisan stand taken by the government public prosecutors." In fact, several government prosecutors in the State are VHP members. After the release of the accused, "local leaders of the ruling party made arrangements for giving them a hero's felicitation," Sreekumar pointed out to the government.
"The police were not fair in recording the complaints (FIRs) of the minority community," he said, "and often pressure and strong persuasive tactics are also adopted to dissuade complainants from giving complaints." They were deliberately not recording the names of the accused in the FIRs and clubbed together crimes that took place in different places in a single FIR. This "provided loopholes to the accused persons during prosecution".
The "abnormally" high rate of Muslim casualties and losses, disproportionate to their population, had fostered a sense of revenge amongst some sections, the I.B. official said. He had warned that Islamic militants from within and outside the country were sending weapons to Ahmedabad. A high degree of "self-destructive" communalism by extremist elements in both communities was keeping hate alive, Sreekumar cautioned.
According to him, Gujarati newspapers too had provoked violence and pamphlets published by the VHP and articles written in its weekly magazine Sadhana had incited trouble. Sreekumar had recommended legal action against such publications but the government did not act on it.
The government did not implement any of his recommendations. Most of the accused remained free. No steps were taken to build the confidence of the minorities. Instead, Sreekumar was shunted out of the I.B. to the relatively insignificant wing of Modernisation and Reforms a few months after he wrote the letter.
Sreekumar even made adverse remarks against Narendra Modi when he ridiculed Muslims in a speech during his Gaurav Yatra by saying: "We do not want to continue to run relief camps to produce children... We must teach a lesson to those who multiply like this." The I.B. official had suggested that action be taken against the Chief Minister under Section 153A for provoking communal hatred. Later, he told Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh that the situation in Gujarat was not conducive for elections because people in the 154 (of a total of 182) constituencies were still insecure and many were unable to return home.
Riot victims and human rights groups filed a flurry of petitions before the Supreme Court. When the cases were heard, the court reprimanded the Gujarat government severely.
Two cases - the Zahira Sheikh case (Best Bakery in Baroda) and the Bilkis Yakub case (in Randhikpur, Dahod) - have been transferred to a court in Mumbai, as the victims felt that they would not get a fair trial in Gujarat. In the Best Bakery judgment, the Supreme Court described the Modi government as "modern day Neros" who "were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected."
Sreekumar paid the price for being candid. But, maybe the Gujarat government would have saved itself from humiliation at the Supreme Court if it had heeded his advice.