Communalism

Nanavati Commission report exonerates Narendra Modi

Print edition : January 06, 2020

Justice G.T. Nanavati submitting his panel’s report on the Gujarat riots of 2002 to Chief Minister Anandiben Patel on November 11, 2018. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

The Nanavati commission, in a controversial report, gives Modi a clean chit for the 2002 Gujarat riots and holds police officers reponsible for not controlling the violence.

The Gujarat government tabled in the State Assembly on December 11 the findings of the Nanavati-Mehta inquiry commission on the 2002 communal riots five years after the probe panel presented it to the government in November 2014. This is the second part of the commission’s report and pertained to the communal riots that followed the burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, in which 59 passengers died. The report gives a clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the Gujarat Chief Minister, and other Ministers who face charges of inciting the violence, and holds police officers responsible for not controlling the violence.

Three policemen who provided substantial evidence on the complicity between the State government and the rioters have been indicted for their “negative” role in handling the matter. Additionally, two prominent activists, Teesta Setalvad and the late Mukul Sinha, who waged a relentless battle for justice, have also been accused of negativity and of tarnishing the image of the Modi government and his Ministers.

The first part of the commission’s report, which dealt with the Godhra incident, was submitted to the government in September 2008 and tabled in the Assembly soon after.

With the Nanavati-Mehta Commission exonerating Modi, only the Zakia Jafri case remains that links him to the most heinous communal riots seen in recent history. If Modi manages to clear that, one of the nine that come under the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe, he will be home and free. The Zakia Jafri case is being heard in the Supreme Court.

The Nanavati-Mehta Commission report is a 1,500-page, nine-volume document. Part 1 of the report is available in the public domain. In the conclusion section, it says: “There is absolutely no evidence to show that either the Chief Minister and/or any other Minister(s) in his Council of Ministers or Police officers had played any role in the Godhra incident or that there was any lapse on their part in the matter of providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims of communal riots or in the matter of not complying with the recommendations and directions given by National Human Rights Commission. Furthermore, there is no evidence regarding involvement of any definite religious or political organisation in the conspiracy. Some individuals who had participated in the conspiracy appear to be involved in the heinous act of setting coach S/6 on fire.”

When Gujarat Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja tabled the second part of the report, he said the commission stated there was no evidence to show that the attacks were either inspired or instigated or abetted by any Minister of the State. Jadeja said the report pointed out that the police at some places were ineffective in controlling the mob because of their inadequate numbers or because they were not properly armed. On communal riot incidents in Ahmedabad city, Jadeja said the commission stated: “The police had not shown their competence and eagerness which was necessary.” The commission recommended an inquiry or action against the erring police officers, the Minister said.

Appointed by the government of Gujarat in March 2002, the inquiry commission’s terms of reference were to investigate the circumstances and course of events that led to the burning of Sabarmati Express, which triggered communal riots across Gujarat. When the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power in 2004, the Gujarat government widened the commission’s scope to include the role and conduct of Modi as Chief Minister, his Council of Ministers, police officers, individuals and organisations involved in the riots and its aftermath. It is believed this was done to pre-empt the Congress-led UPA from constituting another committee. The law does not allow two committees to probe the same matter.

The commission was first a single-member body led by Justice K.G. Shah. His appointment led to protests by families of victims and human rights groups on the grounds that he was close to Modi. Justice G.T. Nanavati, a Supreme Court judge, was then added to the commission. Shah passed away in 2008 and was replaced by Justice (retd) A.H. Mehta.

While releasing details of the report, Jadeja said: “The commission has found the role of three senior police officers as negative…. They include R.B. Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt. We will initiate necessary departmental action against them.” With regard to the activists, he said: “These NGOs [non-governmental organisations] had wanted to tarnish the image of Modi, Gujarat and Gujaratis globally.” Frontline has followed the trials of the three policemen and the activists named in the report. R.B. Sreekumar, a retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Gujarat cadre, was an Additional Director General of Police when the Godhra incident took place. He had taken a strong stand against the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government after the riots. Sreekumar questioned the handling of law and order during those troubled days and believed that much of the violence could have been prevented but was deliberately allowed to go on. He filed nine affidavits with the commission. Clearly annoyed, the State government punished Sreekumar by denying him his promotion.

Rahul Sharma, a former IPS officer, was a Superintendent of Police, Bhavnagar district, when the riots broke out. He was successful in controlling the mob and ensuring that the violence in the district was not as bad as in other parts of the State. In an effort to pin down the guilty, Sharma tracked phone calls of politicians and police officers who were reportedly complicit in inciting the violence, particularly in the Naroda Patiya area. He submitted a compact disc (CD) copy of the call logs to the Nanavati-Shah Commission in 2004 and to the SIT in 2008. He also gave a few activists the CD. For this he earned the wrath of Modi and was constantly targeted. Eventually, he quit the IPS and took to practising law.

Sanjiv Bhatt, also an IPS officer, charged Modi with complicity in orchestrating the riots. In 2009, Bhatt told the SIT in his testimony in the Zakia Jafri case that Modi had been alerted about the communal violence but he deliberately ignored the intelligence information. At the time Bhatt was with the State’s Intelligence Bureau. Bhatt claimed that he was present at a meeting on February 27, 2002, where Modi told top bureaucrats and police officials that they should be “indifferent” and let Hindus “vent their anger”. The next day, Gujarat witnessed the most horrific communal violence. In spite of Modi’s persecution, Bhatt fought a courageous battle against the establishment. Sadly, when Modi became Prime Minister, Bhatt’s was the first head to roll. He was removed from service in 2015, arrested and recently sentenced to life on charges of a custodial death that took place reportedly under his watch in 1990.

As for the two activists, it is well known that Teesta Setalvad must be Modi’s and Amit Shah’s nemesis. She has been fighting a relentless and protracted legal battle on behalf of several families of those killed in the pogrom. Her pursuit for justice has seen many being prosecuted. She has been persecuted by the Gujarat government in so many ways that she lives in fear of arrest and knowing that she could meet the same fate as Bhatt.

Mukul Sinha, founder of the Jan Sangharsh Manch, passed away owing to a prolonged illness. A union leader and human rights activist, Sinha was deeply involved in securing justice for victims of the riots and for the families of those killed in state-sponsored encounters. His wife, Nirjhari, and son, Pratik Sinha, continue his work. They have begun a portal called Altnews.in, which tracks false news and ensures that the facts are exposed.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×