Godhra: An accident or a conspiracy?

08 Feb, 2005    ·   1637

B Rajeshwari argues as to why the existence of different versions of the truth at Godhra cannot exonerate the BJP of its complicity in the riots that ensued

The findings of the Justice U C Banerjee Committee on the Godhra fire tragedy that occurred on 27 February 2002 has not been able to quell the debate of whether Godhra was an accident or a planned conspiracy. Though the Banerjee Railway Inquiry Committee claims that Godhra was an accident and there was no conspiracy, yet there is no consensus on accepting this result. This should not discredit its findings, which is perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of the Godhra tragedy. There seems to be no way in which one could arrive at the final truth behind Godhra as different versions of the truth are being produced by different sources. This is not the first time that differences emerged in the way in which a riot situation has been interpreted. The members of the Inquiry Commission on the 1989 Bhagalpur riots did not agree on the findings and similar differences have emerged among the various Inquiry Commissions on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

The Gujarat police claim that the fire was started by a mob of miscreants from outside the train, which was a planned conspiracy hatched against the Kar Sevaks. Given the communal background of the Gujarat police, it is not surprising that this theory is not believed by anyone in the country, except for the Sangh Parivar and its sympathizers. The U C Banerjee Interim Report and the Forensic Department findings do not corroborate this theory and indicate that the fire was started from within Coach number S-6 and not from outside. The other debate is that, even if the fire was started from inside, was it deliberate or an accident. While the Forensic Department's findings prove the presence of inflammable objects poured in a deliberate attempt to start the fire from inside, the U C Banerjee report has refuted this theory and has suggested that the fire was purely an accident. Therefore, the debate whether Godhra was an accident or a planned conspiracy would perhaps never end.

But the important question to be asked is whether a riot would have occurred irrespective of the fire? The answer to this question is in the affirmative, which is acceptable to all except the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government in Gujarat. Even if the Sabarmati Express was not set on fire, the riots would have occurred for some other reason. The scale and manner in which people were killed and the well-prepared mobs that came out in large numbers to target the minority community only proves that Godhra was merely an excuse to start the pogrom. It is not surprising that there has not been any significant comment from Narendra Modi on the various findings on Godhra. He was able to cash in on from the incident and therefore? the chapter is closed for him. For people like Laloo Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, Godhra is still an important event as the truth behind the incident could result in their gaining or losing some votes.

It is clear that the then Railway ministry failed to carry out its preliminary duties of establishing a railway enquiry into the matter. The Ministry was responsible in its own way in instigating the riots that followed the burning of Sabarmati express. The Railways did not conceal the identity of the passengers on the burnt coach and instead went out of its way to publicize it. This aided the perpetrators of communal violence by providing them a strong reason to instigate the people on communal lines. This is not the first time that such an incident has been used by perpetrators of communal violence for their purposes. Every communal riot occurs because such incidents are given a communal colour and violence against a particular community is justified by the the incident. The problem arises when such justifications are promoted by a democratically elected government as in the case of Gujarat. The fact that the government in Gujarat was complicit in not controlling the communal violence cannot change irrespective of whatever the truth in Godhra and it is not only the Modi Government but the NDA Government at the Centre that needs to be blamed. The recent statements of the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry on the Anti Sikh riots that the entire Congress cannot be blamed for the 1984 riots is difficult to accept. Though individual members of the party are blamed for such acts, yet by not taking any action against them, the entire party seems to agree with them. Therefore it is time that the BJP realizes that the truth behind Godhra is not going to change the fact that it was responsible for deliberately mishandling the situation in Gujarat, while members of the party were active participants in the communal violence.