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Rediff.com  » News » 'Hindus started it, Muslims took it to climax'

'Hindus started it, Muslims took it to climax'

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Last updated on: January 20, 2005 11:07 IST

The Justice U C Banerjee Committee recently came out with its interim report on the Godhra train fire.

Constituted in September 2004 by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav with the Cabinet's approval, the committee was asked to inquire into 'certain aspects of the incident of fire', including if it started from outside the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002.

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The 'terms of reference' had to be carefully drafted because the Nanavati Commission, formed under the Commission of Inquiry Act, was already hearing the events that resulted in the fire and the subsequent riots in Gujarat.

The interim report does not directly blame Hindus or Muslims for the incident.

It claims that the fire, which killed 59 people, was an accident.

However, the haste with which the report was framed -- railway officials and those investigating the case were not questioned -- and the timing of it being made public have raised questions.

Here are some reactions to the report.

A POLICE OFFICER who was part of the team that initially conducted the investigation told rediff.com, "Karsevaks were, in fact, bekarsevaks. They had almost hijacked the train. The incident was spontaneous. When they dragged burkha-clad women in the compartment, the Muslim crowd of Signal Falia got hyper.

After the investigation, I am convinced that politicians used the incident to garner votes. It became a propaganda tool to win election. I believe that the report is correct."

The officer, requesting anonymity, said the karsevaks compounded the problem by attacking Muslim tea vendors with trishuls.

He also claimed that in his preliminary inquiry he found that though as per the duty register, 32 railway policemen were supposed to be on duty that day, only three were present.

Asked about the minority community's role, he said, "Hindus started it and Muslims took it to the climax."

MUKUL SINHA, an Ahmedabad-based lawyer, has much to cheer about, because the report mentions what he has always maintained as the truth.

In July 2004, he had made a presentation at the India International Centre in New Delhi in the presence of some of the country's best-known secular pundits, giving his opinion about the incident.

Sinha has earned kudos for his cross-examination of witnesses before the Nanavati Commission.

"It's nonsense to say that Godhra was a planned act or a conspiracy," he said. He maintained that it was an accident.

Asked about the report being made public just before the assembly elections in Bihar, he said, "The timing of the report is immaterial. In India, everything happens because of politics. Without political pains no truth is born in India. The Nanavati Commission is also a result of politics. Thank god for that. Obviously, I agree with the report because we are saying the same thing."

He disagreed that the report would create further rift between Hindus and Muslims. "The Muslim society is not divided over the Godhra issue. The Banerjee report will now divide Hindus, and that is for the better."

LAWYERS Indira Jaisingh and Anand Grover are fighting a case in the Mehsana district court in Himmatnagar against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

On April 30, 2004, their London-based Indian client Dawoodbhai had filed a case seeking Modi's prosecution.

Jaisingh is trying to establish the chain of command in the administration set up during the riots to make Modi directly responsible for the deaths of two non-resident Indians.

"The report will have an effect on the Godhra trial. It will be used in all related trials," Jaisingh told rediff.com.

She claimed that the incident was just an excuse for the Saffronites. "People were led to believe that the Godhra carnage was a conspiracy, which is now disproved."

MUKHTAR AHMED, a businessman and a social worker based in Kalol, near Godhra, works for many Muslims accused in the case.

He has worked for Delhi and Mumbai-based activists. He also provides them data needed to fight cases on behalf of the riot victims.

"Those innocent people suffering for the last three years now have a ray of hope. I agree with the Banerjee report. There are 78 Muslims arrested under Prevention of Terrorism Act in the Godhra case. Their families are feeling helpless. The police have made up false cases. Under Section 164 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code, confessions have been extracted, on the basis of which the courts are not granting bail."

Ahmed said the report would also mean that POTA was wrongly applied in the case.

As per the report there is no conspiracy angle to the case. Hence, it will be claimed that the application of POTA was also a political act.

RAKESH ASTHANA is special inspector-general, Baroda Range, while Noel Parmar is serving as deputy superintendent of police, Baroda Division, Railway Police Force.

Both officers are known to be able investigators. Asthana knows the hard work needed to probe such crimes, while Parmar is highly experienced, a workaholic, apolitical and sincere.

Both swear that their investigation is foolproof.

The only grey area is regarding the links that the prime accused have. It is not yet known who was the brain behind the incident, if it was a conspiracy.

Only those who executed the crime have been arrested.

One investigator told rediff.com, "Even if the Congress government comes to power in Gujarat under Shankarsinh Vaghela, we will not be worried. Even he will not be able to ignore our findings. The confessions of the accused were recorded in the court of Godhra chief judicial magistrate under Section 164. More than four-dozen Muslin lawyers were present during the recording. How can you ignore all the confessions? These confessions, coupled with the forensic reports and more than 130 witness recordings, are enough to have us satisfied with our investigation. We are not worried or afraid of allegations against us. It is a matter of time before the culprits are convicted."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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