By Abu Saleh
First of all let me submit that this is not an in-depth book review. Here I have tried to stitch together some scattered points from Manoj Mitta’s The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra. The book is published at a time when India is already conducting the General Elections. Keeping with the tradition of publishing books around important elections, Mitta’s book coincides with Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh and P C Parakh’s Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths.
On 13 April, 2014, a panel discussion was organised at La Makan, Hyderabad, to launch the book. Manoj Mitta, Prof. Jyotirmaya Sharma, Mr. Kingshuk Nag, Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran, Mr. Shafeeq Mahajir, and Dilip Simeon participated in the panel. While Prof. Jyotirmaya Sharma (Professor of Political Science, University of Hyderabad) and Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran (Director, CSD Hyderabad) discussed the political implication of the Riots, Mr. Shafeeq Mahajir, a noted lawyer who defended the Mecca Masjid bomb blast accused, made observations from the legal perspective. Mr. Kingshuk Nag, the present Editor-in-Chief, Times of India, Hyderabad, headed the Times of India in Ahmedabad during the 2002 Gujarat Riots. He narrated his observations on the riots and how the media represented it. Dilip Simeon, an activist and columnist, made some incisive comments.
While the book narrates the communal violence that broke out in various parts of Gujarat following the Godhra train burning, resulting in huge losses of lives and properties, especially of Muslims, under the benign watch of Mr. Narendra Modi, the author’s main focus is the investigation process into the riots. The book highlights the ‘ambiguities’ and ‘gaps’ in the process of fact-finding by the Supreme Court-constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT). Punching holes in Modi’s claims, Mitta asks: If Mr. Modi’s claims, that he was tracking the violence as it was unfolding, were true, how could he also claim to have been unaware of the riots nearly five hours after the first massacre at the Gulberg Society, which claimed the life Mr. Ehsan Jafri, along with others? Moreover, why did it take Modi five days to visit the riot-affected areas and nearly one month to visit the Muslim refugee camps? The author suggests that the SIT investigation ended up producing a fiction out of facts.
The book points out that from the very beginning of the investigation process, the Gujarat Government didn’t follow the standard forensic procedures that are the basic requirements in any criminal case. Mr. Nag corroborates this when he says that the burnt train was kept open and accessible to the public for many days and the forensic experts investigated it only after two months. Also, improper and inadequate record-keeping show a systematic effort to divert the investigation process. Responding to the Supreme Court, the Gujarat Government admitted that it did not register around 17,000-odd cases. For about six years, the Gujarat Police kept aside the call data records during the riots. The book aptly shows how the judicial process was undermined and manipulated.
The book draws a parallel between the 2002 Gujarat Riots and the 1984 Sikh Riots, after the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Ms. Indira Gandhi. While the 1984 witnessed unprecedented brutality against the Sikhs, the 2002 Riots were marked by unparallel sexual and gendered violence against women. We noticed a repeat of such sexual violence during the Muzaffarnagar Riots in 2013. In both the cases, the book highlights the denial of responsibility by the ruling class and a lack of decisiveness in dealing with such heinous acts. It appears that the state periodically tries to assert its legitimacy by inflicting violence on the minorities, especially Muslims. Mitta connects the Gujarat Riots with the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre under the British colonial rule to show the legacy of state violence in the postcolonial period.
The question arises: Was Modi complicit in the Riots? It’s been well reported that Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Indian Prime Minster, thought of sacking Modi as Gujarat’s Chief Minister. During his visit to Gujarat, Vajpayee read his famous poem: “Geet nahi gata hoon/ Benaqab chhehre hain/Daag bade gahre hain/ Toottha tilism aaj, saach se bhaya khata hoon. (I do not sing a song/faces have been unmasked/scars are deep/with the breaking up of mystery today, I am afraid of even truth).” In a joint press conference with Modi, Mr. Vajpayee had stressed that a leader must follow ‘rajdharma and should not differentiate between subjects’. The then Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani had stated: “What happened in Gujarat is a matter of distress. It is a blot on my government. It is indefensible. I feel sorry that this has happened.” Further, Ashish Khetan’s Tehelka Sting Operation revealed the confessions of Babu Bajrangi and others in which they claimed that Modi approved the riots as revenge. During the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai had asked Modi whether he regretted the Riots in 2002. In a casual manner, Modi replied that he gave a chance to the people of Gujarat to do justice (read, by killing Muslims) and they had done it once and they would do it again, if required. Thereafter, he changed the conversation immediately.
The same man is now an aspirant to the post of the Prime Minister of India!
Abu Saleh is a doctoral student at the Center for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.
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