THE Nanavati Commission report tabled in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday, has exonerated the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, and his government of any complicity or laxity in dealing with the communal riots that left over 1,000 dead in the state, mostly from the minority community, following the burning of Sabarmati Express’s S-6 coach near Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002.
In its report, the panel, comprising Justices G T Nanavati and A H Mehta, which submitted its report five years ago, has also come down heavily on three senior Gujarat-cadre IPS officers – Sanjiv Bhatt, Rahul Sharma and RB Sreekumar – in service then, and NGOs Jan Sangharsh Manch then led by Mukul Sinha and Citizens for Justice and Peace led by Teesta Setalvad for levelling allegations that it said were ‘baseless’, ‘false’ or ‘not reliable’.
Modi had announced a single-member commission under Justice (retired) GT Nanavati way back in February 2002. It was later reconstituted to include Gujarat High Court Justice K G Shah. After Justice Shah died, Justice AH Mehta took his place. The terms of reference of the Commission were expanded to look at the role and conduct of the chief minister, ministers and police officers during the riots.
While the Commission has recommended increasing police strength, it has also called for placing ‘reasonable restriction’ on publishing reports by the media during communal riots.
Explained | 2002 Gujarat riots: What Nanavati panel found
Addressing media after tabling the report, Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja said besides Modi, the Commission gave a clean chit to then ministers Haren Pandya, Ashok Bhatt and Bharat Barot. Elements who wanted to malign the image of Modi or Gujarat have been exposed by the Commission’s report, he said.
“On an overall consideration of the entire material, the Commission find that the communal riots which followed the Godhra incident were really by way of an aftermath of that incident. It was because of the Godhra incident that large sections of Hindu community became very angry and ultimately indulged in violent attacks on Muslims and their properties,” the report of the two-member Commission said.
“There is no evidence to show that these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abated by any Minister of the State or by any religious or political party or organisation as such. Only thing that can be said with some certainty on the basis of the evidence which has come before the Commission, is that local members of VHP, Bajrang Dal took part in the incidents which happened in their localities. In some incidents in three or four districts including Ahmedabad, some local BJP workers also appear to have taken part. As against that there is also evidence to show that BJP leaders in some districts had helped the authorities and the local people in maintaining peace in their districts,” the report said.
Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt had, in an affidavit before the Supreme Court, had alleged that in a meeting held at the then Chief Minister’s bungalow in Gandhinagar, Modi had given instructions to top officers to let Hindus vent their anger on minorities or Muslims. Bhatt had claimed to have attended the said meeting.
The Commission rejected Bhatt’s claim and said, “It appears to the Commission that because of his personal grievances against the Government and higher officers, he (Bhatt) has now come forward with a version of his own regarding the meeting on 27th to malign the Chief Minister and the Government.”
Another former IPS officer, Rahul Sharma, who has taken voluntary retirement, had produced a CD before the Commission which contained call data records of cell phone communications during a particular period of riots. Analysis of the data by Sharma had allegedly established that on February 27, 28 and March 1, 2002 some of the ministers of the state government and some officers of the CMO were in contact with the persons who later became accused in criminal cases as they had taken part in the communal riots.
The Commission has recorded that Sharma did not produce the CD when he first appeared before the Commission. He submitted it later on. Describing Sharma’s evidence as not ‘reliable’ or ‘correct’, the report said it “discloses his bias against the Government”.
R B Sreekumar, who was with the state intelligence bureau at the relevant time, had also produced evidence before the Commission alleging that the CM had given oral illegal instructions to officials during the riots. “This allegation is made after some departmental action was initiated against him…it clearly appears that he is a disgruntled officer,” the report said, concluding that Sreekumar made ‘false’ allegations.
On Teesta Setalvad, the Commission recorded that she claimed before the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team that the then Panchmahals (Godhra) Collector Jayanti Ravi had told Citizens’ Tribunal headed by retired Justice Krishna Iyer that she had strongly objected to a decision taken by Modi as CM and then Health Minister Ashok Bhatt to take the bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad while handing them over to VHP office bearers Jaydip Patel and others.
The Commission did not found ‘substance’ in this allegation and cited the deposition of Jayanti Ravi who denied she had told Setalvad or any other human right activist that the bodies of Karsevaks were sent to Ahmedabad against her advice. It has also stated that the Commission did not find substance in the allegation that the Chief Minister took the decision with ‘an evil intention’.
Jan Sanghrsh Manch, another NGO then led by Mukul Sinha, had made several allegations against the state government, then Chief Minister Modi and the manner in which the administration handled the Godhra train carnage and subsequent riots. The Commission had dealt with the allegations in detail and finally described these as ‘baseless’ and ‘irrelevant.’