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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Damned Spot

The murky omissions behind the SIT’s “clean chit” to Narendra Modi for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Written by Leena Mishra |
May 3, 2014 1:50:54 am

Book: The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra
Author: Manoj Mitta
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 284 pages
Price: Rs 599

Between the run-up to the Gujarat assembly elections in 2012 and the general elections of 2014, a bunch of books on Narendra Modi, the man at the centre of both political events, was published. Arguably, the only one among those that has cared to find the devil in the detail is The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi & Godhra, by senior journalist Manoj Mitta. The book takes a long, hard look at the clean chit given to Modi by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2011 — and raises many questions on his handling of the 2002 riots as chief minister, as he runs for prime minister.

Mitta meticulously examines the evidence and the testimonies to conclude that the investigation that exonerated Modi, who is perceived to have been responsible for the 2002 riots that claimed over 1,200 lives, largely owed to flaws intrinsic to our criminal justice system. He compares fact-finding missions since pre-Independence (beginning with the Hunter Commission that investigated General Dyer for the Jallianwala massacre), and later, to put forward evidence that argues for itself. For instance, if Union Carbide’s Mumbai chairman Keshub Mahindra was convicted for criminal negligence in the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, although he was nowhere near the scene of crime, why were MK Tandon and PB Gondia, officers responsible for law and order in Naroda Patiya, spared by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, he asks.

The book goes beyond questioning the lapses of “raj dharma” by the Modi or Atal Bihari Vajpayee governments in Gujarat and Delhi respectively, in 2002. It shows that various investigating agencies, including the SIT, working under the supervision of the Supreme Court, labouriously ignored evidence to free the man at the centre of the probe of any guilt. He leaves us with little to imagine about the dubious role of the SIT in shielding Modi, and in the “curious omission” of not interrogating him under CrPC 161. At places, though, the technical detail can weigh down the reader.

Under Mitta’s close scrutiny is the SIT chairman and ex-CBI director RK Raghavan, and his investigation into the complaint filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of murdered ex-MP Ahsan Jafri, against Modi and 62 others on their roles in the riots. An entire chapter dedicated to SIT’s interrogation of Modi tears apart the 71 questions posed to the chief minister to expose the tokenism of Raghavan’s probe. (But not before Raghavan is introduced as the officer indicted for the security lapses that led to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.)

The author details how Modi’s interrogator AK Malhotra, a retired CBI officer in the SIT, did not bother to challenge whatever Modi said. Mitta says, “it seems as if Malhotra’s brief was more to place Modi’s defence on record rather than to ferret out any inconsistency or admission of wrongdoing”. So, crucial questions were not put to the Gujarat CM: why did Modi declare the Godhra train attack a terror conspiracy within hours of the incident; how did VHP leader Jaydeep Patel (who was later accused in the Naroda Gaam killings) get custody of the bodies of the Godhra victims, and who allowed him to take them from Godhra to Ahmedabad, fanning the fires of communal anger on the way? How could the chief minister, who also had the home portfolio, know of the Gulberg massacre four hours after it happened? What did Modi celebrate when he launched the Gaurav Yatra immediately after the riots?

At the risk of being branded a lone wolf, Mitta tells you how Malhotra did not do the obvious — confronting Modi with the official press release issued on the evening of February 27, 2002 which had called the Godhra incident a “preplanned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism”. Mitta describes the SIT as an “opportunity” provided by the Supreme Court to get to the bottom of the communal riots, but one that was “frittered away”.

He compels the reader to notice the incongruities in the SIT’s report to the apex court in 2010 and the closure report filed before the Ahmedabad magistrate in 2012, five months after the SC abruptly terminated the monitoring of the Jafri complaint in September 2011. Modi went on to tweet “God is Great” minutes after the SC decision and embarked on the Sadbhavana fasts to build bridges with the minorities — which coincided with his tacit projection as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. And to those Modi defenders who raise the 1984 bogey, Mitta’s greatest credibility is his earlier book When a Tree Shook Delhi, on the lapses of fact-finding during the investigation of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, 30 years ago.

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