As Gujarat gears for Assembly elections and Chief Minister Narendra Modi makes it known that he doesn’t want to talk about the 2002 riots, a sting operation by Tehelka magazine has claimed to have captured several footsoldiers of the violence who are recorded talking, in graphic detail, of how they executed the killings and how the state machinery stood by them.
The sting, broadcast on Aaj Tak, has 14 main characters: one of them is sitting BJP MLA from Godhra Haresh Bhatt who was national vice-president of Bajrang Dal when the riots happened, one is a public prosecutor and the rest are all VHP or Bajrang Dal leaders or activists. Of these, seven are accused in key riot cases: Babu Bajrangi, Suresh Richard, (Naroda Patiya, 89 killed); Mangilal Jain, Prahlad Raju, Madan Chawal (Gulbarga Society massacre, 39), Rajendra Vyas (Ahmedabad city) and Anil Patel (Sabarkantha).
Bajrangi and Richard are only two of the 64 accused in the Naroda Patiya case who were arrested while Jain, Raju and Chawal are three of the 38 arrested in the Gulbarga massacre.
Bhatt is purportedly caught on tape saying he was present in a meeting in which Modi allegedly gave him three days time “to do whatever they wanted”. “After three days, he (Modi) asked to stop and everything came to a halt,” Bhatt said, claiming that the Chief Minister thanked them after the Naroda Patiya massacre.
The BJP promptly dismissed it as “dirty tricks” by the “CIA, Congress Investigative Agency.”
Congress leaders, wary of raising Hindutva as an issue — in a state that gave Modi a landslide win after the riots — played it down, saying the tapes revealed what they had known all along, how the killings had the blessings of the Modi government and how the police and administration were subverted to that end.
Writing in the magazine, Tehelka reporter Ashish Khetan said he had approached a range of characters linked to the riots posing as an author working on a book to “propagate the VHP brand of Hindutva.”
VHP leaders Anil Patel and Dhawal Jayanti Patel are also caught on tape describing details of the riots and its aftermath. In the sting, Dhawal Jayanti Patel claims that VHP activists made bombs in his factory while Bhatt has been shown saying they even made rocket launchers which were used in the riots.
Bajrangi, the self-styled rescuer of Patel girls marrying intercaste, fell out with the VHP and BJP and was expelled from the party last year after complaints that he and his moral police beat up college youths chatting with woman students. A disgruntled Bajrangi went and joined the Shiv Sena.
Consider what these characters said soon after the riots:
• Bhatt claimed immediately after the Sabarmati Express carnage that “killing kar sevaks is a sin and this act will be avenged. Kar sevaks should get justice and I will try my best to see that they do.” In July 2002, when asked why the Bajrang Dal was distributing swords and tridents, Bhatt retorted: “Don’t you know every action has a reaction? Are we just supposed to sit back and watch?”
When contacted today, he said: “You know how these sting operations work. I was talking of something else and it has been construed and shown as something else. It is a political gimmick of those who are opposing us.”
• Bajrangi was arrested in June 2002 and was sent to judicial custody. He is presently out on bail. The trials in Naroda Patiya case and Naroda Gam case have been stayed by Supreme Court. He said: “I dont know who is taking my name and why. I did not lead any mob in Naroda Patiya. The sting operation shows me saying that I took a sword and cut open a woman’s womb. But I was trying to explain that the FIR filed against me accuses me of that act and that I deny it.”
In the sting, two M S University staffers have been shown detailing how the riots happened: Deepak Shah, an MSU Senate member and Dhimant Bhatt, state government-appointed Senate member as well as the internal auditor of the university.
During the fine arts faculty controversy over Chandramohan’s paintings, it was Shah who had offered Rs 1 lakh to anyone who would paint a blasphemous portrait of Prophet Mohammed.
“Narendra bhai saw our enthusiasm“
•Bajrang Dal leader during riots, now with Sena
• It has been written in my FIR. There was this pregnant woman, I slit her open, sisterf****r
• Narendrabhai came to Patiya. He could not make it to the place of the incident because there were commandos-phamandos with him. But he saw our enthusiasm and went away
• Narendrabhai got me out of jail. He kept on changing judges
Then with Bajrang Dal, now Godhra MLA
• Diesel bombs, pipe bombs, we made them. We ordered two truckloads of swords from Punjab. In Dhariya, we readied everything
Accused in Gulbarga Society massacre, on the killing of former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffri
• Five or six people held him, then someone struck him with a sword. Chopped off his hand, then his legs, chopped off all his organs. After cutting him to pieces, they put him on the wood they’d piled and set it on fire
Chief auditor of MS University
• The same day as Godhra there were two meetings, one at Ahmedabad and one at Baroda. Everybody was present, the BJP, RSS, Parishad. It was decided we would not take this any longer. If we have the guts,we should react
VHP Ahmedabad president
• As CM, Narendrabhai couldn’t say kill all the Muslims. I could say it publicly because I was from the VHP