According to the Nanavati Commission report that was tabled in Gujarat Assembly on 11th December 2019, Gujarat riots of 2002, one of the bloodiest episodes of Hindu Muslim rivalry in post-independent India is not pre-planned or conspired.
The report points out, that the riots were a result of spontaneous anger and emotions of a group of people… Sounds Familiar?
The report gives a clean-chit to the then Gujarat chief minister and the incumbent Prime Minister and the most powerful person of contemporary politics Narendra Modi. Notably, one of the biggest blots in the political life of Narendra Modi is technically erased forever.
The report is a mere reiteration of the findings of the SIT which probed the same issue. The apex court was hesitant to accept the findings of amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran which clearly stated the involvement of Modi in the dark episodes of the Gujarat riots. The exoneration of the NaMo was not an element of surprise, the washing away of bloodstains from the Khadi while someone remains in power is a standard approach in the Indian political spectrum.
Contradictions Loom Large
Interestingly, after years of the probe and thorough investigation, the Nanavati commission was unable to find any illicit linkage between the government and the culprits involved in the riots. However, the commission has mentioned the members of Bajrangi Dal and VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad), which are a member of the Sangh parivar (BJP is the electoral wing) of the ruling party, were involved in the crime.
Although the report criticized the state police department for its inactivity and incompetence but cleared the government authorities from all allegations. The police department comes directly under CM and the state’s Home Minister.
The convictions ordered by the trial court against the people inside the government including the former BJP minister Maya Kodnani contradict the findings of the commission.
The report redundantly denies the direct involvement of the BJP government and its machinery in the riot. However, it misses the bigger picture. One of the worst crimes that an authority can involve in such a situation is not only active participation in the crime but also the inaction or hesitation to prevent the havoc. The detailed report of the Nanavati commission seems to neglect such crucial analysis. Such discrepancies are largely evident in the voluminous report submitted in the assembly.
NaMo Had the Last Laugh
The commission was appointed in 2002 by the then state chief minister Narendra Modi to probe the riots, that took place after the burning of two coaches of Sabarmati Express train near Godhra railway station, in which 59 ‘karsevaks’ were killed.
“On an overall consideration of the entire material, the commission finds that the communal riots which followed the Godhra incident were really by way of aftermath of that incidents,” the report said.
It was because of the Godhra incident that large sections of the Hindu community became very angry and ultimately indulged in violent attacks on Muslims and their properties,” it said.
The commission questioned the credibility of three former IPS officers – Sanjiv Bhatt, Rahul Sharma, and R B Sreekumar, who had alleged that there was the role of the state government in the riots. However, these IPS officers have claimed to submit incriminating evidence to the commission to prove the involvement of CM Narendra Modi in the bloodbath of Gujarat riots. Allegedly, Sreekumar has provided 9 affidavits and Rahul Sharma has tabled the proof of call records during the event. Sanjiv Bhatt, who is currently languishing in jail claims that in a meeting the CM asked the police officers to allow the Hindus to vent their anger. Sanjeev Bhatt was arrested this year in a 25-year-old case. Many human rights organisations had called his arrest as political vendetta.
The Nanavati Commission also criticised the two NGOs Jan Sangharsh Manch, then led by the late Mukul Sinha, and Citizens for Justice and Peace, led by Teesta Setalvad. These two organisations have been working tirelessly to get justice to the victims of communal riots in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Teesta Setalvad and Jan Sangharsh Manch have been a vocal critic of Narendra Modi and the Gujarat government.
The BJP leader Pradeepsinh Jadeja clamoured that, those police officers and NGOs have tarnished the name of Modi, Gujarat and Gujaratis in front of the world. However, this is an eloquent claim made by Jadeja to equate Modi with Gujarat. Modi might be a Gujarati but Gujarat couldn’t be a synonym of a single individual. Moreover, exhibiting discontent and claiming suspicion in the conduct of the government or a public servant in the most legitimate method by approaching court is not under any circumstances diminishing the pride of a particular state or its people. Such rhetorical speech is to blindfold the people with sub nationalistic prejudices and to divert from the crux of the matter.
Injustice Well Served
Justice delayed is Justice Denied: Tabling a report of an incident which occurred 17 years earlier itself is an injustice towards the victims. The lethargy of the Indian judicial process couldn’t be anymore condemned in delaying the situations of such gravity. Obviously, if people in high offices were involved in the felony, then 17 years is ample time for them to manipulate and tamper the judicial process.
Even in such cases which attracted international attention, the sluggishness would hamper the image of the country. The much-lauded independence of the judiciary is questioned and suspected by the common public due to these actions. Allowing the government to easily wash away its hands from such a huge public order turmoil would be read as a shedding of all sorts of responsibilities from the shoulders of the state to maintain public peace and order. Hence, it would become an entity with all sets of powers to punish people without any accountability or duty to protect them. Such practices would lead to the development of dystopian states in a later period.
The cyclopean view of the commission while analysing the case has led to the lack of comprehensive and objective approach towards one of the most inhumane acts in the history of the Indian republic. Obviously, it is the quality of the justice system, both in timeliness and transparency, that acts as a deterrence against the perpetuation of crime rather than the quantity of the punishment.
A common occurrence in most Hindu Muslim communal riots is the presence of wealthy and affluent Muslim merchants in the location of those riots. After the riots, the Muslim community was largely displaced and their commercial prospects were significantly distorted. The commonality of sledgehammering the affluent minority class by the majority class is not surprisingly observed in the commission even after a prolonged probe.
Taking strong and swift measures against all the people involved in riots is an inevitable practise which needs to be followed for protecting the secular fabric of the country and to keep it away from such bloody stains.
The author is a journalism student from Tamilnadu. Views are personal.