The Ghost of Godhra comes to Haunt, Again

Godhra Train Burning

 The decision to include a VHP man at a top level meeting at the Collectorate at Godhra on February 27, 2002 has been affirmed by then DM Jayanti Ravi, who has –in contravention to what she told the Concerned citizens Tribunal headed by Justices VR Krishna Iyer and PB Sawant in 2002 – also denied that the decision to hand over the bodies to Patel to transport to Ahmedabad was hers: she passes the buck to Mamlatdar, Nalyava. SIT, never known to get to the bottom of the issue is likely to obfuscate further by relying on the fact that the letter given to Patel by the administration was not ‘signed’ by him on receiving the bodies
Five days ago, on June 29 to be precise, M.L. Nalvaya, in 2002 executive magistrate (Mamlatdar) of Godhra, stated clearly in evidence before the special court appointed under the Supreme Court directives, trying the crimes committed on February 28, 2002 in the Naroda Gaam case that he had, on instructions of his higher officers ‘prepared a letter to hand over the charred bodies of those killed in the Godhra mass arson’ to none less than ‘Jaideep Patel, secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Nalvaya was brought ion at the fag end of he Naroda Gam case that has been slagging in the courts, as a defence witness.

Patel, is an accused in the Naroda Gam case, currently out on bail. Eleven Muslims were killed in Naroda Gam and there are 82 accused, including former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the SC has been playing a cat and mouse game on the issue of handing over the bodies of Jaideep Patel and the controversial decision taken to transport the charred victims bodies to Ahmedabad Iin the first place. According to the SIT, the letter does not have any signature acknowledging that the bodies had been received. The bodies were brought to Ahmedabad from Godhra and were handed over to the relatives in full public glare where funeral processions attended by hate-filled mobs of RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal were allowed full reign of the streets and the cadres hurled inciteful slogans even as ‘curfew’ was apparently declared.

Nalvaya, who is currently sub-divisional magistrate in Dahod, said he went to the spot where the Sabarmati Express coach was set ablaze at Godhra railway station and, under the supervision of his senior officers, he examined the bodies and completed other formalities. Later, Nalvaya said, he wrote a letter that the bodies should be handed over to Jaideep Patel.

The fact that a controversial high-level decision, taken in the presence of the then chief minister of the state, Narendra Modi to transport the bodies of the Godhra Victims to Ahmedabad was taken at a meeting at the District Collector’s Office (around 4 p.m. on February 27, 2002) has been the source of key investigations, initiated by Survivors and Rights activists since. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the SC and headed by RK Raghavan was compelled to first interrogate the issue in the Zakia Jafri Case, after the SC ordered it to do “ look into the evidence” in April 2009.

Significantly, the SIT that was also tasked by the SC to further investigate and prosecute the Godhra trial itself, did not bother to look into this issue in the trial that was completed and judgement delivered in 2011. On being cross-examined by the Special Investigation (SIT), which probed the case, Nalvaya said he wrote the letter at the instance of his senior officers. He said the letter was not signed by Jaideep Patel and was handed over to someone else. He also said he did not know Patel and had never met him.

Ironically, the SIT has been playing a cat and mouse game on the issue of the 4 p.m. meeting at the Collectorate where also, Jaideep Patel was allowed to attend (on instructions of the then chief minister) and on the controversial decision ‘taken at the highest levels’ to hand over the bodies of the Godhra Survivors to a man from a an admittedly rabid outfit like the VHP, known to instigate communal flare-ups.

In the course of the Zakia Jafri Complaint and related investigations conducted by the SIT between 2009 and 2012, in her Section 161 statement dated 15.09.09, the then District Collector DM/Collector, Godhra Jayanti Ravi clearly states that at the meeting called by the CM at the Collectorate, Jaideep Patel was present. The then chief minister has denied this. Jayanti Ravi further admits that the decision to hand over bodies to Jaideep Patel was a high level decision. In a subsequent statement dated 26.10.2009 and 3.11.2009 she however blames Mamlatdar Nalvaya for this decision to hand over bodies to Jaideep Patel of the VHP. Nalvaya however in his affidavit before the Nanavati-Shah Commission affirms that it was on the instructions of DM Ravi that the bodies of the Godhra victims were handed over to a VHP man. In the course of the Zakia Jafri Complaint related investigations, a crucial document, which is a fax sent by DM Jayanti Ravi to Gandhinagar informing CM/HM of the dispatch of dead bodies suggests that she was fully in on the procedure and decision to hand over the bodies to Jaideep Patel.

The statements of Mahendra Laljibhai Nalvaya, former Mamlatdar are telling. In his statement dated 28.10.2009 where he clearly states that it was “as per the instructions of Jayanti Ravi, DM and late BN Damor, ADM, Godhra that these dead bodies were handed over officially to Jaideep Patel and Hasmukh Patel of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. This he repeats in the second statement before SIT dated 3.4.2011 his affidavit before the Nanavati Commission.

Significantly, senior advocate, Raju Ramachandran in his Interim Report dated 20.1.2011 clearly states that

        “…7,  Another aspect is the fact that VHP General Secretary Jaideep Patel and Shri Modi were at Godhra on 27.02.2002. The statement of Jaideep Patel that he    
         did not meet Shri Narendra Modi at Godhra does not inspite confidence. This has to be examined as the Mamlatdar would not have handed over the dead bodies
         to a non-government person i.e. Jaideep Patel until and unless somebody very high told him to do so.”
The three volume report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal-Gujarat 2002 is arguably the best investigation on the Gujarat genocidal carnage of 2002. In its report there is a chapter on Godhra that makes for critical reading. Within this section two significant points made by the panel headed by Justice VR Krishna Iyer, PB Sawant and Hosbet Suresh (among others) are:

          “4.4. The chief minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, accompanied by health minister, Shri Ashok Bhatt and other cabinet colleagues, arrived in Godhra  
           around 2 p.m. that day. After meeting the collector, he decided to take the bodies to Ahmedabad. It was the decision of Shri Modi to take the badly charred
           bodies to Ahmedabad against the advice of the district administration. Initially, the chief minister and his colleagues had wanted to take the bodies in the same
           train onwards to Ahmedabad. The district administration strongly advised against this for law and order reasons, after which a motor cavalcade drove the bodies
           to the Sola Civil hospital at Ahmedabad.

          ….5.10. A point to be noted is evidence recorded by the media, of ordinary victims of the Godhra arson, who did not wish to be part of any political project of
          "vengeance". The Times of India (March 3, 2002) quoted Govind Makwana, who lost his son Umakant (22) in the fire that engulfed coach S-6 of the Sabarmati
         Express. "I am extremely disturbed by what is happening in our area. I had pleaded with folded hands to all who came to my son’s cremation to restrain
         themselves and maintain peace. Killing other people is not a solution. Losing a son is shattering, and I want no father or mother to suffer from this feeling".
That the decision to transport the bodies of the Godhra victims –outside the jurisdictional area to Ahmedabad where communal feelings were allowed to grow – was not just controversial but a decision that ought or should be scrutinised has been clear. That it was a man from the VHP to whom the chief executive of the state decided to hand over the bodies, seals the claim that the decision ‘to take Godhra to the rest of Gujarat’ was not one devoid of serious mischief: a signal to bands in the mob for anger and reprisal to rule the streets and for innocents to be targeted and killed.
The Ghost of Godhra come to haunt us, Again.



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