Gujarat blasts: Case closed?

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: August 1, 2008

Ahmedabad, July 2008

The so-called breakthrough in the Ahmedabad blasts case  raises more questions than it answers

Repeated terror attacks are invariably followed by near instantaneous polarisation in our public sphere – in class-rooms and mohallas, in buses and train compartments and in our newsrooms. A polarisation that echoes the Hindu vs Muslim divide, carefully fomented by ideological processes that threaten at heart the survival of India as a society and as a nation.

Rational discourse barely gets an edge in as hate hysteria claims our psyche. Peace, reason, dialogue all seem passé as intelligence experts bay for blood and press for a tighter security regime. Overnight the police, intelligence and other investigating agencies – which have been repeatedly hauled over the coals for their failures, rank complicity and unprofessional conduct – emerge unscathed as our protectors in times of terror.

The most recent example of this is in case of the Ahmedabad blasts on July 26 when miraculously, within 21 days of the tragic event, we have a complete solution to the case presented to us by the Gujarat police.

Ironically, both men at the helm in Gujarat, the state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, and the director general of police (DGP), PC Pande, stand seriously indicted for criminal conspiracy and mass murder of the state’s 2,500 Muslims in 2002. A significant section of the Gujarat police, especially its crime branch, has been found guilty of unprofessional and criminal conduct vis-à-vis the state’s minorities. Unfortunately, such discriminatory policing enjoys highest political sanction in Gujarat.

The swift solution presented to the public by the Gujarat police on August 16, 2008 contains several loopholes that require explanation. We also need to question the ethics of entrusting such a sensitive investigation of bomb terror to a police force and an administration that stands severely tainted by the carnage of 2002. Or are such elementary questions prohibited in today’s India? 

To begin with however we take a look at the investigations into the Ahmedabad bomb blasts of July 26, 2008. Fifty-six people were killed and over 150 injured in the serial blasts that hit Gujarat’s major commercial nerve centre last month. A total of 19 blasts took place in 10 different areas of the city and apart from the minority-dominated Sarkhej and Juhapura all of them occurred in the labour-dominated eastern parts of the old city. Most of these were crowded and congested areas battling peak evening hour traffic: Sarkhej, Maninagar, Bapunagar, Thakkarbapanagar, Naroda, Raipur, Narol and Sarangpur. The Civil Hospital and LG Hospital campuses were the last to be hit, about 40 minutes after the first round of blasts, and 27 people were killed here. 

At a press conference held at the police commissioner’s office late that same evening the chief minister, Narendra Modi said confidently that ammonium nitrate and gelatine sticks had been used in the bombs. He also said that the Ahmedabad Crime Branch would be handling the investigation. Intelligence sources said the needle of suspicion pointed to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Lashkar-i Tayyeba. 

A. Outfits named: In Ahmedabad, as elsewhere, the moment the bombs exploded both the political class and “intelligence sources” held SIMI and Lashkar responsible for the attacks even as they admitted their ignorance about how these outfits operate. 

B. Arrests of the alleged accused: By August 16, 2008, when the Gujarat police claimed they had ‘cracked’ the case, 10 persons in all, nine of them Gujarat residents, had been arrested. Mufti Abu Bashar from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh was named as the mastermind.

Abdul Halim, an alleged activist of the banned SIMI who the police claimed was wanted in the 2002 Gujarat riots (we are not told for what offence), was arrested in Ahmedabad (Deccan Herald, July 27, 2008). The police claimed that he had been in hiding since 2002.What is the actual evidence of Halim’s involvement? Reports suggest that far from absconding, Halim was an active community leader in Dani Limda and police claims that he had been absconding were untrue. 

Media reports quoting authorities stated that Abdul Halim allegedly told the Crime Branch that he was