When, on April 13, 2017, the Supreme Court of India permitted RK Raghavan, former CBI director to bow out of chairmanship of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the court to monitor and prosecute the critical Gujarat cases, little did the court know that the former sleuth would be fit enough for a plum positing as Ambassador of Cyprus for the Modi regime!
The news that the Narendra Modi government has picked former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan, who led a probe that cleared then chief minister Modi of complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots, as high commissioner to Cyprus in its first political appointment to India’s diplomatic establishment passed without much media comment barring a few news portals. Noisy television anchors simply ignored the story.
The Telegraph commented that, unlike its predecessors, the Modi government had so far avoided political appointments to ambassadorial positions, earning the Prime Minister much goodwill within the Indian Foreign Service. With Raghavan, it has decided to make a departure.
R K Raghavan was heading the apex-court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the 2002 Gujarat riots cases. He was appointed on March 26, 2008. In April 2017, it was senior advocate Harish Salve, amicus curaiae who put forward Raghavan’s case requesting that he, Raghavan be relieved from the duty of heading the SIT. Now, over four months later he has a plum positing as Ambassador.
On April 13, the Supreme Court allowed R K Raghavan, who was heading the apex-court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the 2002 Gujarat riots cases, to be relieved as the head of the team. A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and S K Kaul considered the submission of senior advocate Harish Salve, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae, that Raghavan be relieved from the duty of heading the SIT. The apex court has been monitoring nine sensitive cases after the National Human Rights Commission and various NGOs termed the investigation into these shoddy and unreliable. The cases were about the riots in different parts of Gujarat, including the Gulberg Society, Ode, Sardarpura, Narodao Gaon, Naroda Patya, Machipith, Tarsali, Pandarwada and Raghavapura. An estimated 2,000 people were killed in the post-Godhra reprisal killings in 2002.
The Supreme Court Order erads, “ Learned Amicus Curiae has made a request on behalf of Shri R.K. Raghavan, the Chairman of the Special Investigation Team (SIT), seeking to withdraw from the SIT hereinafter, on account of his ill health. We appreciate the request made, and release him from his responsibility as the Chairman of the SIT.” (Chief Jutsice Kehar, Justices DY. Chandrachud and Sanjay Kisan Kaul)
The SIT under Raghavan had run into its fair share of controversy when survivors had alleged that the investigations were not robust enough, and that documentary evidence and phone call evidences had been studiously ignored. In 2009, survivors had pressed for a re-constitution of the SIT. After a fractitious hearing two Gujarat based officials, Shivanand Jha and Geeta Johri had been ordered by the Supreme Court of India to stay away from the SIT investigations.
Raghavan had himself been a subject of a probe, about ten years prior to the Gujarat 2020 carnage. This was allegedly serious security lapses surrounding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Despite his indictment, Raghavan got away lightly and was rehabilitated by the Vajpayee government, being made director CBI. “There had been a feeling of disbelief,” Outlook magazine wrote a decade before that, in 1999, when the National Democratic Alliance government of the time, led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, appointed Raghavan as the 19th CBI chief, as he had been “charged by the Verma Commission with failing to control access to Rajiv Gandhi, then denied promotion, refused empanelment for selection to any Central government post, and further rebuffed by not being awarded the President’s Police Medal”.
Raghavan has been a regular contributor to Frontline and The Hindu. During his stint as chairperson, SIT he was also accused of currying and obtaining favours from the Modi regime. He had denied this charge but the issue of a clear conflict of interest remains. All officers of the SIT are paid from the Gujarat government exchequers, and as far as the Zakia Jafri case is concerned, senior counsel from the Supreme Court of India appear for the SIT –that is vociferously defending it’s clean chit to ‘politicians, policemen and administrators’—on hefty legal fees paid by the taxpayers of Gujarat.
In 2009-2010, survivors backed by CJP had approached the Supreme Court of India pointing out the sheer lacunae in SIT’s investigations as also the failure of the SIT to stop Gujarat officers, tainted by the earlier inquiry into the probe.
In May 2010, the preliminary inquiry report by the SIT under Raghavan had found many of Zakia Jafri’s allegations levelled in her 119-page complaint to be true. However, in its closure report dated February 8, 2012, there appeared to be a turnaround and the SIT said that there was not enough material to go ahead with a prosecution.
Excerpts from the 2010 SIT report:
1. The report says, “In spite of the fact that ghastly and violent attacks had taken place on Muslims at Gulberg Society and elsewhere, the reaction of the government was not the type that would have been expected by anyone. The chief minister had tried to water down the seriousness of the situation at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and other places by saying that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” (Page 69 of the report)
SIT Chairman RK Raghavan further comments that Modi’s statement “accusing some elements in Godhra and the neighbourhood as possessing a criminal tendency was sweeping and offensive coming as it did from a chief minister, that too at a critical time when Hindu-Muslim tempers were running high.” (Page 13 of SIT chairman’s comments)
The inquiry officer also notes: “His (Modi) implied justification of the killings of innocent members of the minority community read together with an absence of a strong condemnation of the violence that followed Godhra suggest a partisan stance at a critical juncture when the state had been badly disturbed by communal violence.” (Page 153)
2. The report says, in an extremely “controversial” move, the government of Gujarat had placed two senior ministers — Ashok Bhatt and IK Jadeja — in the Ahmedabad city police control room and the state police control room during the riots. The SIT chairman comments that the two ministers were positioned in the control rooms with “no definite charter”, fuelling the speculation that they “had been placed to interfere in police work and give wrongful decisions to the field officers”. “The fact that he (Modi) was the cabinet minister for Home would heighten the suspicion that this decision had his blessings.” (Page 12 of chairman’s comments)
(It is to be noted that Ashok Bhatt’s cell phone analysis showed that he was in touch with VHP leader Jaideep Patel, a key conspirator of the Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya massacre, and with Gordhan Zadaphia, the then minister of state for home and who is now seen by the SIT as a major culprit of the Ahmedabad massacres.)
3. The report affirms that police officers who took a neutral stand during the riots and prevented massacres were transferred by the Gujarat government to insignificant postings. SIT’s Raghavan has termed these transfers “questionable” since “they came immediately after incidents in which the officers concerned were known to have antagonised ruling party men”. (Pages 7-8 of chairman’s comments)
4. The report says “The Gujarat government has reportedly destroyed the police wireless communication of the period pertaining to the riots.” It adds, “No records, documentations or minutes of the crucial law and order meetings held by the government during the riots had been kept.” (Page 13)
(This is a shocking finding. Why were these official records destroyed? What was there to hide? It has to be remembered that the Gujarat government had constituted the Justice KG Shah Commission (which was later reconstituted as a two-member commission headed by Justice GT Nanavati with KG Shah as its member) on 6 March 2002, one month after the riots, to inquire into the circumstances around the riots and was thus dutybound to preserve police control room records and other documents and minutes of meetings as they could have been vital evidence of the partisan role played by the State machinery.)
5. The report says Modi displayed a “discriminatory attitude by not visiting the riot-affected areas in Ahmedabad where a large number of Muslims were killed, though he went to Godhra on the same day, travelling almost 300 km on a single day.” (Page 67) The SIT chairman also comments that “Modi did not cite any specific reasons why he did not visit the affected areas in Ahmedabad city as promptly as he did in the case of the Godhra train carnage.” (Page 8 of chairman’s comments)
6. The SIT confirms that the government appointed VHP and RSS-affiliated advocates as public prosecutors in sensitive riot cases. The report states: “It appears that the political affiliation of the advocates did weigh with the government for the appointment of public prosecutors.” (Page 77) The SIT chairman further comments that “it has been found that a few of the past appointees were in fact politically connected, either to the ruling party or organisations sympathetic to it.” (Page 10 of chairman’s comments)
7. According to the report, the Gujarat government did not take any steps to stop the illegal bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on 28 February 2002. On the contrary the BJP had supported the bandh. (Page 69)
(It is important to remember that it was Hindu mobs mobilised by the local VHP and BJP leaders in the name of bandhs that had carried out the horrific massacres at Naroda and Gulberg Society on 28 February 2002.)
8. The SIT report also says that, in an inexplicable move, the police administration did not impose curfew in Naroda until 12 pm and Meghani Nagar (Ahmedabad city) until 2 pm on 28 February 2002. By then, the situation had severely deteriorated at both places.
9. According to the SIT, despite detailed reports recommending strict action submitted to Modi by field officers of the State Intelligence Bureau, the Modi government failed to take action against a section of the print media that was publishing communally- inciting reports, inflaming base emotions. This had vitiated the communal situation further. (Page 79)
10. The SIT also asserts that in August 2002, in a bid to ensure an early Assembly election, top officials of the Modi government misled the Central Election Commission by presenting a picture of normalcy when the state was still simmering with communal tension. (Page 79 to 86)
(The BJP had prematurely dissolved the Assembly on 19 August 2002, nine months before the expiry of the five-year term, and demanded an early election. The BJP clearly wanted to take electoral advantage of the communal polarisation.)
11.The SIT discovered that the state police had carried out patently shoddy investigations in the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society massacre cases. It deliberately overlooked the cell phone records of Sangh Parivar members and BJP leaders involved in the riots — prominent among them were the Gujarat VHP president Jaideep Patel and BJP minister Maya Kodnani. If these records had been analysed and used as evidence, it could have established their complicity. (Pages 101-105)
12. Many senior police are now being investigated by the SIT for their suspected complicity in the riots. The former Ahmedabad joint commissioner of police MK Tandon, in whose area around 200 Muslims were killed, has been found guilty of deliberate dereliction of duty. (Post the riots, however, far from being censored, he got one lucrative posting after another and retired as additional director general of police in June 2007.) His junior, former deputy commissioner of police PK Gondia, has also been found guilty of willfully allowing the massacres. The SIT says that if the two had just carried out their duty hundreds of Muslims could have been saved. (Pages 48-50) Neither of these officers was held accountable by the Modi government.
13. The SIT has also found evidence against the then minister of state for home Gordhan Zadaphia (who was reporting directly to Modi) for his complicity in the riots. Another BJP minister Mayaben Kodnani has already been booked in the Naroda Patiya massacre. (Pages 168-169)