The Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) headed by the late Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Justice PB Sawant and Justice Hosbet Suresh carried out a detailed investigation into the Gujarat genocidal carnage (in May 2002) and released a three volume report on November 21-22, 2002.
In Volume II, that contained Findings t has a detailed section on the Godhra Incident as also on the Role of the Central Government. This is what the findings of the Tribunal were on the Role of the Atal Behari Vajpayee central government.
Role of the Central Government
1.1. The complicity of the state government is obvious. And, the support of the central government to the state government in all that it did is also by now a matter of common knowledge.
1.2. The entire country had been held to ransom by the vitriolic rhetoric around the building of the temple at Ayodhya; the threatening statements by leaders of the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and the BJP kept communal temperatures on the boil. It was in the midst of this surcharged national climate that Godhra happened and the Gujarat carnage was masterminded.
1.3. Within hours of the Godhra arson, an organised carnage was planned and ruthlessly executed over the next 72 hours in 15 of Gujarat’s 25 districts. It was apparent that thanks to the instructions from the state government, the administration and the police stood paralysed as the brutal massacres — Naroda Patiya and Gulberg society in Ahmedabad, Pandharwada in Panchmahal and Sardarpura, Unhava and Kadi in Mehsana apart from Nadiad – were clinically executed; yet the government of India turned a blind eye. In a situation such as post-Godhra Gujarat, when huge, organised mobs of the majority community were attacking the minorities, when the state government and the administration sided with the majority, it was a clear case of a breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the state. The culpability of the central government in the Gujarat carnage lay in its failure to invoke its executive powers available under Article 355, read with Entry 2.2A of List 1 and Entry 1 of List II and Entry I of List III of the Constitution of India, to take over the administration of law and order in Gujarat, and to send in the Army under direct orders of the Centre.
1.4. At no time during the Gujarat carnage did the central government and its functionaries show any initiative or commitment to constitutional values, impelling them to intervene and intervene swiftly and effectively to end the violence.
1.5. Far from invoking the provisions of the Constitution and performing their constitutional obligations and duties, neither did the Prime Minister nor the home minister even issue a stern order to the chief minister to crackdown on the lawless elements.
1.6. Late on February 28, after he had cancelled a scheduled foreign visit, the PM met RSS and VHP leaders in the nation’s capital, not to discuss the quartering and massacre of innocents in Gujarat, but to dialogue on the Ayodhya issue! Later, the Cabinet Committee on Security met and merely ordered the Army to be on alert.
1.7. The attitude of both Shri Vajpayee and Shri Advani appeared to aim at diverting the nation’s attention away from Gujarat, and directing it instead towards Ayodhya and the happenings there.
1.8. The conduct of the railway minister, who rushes to the spot whenever a train accident takes place, failed in his duty to visit Godhra, to survey the situation for himself and to order an immediate inquiry into the cause of the fire. Questions about the fire in the railway compartment at Godhra still beg for an answer. Who pulled the chain? How did the fire occur? Surely this merited the urgent attention and immediate intervention of the railway minister? Yet, to this date, the minister has not visited Godhra. What explanation has he to offer for his utter inaction?
1.9. The conduct of the railway ministry related to the entire Godhra arson is shocking. On February 27, as reported in The Times of India (February 28), Shri Nitish condemned the attack on the Sabarmati Express and asked the Gujarat government to take proper measures to ensure the safety of railway property and passengers. Shri Kumar, who spoke to the Gujarat chief minister on telephone in this regard, asked the state government to take appropriate measures to ensure the smooth and safe running of trains, from the capital without visiting the scene of the incident.
1.10. However, in the six months that have followed, Shri Nitish Kumar has been distancing his ministry from the Godhra carnage on the ground that what happened was not a ‘rail accident’ but a law and order issue. But the very fact that the Railways made speedy ex-gratia payments to the relatives of those killed and to those injured is proof that the ministry indeed treated Godhra as any other ‘accident’ with a difference: in many earlier rail accidents the ex-gratia payment has not necessarily been so prompt.
1.11. In fact it was not until the media made specific inquiries that the internal Western railway reservation list of that day was made available. From this, it is not at all clear if all those killed were kar sevaks. Reservations for coach S-6 were made in Lucknow and not Faizabad. The Gujarat government released the names of 39 of those who died. Nineteen of the 58 dead have yet to be identified. One of the passengers who suffered grievous injuries was a Muslim.
1.12. The Prime Minister’s prevaricating statements, saying different things at different times at different places, left everybody in utter confusion. Had he already prejudged the situation and apportioned blame for the Godhra arson to the Muslim minority or did he attribute guilt to the goons from the Hindu majority who indulged in this carnage and brought a bad name to the country in the international community?
1.13. On February 27, hours after the Godhra tragedy, the PM said in Parliament that from the preliminary reports it appeared that the incident was the result of slogan shouting. On April 4, when he visited the Shah-e-Alam Camp, he bemoaned the burning alive of women and children, the rapes and killings and urged the Gujarat government to observe its duty. But only a fortnight later, at his party’s national executive meeting in Goa on April 22, he said the Gujarat carnage would not have occurred but for the Godhra arson. Thereafter, he bemoaned India’s loss of face in the international community. He termed the Gujarat carnage as “a blot on the nation.” His statement at his party’s national executive in Goa bears mention. “Wherever there are Muslims, there is a problem… What happened in Gujarat? If the passengers of the Sabarmati express, innocent, unblameworthy, had not been deliberately burnt alive, Gujarat’s tragedy (Gujarat ki trasadhi) could have been avoided. But this did not happen. People were burnt alive. Who were they? Intelligence is investigating but we still need to ask, how did this all happen? The latter happenings should not be criticised till we understand who set Gujarat on fire. Who lit the fire? How did it spread?Our country is multi-religious, multi-linguistic. We believe in cooperation, we believe in sarva dharma sambhav (respect for all religions). We are proud of our secularism… From Goa to Guwahati, wherever I go, the Indian is not a kattarwadi. Yeh maati ek hai (the Indian is not a fanatic. This soil is one). But whenever I travel around the world, our officials in all the embassies tell me, ‘militant Islam raaste mein kaante bo raha hai’ (‘militant Islam is sowing thorns in our path’). One Islam there is which is tolerant to all, that believes in truth: samvedna aur daya sikhata hai (it preaches compassion and mercy). But the kind of Islam being perpetrated in the world today is a violent, intolerant Islam that has no room for tolerance.” This statement, made after the worst state-sponsored carnage against Muslims post-Partition had been so cynically carried out, is unfortunate, to say the least.
1.14. The role of the then union home minister and now deputy Prime Minister, Shri LK Advani appears to be patently partisan. His pat on the back for Shri Modi, not once but on several occasions and his rejection of the state government’s Forensic Science Laboratory Report (FSLR) as soon as it appeared in the press, amounted to no less than his assuming the role of a judge. His dogged refusal to acknowledge within the country that the Gujarat carnage was an inhuman, shameful act on the part of the communal elements among Hindus, yet accepting it as a blot on the country during his foreign jaunt in England, makes people wonder whether he is a spokesman of the party which he represents or the home minister/deputy Prime Minister in the government of India? Is he simply a time server when it comes to a foreign audience? What is inexcusable on his part is the assumption of the role of both a lawyer holding the brief for Hindu communalists as also of a presiding judge giving his verdict on the carnage. When he rejected the state government’s Forensic Science Laboratory Report, was he doing so on behalf of the Hindu communalists or the central government? It appears that like Shri Modi, he too keeps forgetting that he holds constitutional office and is not a Sangh pracharak.
1.15. His statements with regard to the entire carnage make people wonder whether any impartial investigation is at all possible into the charges against the accused, with him in charge of the home affairs of the country.
1.16. As noteworthy was his reluctance to visit extensively, affected areas of the post-Godhra carnage, immediately after it took place, despite the fact that he is elected from the Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency each year.
1.17. Shri Advani is one of the leading figures in the central government who has irresponsibly peddled the theory of a “foreign hand” behind the Godhra arson without any proof; described Godhra as an “act of terrorism” and the subsequent carnage as a “communal riot”; debunked the findings of official investigations as contained in the FSLR; repeatedly praised Shri Modi as “being the best chief minister India has seen in 50 years” and lauded him as being the best example of “good governance”; and, most dangerously, given a clean chit to indicted organisations like the VHP and BD, who were openly gloating over the violence.(See section on Annexures, Volume I).
1.18. It needs to be recorded here that barely a few days after Rev. Graham Staines, the Australian priest who had been working with lepers for years, was torched to death along with his two young sons inside a jeep in Orissa on the night of Jan 22/23, 1999 and Shri Dara Singh, a man with clear links with the RSS/VHP and BD was named as the main accused in the case, Shri Advani had shown similar partisan conduct when he had said on the floor of the Lok Sabha, “I know these people (Bajrang Dal), they will never do such a thing.”
1.19. Shri George Fernandes, the union defence minister, emerges from the entire episode as a pathetic character. While he no doubt visited Gujarat immediately after the outbreak of the violence to oversee the role of the Army, and for which he undoubtedly deserves appreciation, it appears he learnt nothing from whatever he may have surveyed. Had he done so, he would not have made the statement that he did in the Lok Sabha on April 30. That statement not only added insult to the injury of those brutalised by the pogrom but also undermined all human values. If a minister of his rank and a politician of his experience chooses to liken the mass instances of gender violence (perpetrated against 150-200 women and girls) and the subsequent slaughter of most of them, as “nothing new”, it is sufficient indication of the seriousness with which the whole carnage was looked upon by the central government. His attempt at whitewashing his statement at a later stage made things even worse.
1.20. As the union law minister, it was expected that Shri Arun Jaitley would have more respect for the rule of law than Shri Modi. Instead, he showed complete disregard for the basic human rights of innocent men, women and children who fell victim to the carnage. He patted Shri Modi’s back, the man who was the root cause of the massacre of humanity in the state of Gujarat. His attitude was and is sufficiently representative of the view and attitude of the central government to the entire incident.
1.21. In short, the inaction on the part of the central government and the utterances of its spokesmen occupying responsible positions show that not only had the central government failed in its duty but it also had no intention to discharge it at all. Contrast this conduct of the central government with its prompt action after the Akshardham Mandir massacre. This only shows that if the central government intended to take action, it could have done so. The fact that the central government failed in its constitutional obligations during the post-Godhra carnage is indisputable. In the event of any international authority also indicting the state government, which we believe to be inevitable, the central government will have to bear a major share of the blame and will be liable for censure.