A judicial commission and a Supreme Court-appointed special investigation that probed the 2002 Gujarat violence glossed over crucial evidence to shield Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a new revealing book says.
"The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra" by journalist Manoj Mitta (Harper Collins) says Modi, now the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, was treated with kid gloves despite the many allegations against him vis-a-vis the death of over 1,000 people in the communal violence. This book is about mistakes committed in the course of fact-finding on the Gujarat carnage," says the exhaustive study based on the reports of committees, commissions and investigating agencies besides court orders and judgments.
"Serious as they were, a lot of these mistakes covered up political and administrative complicity in the post-Godhra violence" blamed on rightwing Hindu groups allied to the BJP, the book says. "The distortions in the findings were thanks to the insidious manner in which issues had been framed, facts selected, evidence recorded or inferences drawn."
In the process, vital pieces of evidence which could have implicated Gujarat's leadership in the communal orgy were allowed "to fall through the cracks and distortions go unchallenged". The death of 59 Hindus after a Muslim mob allegedly set fire to a train car near the Godhra station on Feb 27, 2002, triggered bloody retaliation against Muslims in Gujarat, leaving hundreds dead. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up in 2008 under the Supreme Court's supervision "did not prove to be independent enough" and "toed the Gujarat Police line on Godhra" killings, the book says.
Even as it secured convictions in the Godhra case against Muslims and in post-Godhra violence against Hindus, the SIT frittered away crucial evidence that could have implicated the guilty, it says. Mitta trashes the SIT for refusing to challenge Modi's replies when he was questioned over the riots, which at one time led then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajapyee to ask the chief minister to uphold "rajdharma". "At no point did (SIT member AK) Malhotra make the slightest effort to pin Modi down on any gaps and contradictions in his testimony... The SIT refrained from asking a single follow-up question..."Malhotra's approach ... helped Modi get off the hook on more than one issue."
Mitta says Modi was never asked how he didn't know - for five hours -- about the killing of 69 people at the Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad while claiming that he was tracking the post-Godhra violence as it unfolded. "The SIT's exoneration of Modi owed much to its reluctance to link the dots and get the big picture of Gujarat."
The SIT made no secret of the pains it took to run down the credibility of whistleblowers who testified against the Modi regime, the book says. The SIT's conduct became more glaring after the Supreme Court ceased to monitor it in 2011, it adds. The book also denounces the inquiry commission of Justice G.T. Nanavati for failing to put Modi in the witness box for giving bodies of those who were killed in Godhra to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
Handing over the bodies to the VHP based on a letter from a Gujarat government official proved "the Modi regime colluded with the very group that allegedly went on to unleash the mass killings of Muslims". "Nanavati went out of (his) way to spare him (Modi) the political embarrassment of being questioned for the riots," it says, adding that the panel "took incoherence in its reasoning to a new level".
At the same time, the Nanavati commission "had no qualms in indicting Muslims on second-hand evidence". And while Nanavati summoned veteran Congress leaders for the 1984 anti-Sikh violence in Delhi (which too he probed), "the same retired judge balked at summoning or notifying Modi" when it came to Gujarat. One could well ask whether Nanavati was engaged in any fact-finding at all."
The book says: "Modi is not the first politician beneficiary of such a cover-up. In fact, in India, fact-fudging is increasingly the norm, fact-finding the exception. It is time this insidious form of abuse is acknowledged as systemic subversion, committed from within the judicial fraternity."
The book concludes: "The 'fiction' pedalled as SIT findings have not only shielded Modi but also served to prop up his image as a decisive and impartial administrator...This is a commentary on how little the Indian legal culture has evolved where it really matters."