BY RAM PUNIYANI
Recently Justice Nanavati-Mehta (N-M) submitted their report to Govt. (Sept 2008). What it has done must be very close to the desire of the ruling establishment which reaped a rich harvest due to the Godhra train burning and the anti Muslim pogrom in the aftermath of the same.
The report after the investigation for six long years is just the first part. While legally it is tangible that the investigating judge can present the report in parts, the logic behind this is not very clear. In a way the outcome of the report should have been well predicted as just some months after being appointed, Nanvati and (then) Shah stated that there is not much evidence against VHP etc., and this gave the indication that the commission had already made up its mind as to what type of report was to be given. The depositions of the witnesses and the evidence presented was selectively constructed to ratify the pre arrived conclusions or what were to be presented as the conclusions.
N-M report operates on the basis that it was a preplanned conspiracy by local Muslims in collaboration with the ISI. It concludes that Haji Umarji the local cleric presided over the meeting of Muslims where this conspiracy was hatched. They bought 140 liters of petrol, cut open the vestibule between S 6 and S 7, spread the petrol and burnt the coach. This conclusion is arrived without even a single eyewitness to the burning of the train. There were 200 passengers in the overcrowded train but no eye witness account has been cited to ratify their conclusion.
This conspiracy theory has serious holes in it. That the train is carrying the returning Kar Sevaks was not a public knowledge, not even the state officials knew about it. The only people who knew that the Ram sevaks were returning by that train were the VHP-BJP combine. The train was late by five hours and this totally debunks the theory of conspiracy by Muslim community. If they did not know that train is carrying Ram Sevaks how could they conspire and how could they implement the same if train was late? If conspiracy is at all to be believed the finger of suspicion should be in some other direction!
Than, if the commission says the vestibule was cut open, why such valuable evidence was permitted to be sold in the scrap? The depositions show that the first train stoppage at Godhra station was due to the Ram Sevaks pulling the chain as some of them were left out on the platform and the second one was due to technical fault. For conspiracy by them they should have stopped the train, which is not the case. This again goes against the conspiracy by Muslims theory.
While trying to come to this theory first N-M operated on the line that the burning rags and some chemicals were thrown from the windows but soon it shifted to the theory that vestibule was cut. The earlier thesis that petrol was poured from outside was not tenable as Forensic laboratory, FSL, had strongly maintained that petrol cannot be poured from outside due to the height of the rail track and the height of the train. Then comes the vestibule theory. One imagines for cutting the vestibule the train has to be stopped by the conspirators, but second time the train stopped due to technical snag and not due to pulling of chain. And then to cut the vestibule to be able to enter the coach is not an easy job.
The report is a new low in the arena of investigation. So far we witness a good deal of objectivity in many inquiry committees. But this is totally silent on practically most of the crucial issues involved in the train burning. Sophia Bano was dragged by Kar Sevaks and she stated the same to the commission, but her testimony has been sidelined. The commission has based its total finding on the police officer Noel Parmar, whose findings were rejected by the Supreme Court and so it appointed R.K Raghavan. The hurry, in which N-M has submitted its part one, can easily be understood. As Lok Sabha elections are close, this part is meant to influence the elections. As such as is clear from the functioning of this commission it was already working on the theory propounded by Narendera Modi in the aftermath of Godhra train burning, and N-M have just ratified his thesis. They have selectively picked and chosen the evidences to suit their preformed opinion, ignoring the crucial testimonies which could have led them to the truth.
The N-M report is totally silent on Justice U.C. Bannerjee report. As per the Railway Act after every major accident, a probe has to be instituted. At that time BJP ally Nitish Kumar was the Railway Minister. He did not abide by the rule. No inquiry was done ostensibly to protect his ally. When Lalu Yadav became the Railway Minister he instituted the Bannerjee committee, which concluded that it was an accident. Now when N-M is coming with its report today, already one report is there, whose findings are contrary to its own. Therefore, it has to refute them to stand the ground. No such effort is made. One also fails to understand why the demand to cross-examine Modi was rejected as there was a case for interrorogating him, based on phone call records. Most importantly the whole thesis of burning by patrol falls to the ground with FSL report saying that the analysis of residues shows that petrol was not used.
R.B. Sreekumar, who has been one of the forthright officers and he refused to bow to the Modi administration. He filed his affidavit to N-M commission giving his version. He commented that he was threatened by state officials if he dares to speak the truth. He had recorded these conversations also. N-M was duty bound to take these seriously, either to accept them or reject them with due explanation, but there is a total silence on the submissions of Sreekumar.
All in all, this report is a disgrace on the norms of investigation. This also symbolizes that there are sections in professional life who are willing to play to the bidding of the rulers to please them for various reasons or they themselves are heavily under ideological influence to deviate from professionalism, objectivity and pursuit of truth.