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A Rejoinder to OutlookIndia on its 25 questions to Narendra Modi

Original blog post:

Sundeep Dougal writing in the OutlookIndia posed 25 questions to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi based on the testimony given by Mr. Modi to the Supreme Court appointed SIT.

Mr. Modi’s testimony was meant to be confidential but that has not prevented media outlets from leaking stories based on it. Earlier in the week the Hindustan Times leaked the testimony in its entirety on its website.

This is an attempt to respond to some of Mr. Dougal’s questions and to present a view that runs counter to the predominant narrative within a large section of the media. (For the record let it also be clarified that all the facts cited are from public sources on the Internet and are the culmination of a 7 year old blogging saga on how a one-sided narrative has been advanced on the 2002 riots.)

Question #1 – Mr Modi, in an interview on March 1, 2002, to Zee TV you said about the post-Godhra riots, “A chain of action and reaction is going on. We want that neither should there be action, nor reaction.” Don’t such statements echo the ‘earth-shaking’ rationalisations offered by Rajiv Gandhi after the 1984 riots?

Offstumped Rejoinder: How is this rationalization, it was a statement of fact if one pays attention to the ground situation as of 1st March 2002.

Reporting on the events of 1st March 2002, The Hindu newspaper on its front page in the edition dated 2nd March 2002 had its own version of “Action-Reaction” (ironical since S. Varadarajan made such a big deal about it, perhaps failed to look at his own paper’s Newtonian reportage):

Despite the imposition of indefinite curfew, sporadic incidents of violence, group clashes and stoning continued throughout the night and during the day today in the walled city and labour-dominated eastern parts of Ahmedabad. But unlike Thursday when one community was entirely at the receiving end, the minority backlash caused further worsening of the situation …. Police presence had little impact on the two communities pelting stones at each other in Bapunagar, Gomtipur, Dariapur, Shahpur, Naroda and other areas from where incidents of firing had been reported. But there were no reports of casualty. Pitched battle was continuing between the two communities late in the evening.”

Question #2 – A few days later, you told Outlook (Mar 18, ’02), “You have to remember that communalism runs high in Gujarat—even a small provocation can lead to violence and Godhra was a very big incident.” Did you not stoke that spark when it was decided that the bodies of Godhra victims would be taken to Ahmedabad?

Offstumped Rejoinder:

There is no factual basis to establish a cause-effect relationship between the transport of dead bodies to Ahmedabad and the violence of the 28th Feb.

The PTI on 28th Feb 2002 at 11:21 am carried this report from the Hospital where 54 out of the 58 bodies had been brought. The report carried a clear statement from then VHP Vice President Acharya Giriraj Kishore:

“hindus should maintain calm and keep patience. i appeal to muslim brethren to condemn the attack and ask them not to put hindus’ patience to test”

Hindsight is always 20/20 and correlation is not causation. As the PTI report clearly suggests there was no provocation but in fact an appeal to the opposite. We must also give reasonable benefit of doubt to the two reasons that are in the public domain for the transport of bodies. First the fact that curfew in Godhra would have prevented next of kin from seeing the dead. Second the technical reasons cited for accurate identification.

Question#3: You have denied the allegation that you instructed bureaucrats and senior police officers at a high-level meeting (Feb 27, ’02) that “in communal riots, police takes action against Hindus and Muslims on one-to-one basis. This will not do now; allow Hindus to give vent to their anger”—a statement attributed to you on record by then deputy commissioner, intelligence, Sanjiv Bhatt and slain minister Haren Pandya. Why do you think the charge persists?

Offstumped Rejoinder:

This is a bizarre question. The charge persists because it has been repeated a thousand times in a Goebbelesian manner. It is important to separate facts from hearsay.

First on Mr. Bhatt claims – We have no factual evidence to establish his presence at the said meeting. We only have Mr. Bhatt’s words. To give credibility to Mr. Bhatt’s word over the absence of evidence will need us to establish Mr. Bhatt’s credibility. Unfortunately Mr. Bhatt has no credibility given his long history of dubious conduct in office, the several cases pending against him and his silence for so many years. Mr. Bhatt has further damaged his credibility through the e-mail hacking and collaboration with leaders of the Congress Party all of which is in the public record. Thus to give weight to Mr. Bhatt’s word over the absence of any factual evidence is, to put it mildly, is to give in to a politically motivated conspiracy theory.

As for the remarks attributed to the late Mr. Pandya – Let us show some respect for the dead. Mr. Pandya was not present in the meeting. Any remarks by him about the meeting would be hearsay. Any remarks by a 3rd party repeating such claims would be double hearsay. It must also be asked why the said People’s Tribunal that allegedly heard these remarks in May of 2002 made no mention of them in its report of November 2002.

If we are going to engage in witch-hunts based on double hearsay we may as well give due process the go by here.

Question #4: Why did you single out Bhatt and say he wasn’t present at the Feb 27 meeting when you were only asked about those present?

Offstumped rejoinder:

It is clear from Mr. Bhatt’s affidavit which is in the public domain that he had been providing information to the SIT since November 2009. It is reasonable to assume that at the time of Mr. Modi’s SIT deposition in March 2010, the content of Mr. Bhatt’s claims was known to Mr. Modi. Far too much is being made of confidentiality here when leaks from SIT to the media had been occurring a full six months before Nov 2009. As an example on 28th June 2009 right after Teesta Setalvad’s testimony to the SIT the DNA in a story filed by Roxy Gagdekar reported a leak from SIT sources to the DNA on the contents of Teesta Setalvaad’s testimony. Also on 7th December 2009 OutlookIndia carried a PTI story on specific claims by the activists against the SIT in the Supreme Court on the SIT ignoring an unnamed witness. The activists were reprimanded by the Supreme Court for those accusations. Clearly in the run up to March 2010 the SIT’s activities were hardly a state secret to the Activists. Hence there is nothing extraordinary about Mr. Modi singling out Mr. Bhatt. It is silly to make a mountain of leaks when the SIT’s reports continue to be treated with no respect for confidentiality by both the activists and the media.

Question #5Is it true that P.K. Mishra, your principal secretary, asked R.B. Sreekumar, then Addl DG (Intel), to confirm whether Haren Pandya was the minister who had deposed about the Feb 27 meeting to an independent citizen’s tribunal. Did he then, as the allegation goes, ask that Pandya’s mobile number, 9824030629, be tapped?

Offstumped Rejoinder – There are many problems with this question. First is its relevance to the violence of 2002 and Justice for victims. Whether Mr. Pandya’s Mobile was tapped or not tapped in June 2002 is irrelevant to the events of Feb 2002. A question of this sort is a fishing expedition and it is one reason why the line of questioning suggests conspiracy theory making more than a quest for Justice for the events of that day.

Mr. Pandya is dead, let us show some respect to his memory and leave him out of this conspiracy theory mongering. Let us do so noting that the said “independent citizen’s tribunal” made scathing accusations of Mr. Pandya itself accusing him having personally led mobs and provoking riots.

Question #6 – Given the suspicious circumstances of Haren Pandya’s assassination (Mar 26, ’03), and given that many point the needle of suspicion at your administration, what action has been taken to clear your name and find out who his real murderers are?

Offstumped Rejoinder – Any wild accusation can be made by anyoneMr. Pandya’s murder has been investigated by the CBI and prosecuted in the Courts. The acquittals in the case came after the Courts severely criticized the CBI’s botched case. Most recently the High Court has rejected a petition to reinvestigate the matter. The acquittals have since been challenged in the Supreme Court. Let us leave it at that. This question again has nothing to do with Justice for 2002 Riots. It smacks of conspiracy mongering when the matter has been the hands of Central Agencies and the Court system for years now.

Question #7 – You told the SIT that you came to know from newspaper reports that the BJP had ‘joined’ the call for a Gujarat bandh on Feb 28, ’02, and a Bharat bandh on Mar 1, ’02. For someone so clued into the party machinery, isn’t that a strange lapse?

Offstumped Rejoinder – The Times News Network in a late night release (past Midnight of 27th/early hours of 28th) reports the bandh call by the VHP. It makes no reference to the BJP joining the bandh. In fact it makes no reference to the BJP at all. There are also no other news reports from that day on the BJP joining the Bandh. Sheela Bhatt of Rediff reporting on the morning of 28th Feb 2002 describes incidents associated with the Bandh. Sheela Bhatt too describes it as a VHP bandh with no reference to the BJP. In fact that full report by Sheela Bhatt is a must read for it gives a very factual picture of how events unfolded that morning even as a Cabinet meeting was on and curfew had been imposed in one town. On March 1st 2002 the Times News Network has two stories one from Delhi and another Bangalore on the impact of the Bandh. Both stories describe it as a VHP Bandh with no formal reference to BJP joining it but for stray individual involvement. Hence it is perfectly reasonable if Mr. Modi subsequently learned of some stray BJP involvement from news reports in a Bandh that was all along described as a VHP bandh.

Question #8 – You claimed to the SIT that you had no personal knowledge of the presence of BJP ministers Ashok Bhatt and I.K. Jadeja in the police State Control Room and Ahmedabad City Control Room respectively (Feb 28, ‘02). Doesn’t this show some incompetence on your part?

Offstumped Rejoinder –It would make for a disturbingly paranoid Chief Minister to keep hourly record of the exact physical location of every one of his Ministers on a day with fast moving development and general chaos. As far as the matter of reasons for their presence, the duration of their presence and the impact of their presence in those control rooms is something the Nanavati Shah Commission will definitely delve into having already examined Mr. Jadeja. The final report is just one month away, we can suspend judgment on this until then.

Question #9 – You denied to the SIT that you knew ex-MP Ehsan Jafri—who died in the Gulberg Society massacre—or that he contacted you by phone and requested for help even as the rioters were at his door. Eyewitnesses, though, claim that he had spoken to you. Why do critics persist in arguing that this was a case of personal revenge and vendetta?

Offstumped Rejoinder – This once again is a bizarre question. Asking “Why critics persist in arguing …” is something that needs to be posed to the critics for it is they who persist despite the lack of any concrete evidence on the same. As far as what has been leaked to the media of the SIT report goes there is no telephonic evidence of such a phone contact with Mr. Modi. Mr. Jaffri’s horrific death at the hands of a mob was unconscionable. The SIT is prosecuting the Trial effectively and a verdict should come anytime against those who were part of the mob. All this unsubstantiated talk of “personal revenge and vendetta” does little to the cause of Justice.

Question #10 - Did your government slap the Official Secrets Act against whistleblower cop Rahul Sharma because he passed on explosive phone data records to the Nanavati Commission which showed that rioters were in touch with policemen and politicians?

Offstumped Rejoinder – Let us leave the slapping of OSA to the Commission Report to settle.

On the phone records – let us not forget that the said records have never been authenticated at source. CJPOnline’s website that carries PDF files of Individual Phone Records and Time-Location graphs clearly shows these are not original network records (GSM CDRs – Call Detail Records) but carefully constructed post-facto analyses by a 3rd party with no reference to the original data. In the absence of “source authentication” not much credibility can be attached to them. Even if we give 100% benefit of doubt to the authenticity of the records, we once again make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation. The fact that X called Y establishes nothing beyond X called Y. This smacks of classic conspiracy theory mongering.

Question #11 – The vindictiveness seems to have a pattern, considering the SC’s recent strictures against your government for initiating criminal proceedings against social activist Teesta Setalvad (allegedly for her role in the illegal exhumation of bodies of 2002 riot victims)?

Offstumped Rejoinder: Are you also accusing the honorable Supreme Court Justices of being complicit in what you call a “pattern of vindictiveness” when you reference the recent instance, for this is what media reports attributed to the bench:

This case is hundred per cent spurious. In other cases against the petitioner, there may be something,” said a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai”

Question #12 – Isn’t this also why a 21-year-old custodial death case allegedly involving Sanjiv Bhatt was resurrected and suspension orders issued against him?

Offstumped Rejoinder: One doesn’t need to see Mr. Bhatt’s from the 2002 prism. A simple google archive search of stories on Mr. Bhatt prior to 2002 will reveal his dubious record. As an example here is the case in Rajasthan High Court from April 2000 against Mr. Bhatt. Here is what the NHRC had to say of that case against Mr. Bhatt

The NHRC also, in its report in September 2010 considered it a case of “serious human rights violation” in view of the fact that the provisions under which Mr. Rajpurohit was falsely implicated could have fetched him 10 years of imprisonment”

Question #13 – It is alleged that compliant police officers during the 2002 riots were promoted and those who steadfastly did their duty were sidelined or persecuted. Many such cases have been widely documented and also brought to your attention. What action have you taken in this regard

Offstumped Rejoinder: This is a sweeping generalization. We can’t just go on and on with every disgruntled state employee and link their grouses back to 2002. There is no end or meaning to such an exercise.

Question #14 – You denied to the SIT that your ministers were involved in leading any of the violent mobs, but what action did you take when the alleged involvement of people like Bharat Barot, Mayaben Kodnani, Nitinbhai Patel and Narayan Lallu Patel was officially brought to your attention?

Offstumped Rejoinder: It is pertinent to point out Mayaben Kodnani was not a Minister in 2002 but a local MLA. Between 2002 and 2007 there are several news reports that describe her as a rebel BJP MLA in the anti-Modi Keshubhai faction. Nevertheless Ms. Kodnani is on trial. Let the courts settle her fate.

There is no case against Nitinbhai Patel, no specific accusations beyond the odd story of Muslims voting en-bloc against him in 2002 due to his “alleged” role.

The Special Court on the Sardarpura Riot case had rejected witness statements on Narayan Lalu has being inconsistent while delivering 31 Life sentences. Strangely this story was carried by OutlookIndia on Nov 10th 2011

“While holding that there was no conspiracy behind the killings, the judgement said there are discrepancies in the versions of the witnesses on this point.

One of the witnesses claimed that former Godhra MLA Haresh Bhatt and BJP MLA Narayan Lalu had held a meeting in the village 20-25 days before the incident and distributed weapons, while another claimed that this meeting took place on February 27, 2002.

The court noted that even the investigating officer had rejected the contention that any such meeting had taken place.

The version of Basirabibi Shaikh, a witness, with regard to the alleged conspiracy did not corroborate complainant’s version, the judgement says.”

Question #16 – What action, if any, did you take after Tehelka’s Operation Kalank in which the likes of Haresh Bhatt, Babu Bajrangi and Rajendra Vyas, while narrating their ‘exploits’, implicated you and your administration?

Offstumped Rejoinder: You cant be serious ! Even the SIT and courts have rejected the Sting’s admissibility as evidence in a Trial.

Question #17 – Why was no action taken or inquiry held against officers of the executive magistracy, particularly the DMs who failed to initiate prompt action against the rioters, especially from Feb 27-Mar 4, ’02?

Offstumped Rejoinder: This is a sweeping generalization. A perusal of all the news reports from 28th Feb 2002 will show a mixed picture of action taken yet a scale of violence that clearly overwhelmed the system. The Srikrishna Commission Report on 1993 riots had come up with specific recommendations for action against negligent officers. Let us give the Nanavati Commission report the same opportunity and wait to see what it has to say of specific instances of delinquency, negligence or willful inaction.

Question #18 – You denied recommending pro-BJP/VHP advocates for appointment as public prosecutors. Then why was no action taken or inquiry conducted against the DMs who made such biased selections?

Offstumped Rejoinder: Let us give the Nanavati Commission report the opportunity and wait to see what it has to say of specific instances of bias.

Question #19 – You often boast that you do not discriminate on grounds of religion. On Sept 9, ’02, as part of your gaurav yatra, you made a speech in which you equated the Muslim relief camps with child-producing centres and used crudities like “Hum paanch, hamaare pachees”. Are you proud of such remarks?

Offstumped Rejoinder: Remarks taken out of context can sound crude and despicable. Let us not forget what followed those remarks. The Independent People’s Tribunal of Justices Suresh, Krishna Iyer et. al in its Report (Part 1, Page 266) carried an english translation of the audio recording of that speech via NDTV/Indian Express. Here is what followed:

Who will benefit from this development? Is family planning not necessary in Gujarat? Where does religion come in its way? Where does community come in its way? .The population is rising in Gujarat, money isn.t reaching the poor? What.s the reason? They make a beeline, fix cycle punctures (Audience laughs). If Gujarat is to be developed, then an economic system has to be developed where every child born in Gujarat gets education, manners and employment.”

Where is the question of bias or discrimination when Mr. Modi speaks of an economic vision for Gujarat where every child gets education and opportunity?

This is not spin from 2008 this is his much maligned election speech of 2002 !

Question #20 – It took the Gujarat HC to finally issue a contempt notice against your government for failing to compensate those whose shops were burnt down in the riots? Where was your ‘sadbhavana’ during the last 10 years?

Offstumped Rejoinder: It is pertinent to point out the contempt notice was issued to a District Collector and not to the Chief Minister’s Office, Cabinet or Cabinet Secretary. In an era where even the Prime Minister gets to distance himself from his own Office on Court strictures, to describe contempt notice against one District Collector as a “contempt notice against an entire State Government” is frankly bizarre.

Question #21 – The Gujarat HC also had to order the various authorities under your administration to pay for the restoration of the hundreds of religious structures destroyed. Why did the situation come to this?

Offstumped Rejoinder: There is a legitimate Constitutional question on this on tax payer money being spent on religious structures. Let the Supreme Court appeal be settled. After all no compensation was paid for structures that were damaged or destroyed in the 2001 earthquake or during the terror attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar in 2003.

Question #22 – What is your take on the high court blaming the 2002 riots on the “negligence of the state”?

Offstumped Rejoinder: The Srikrishna Commission Report on 1993 riots brilliantly highlighted how underlying the autopsy of every riot is a story of decades of systemic reform not undertaken. The High Court’s comments must be seen in this light.

The Truth of 2002 that thousands died is undeniable. The Truth of 2002 also is that the scale of violence overwhelmed a rickety Law and Order infrastructure in a manner no different from every other major riot in India.

Often we make the mistake of judging Governments from the perspective of events. Our public memory is short and our attention span limited to narrow episodes. We take Institution Building for granted. We grossly understate the effort it takes to build an Institution. We routinely overstate the lack of systemic reforms. Most often than not, we are too lazy to appreciate the considerable span of time it takes for meaningful systemic reforms to take root.

The decade of peace in Gujarat is the outcome of a decade of investment in making sure the Law and Order Infrastructure works all the time, every time.

It is with this decade long time span as the yardstick that we must judge the Governance in Gujarat and its Chief Minister Narendra Modi and not through the narrow prism of a single episodic event barely six months in to his first ever political office and 10 days after he won his first ever election.

On May 4th 2006 the Indian Express carried an interesting story out of Vadodara titled “Gujarat of 2006 versus Gujarat 2002”. The thrust of the story was on the Congress’ political response to events of the day but the story grudgingly acknowledged what had changed between 2002 and 2006. To enumerate that change may be in order as we mark the 10th anniversary of the 2002 riots.

The Indian Express grudgingly acknowledged that

  • the Chief Minister Narendra Modi was “quick on his feet”
  • the Chief Minister personally visited the affected area
  • the Chief Minister made it clear nobody would be allowed to subvert the law
  • 13 paramilitary troop companies—nine deployed in Vadodara and four in Ahmedabad—have been drawn from the Rapid Action Force (RAF), CRPF and BSF
  • the Army put three columns from its Vadodara-based air defence brigade and another from Gandhinagar on flag march duty
  • Four columns, consisting of about 250 troops made a peaceful flag march through the sensitive parts of Vadodara in a 10-vehicle convoy of jeep
  • Two more columns of the Army have been pressed in to assist the civil administration and Gujarat police

We can go on and on about anti-Muslim prejudice and refusal to engage critics.

Truth is the bulwark of Justice and a necessary pre-condition for Reconciliation.

The Truth of 2002 is there was no political conspiracy or orchestration by the Chief Minister.

Recognition of this Truth will hopefully advance the process of Justice later this month in one Trial Court.

A larger recognition of this Truth within our public discourse will make this less about Retribution and more about Justice paving the way for engagement and reconciliation.