January 18, 2005
(Writer is senior criminal lawyer
from Thane, Maharashtra, India and he is also engaged in freelance writing
for almost two decades having an authority on scores of issues.
He can be contacted at
Nothing can be termed as ‘utterly ludicrous’ for the manner in which the
findings of the retired supreme court justice U.C. Banner commission’s
interim report over the causes of Godhra carnage, have been released to
the media in New Delhi on Tuesday. It may be recalled, that fifty-four
karsevaks returning from Ayodhaya (UP) were charred to death on the
fateful morning of 27th February, 2002 in coach no. S – 7 of Sabarmati
Express in which they were travelling and returning home.
The commission’s conclusion that compartment caught fire due to an
accident taking place inside the coach and that it was not set ablaze from
outside is nothing but the height of absurdity. It is not a sheer
coincidence that commission’s interim report was made public barely
fifteen days ahead, when the first phase of assembly elections in Bihar,
Jharkhand and Haryana gets underway.
The very motive of setting up such kind of commission to be headed by a
retired judge of India’s apex court, when the Special POTA court at
Panchmahal has already taken a cognizance of the matter and the
significant progress has made by Nanavati commission, smacks a political
conspiracy, on the part of not only the railway minister Laloo Prasad
Yadav, but also on the part of the UPA headed chairman Sonia Gandhi to
garner the minority votes in the ensuing three state assembly elections.
The haste, with which the commission released an interim report, when its
term is schedule to expire on 3rd March, 2005 needs to be deplored.
As a railway minister, Laloo Yadav made an announcement of setting up of
commission to enquire into Godhra incident on 26th of August, 2004 from
Patna, which is home city. Couple of weeks prior to that, i.e. on 6th
June, 2004 to be more precise, the director general of RPF (Railway
Protection Force) is believed to have telephonically contacted M.S.Dahiya,
the director of Gujarat’s forensic laboratory and asked the latter to call
on the railway minister in Delhi in connection with the Godhra incident.
According to a report, even Laloo Yadav is believed to have phoned Dahiya
from Patna on 6th June and had ordered Gujarat civil servant to see in
Delhi at the earliest. The motive of such calls was already clear. That is
to find out the evidence commensurate with the predetermined out come of
the probe, that is to say that the incident was an accident and not the
The BJP had initially taken a strong exception to this gesture of the
railway minister of summoning Dahiya to Delhi and had openly demanded that
the Nanavati commission (in retaliation?) should also summon Laloo Yadav
for his over zealous act. However, the BJP neglected to pursue the matter
in the wake of rumbling within the party which had occurred due to various
If at all the railway minister was so keen in appointing his own
ministry’s commission to enquire a three year old incident, then he could
have very well appointed one under section 114 of the Indian Railways Act
– 1952 to find out, (1) whether the railway staff attached to Godhra
railway station acted promptly after the compartment caught fire, (2)
whether it had properly utilized the fire fighting machinery to douse the
fire, (3) how quickly the affected passengers were rescued from the fire
and (4) to what extent the damage had been caused to railway property, due
to the incident.
The very setting up of such kind of commission with a pre-determined
‘accident’ angle in a way, undermines the criminal proceedings initiated
by Gujarat Police under the POTA. This is a case, where the railway
ministry has completely encroached upon the criminal justice system in
Gujarat and also upon that of functioning of the Nanavati commission.
Gujarat police were initially groping in dark over the whole affair.
However, they could get substantial number of leads after the arrest of
one of the conspirators, Zaheer Bin Yamin Behra who is believed to have
given a confessional statement before the local magistrate and had
completely revealed the entire operation.
Behra’s arrest followed by his judicial confession, enable the police to
arrest a septuagenarian cleric Maulavi Hussein Hajji Abraham Umarji about
his complicity in the crime. Subsequent investigation revealed that he was
the brain behind the entire episode.
The police were originally confused about the precise cause of the fire
and whether it caused from inside or the compartment was set ablaze from
outside. However, cut marks caused due to choppers on the PVC canopy made
between the two compartments enabled the police to conclude, that
miscreants went to the extent of cutting the PVC canopy over the coupling
of the two coaches in order to forcibly enter into the coach, as the
occupants of the coach had frantically bolted the doors from inside after
they noticed a frenzied mob on either side of it.
The moot question lie, as to why a mob of nearly 1,500 people should
gather near Godhra railway station at 8 AM on the fateful day, when there
was no religious festivity was around. Had Bannerji commission pondered
over this point, perhaps it would not have dared to conclude that the
cause of the fire was not the conspiracy, but it was fire.
It is interesting to note that the successive bail applications of
seventy-two accused have been rejected by the various courts at various
levels, as there was sufficient evidence on record about their involvement
in the crime. It is interesting to see, that apart from the so called
forensic evidence gathered by the commission, who were the persons to whom
the commission had enquired. Whether these were the same persons, who had
given statements before the police during the investigation and whether
they too have deposed before Nanavati commission as well.
The interim report released by the chairman of the commission, retired
Justice Bannerji himself in the press conference diminishes the sanctity
of the probe and it reveals its childish approach. What was astonishing to
note, that when justice Bannerji was grilled by the media, as to what
prompted to him to release the interim report few weeks before the Bihar
assembly elections, he pleaded that he was unaware of the dates of
assembly elections in railway minister’s state. Which persons in this part
of the world would believe such claims about his lack knowledge of poll
What is more agonising is that when Justice Bannerji was releasing an
interim report before Delhi media; 850 Kms away in Patna, Laloo Yadav was
flashing the Hindi translation of the interim report in his maiden
election meeting. How could railway minister was able to get a translated
version of two part original reports in English, as they were being
presented to the media men in Delhi. This is sufficient to conclude that
the release of both versions of the interim report of the commission
simultaneously at two different places was done with a pre planning, and
it can not be termed as a sheer coincidence at all.
It is awful that a leader of a regional political party in Bihar is
allowed to take an advantage of happening of a most heinous incident in
Western part of India to suit his political ends. And it could not have
happened without the tacit approval of UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi.
The release of Bannerji commission’s report is bound to have both
electoral as well as political fallouts. Gujarat chief minister Narendra
Modi, who as a matter of course, ought to have resigned for his inept
handling of post Godhra riots which lasted for forty-three days, could now
get a fresh lease of life.
In fact, Congress leadership was repeatedly under pressure from the likes
of Shankar Singh Waghela, Ahmed Patel and Gulam Nabi Azad to dethrone
Narendra Modi from Gandhi Nagar by making use of Article 356 of
Constitution of India, prior to assembly polls in three states. However,
with the release of an absurd report, indications have it that Modi would
definitely try to consolidate his position on the strength of this report.
The incumbent UPA government has set an extremely bad precedent of
circumventing a judicial process of a serious matter, by allowing another
commission to simultaneously enquire over the same issue. Sadly, all this
is being done at the behest of Laloo Yadav, who is the Frankenstein in
making and it will be the Congress which will have to shoulder the blame
Should the Congress party, having a history of hundred and twenty five
years kowtow before a regional party simply to retain the power at the
Center? Its answer is definitely negative and sooner it realizes it better
it will be for the country and for Congress party as well.
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