Will Godhra probe panel unravel all the mysteries?
Syed Ali Mujtaba
The constitution of a high level committee to probe the fire incident at the Sabarmati express train that killed 58 persons at Godhra, Gujarat, on 27th February 2002, by the United People’s Alliance (UPA) government is a welcome step.
The incident triggered a backlash in Gujarat and in a retaliatory action, Hindu marauding Hindu mob, killed more than 3000 Muslims in an organized communal program that continued unabated for next three months in the state.
The primary blame lies on the Gujarat administration, which did little to stop the communal mayhem that erupted in the wake of Godhra train carnage. The irony is instead feeling guilty, the Chief Minister of the state, Nrander Modi is reported to have justified the post Godhra riots as a logical fall out of the train fire tragedy.
There are various theories floated citing the causes of the fire incident of the ill-fated Sabarmati express train. One such, theory did round was that the Hindu devotees who were returning by this train from Ayodhya pilgrimage, abducted a Muslim girl from the Godhra platform and took her into the S-6 coach and then shut the compartment from inside. This open vandalism provoked some Muslims of the area to stop the train to rescue the girl, but since they could no way open the compartment, burnt it down in a fit of anger.
The girl theory, which initially spread like a wild fire proved subsequently proved to be fictitious as it was discovered that some cyber savvy persons who concocted this story circulated it to a large number of people through the e-mails. Even though there was no iota of truth in this story, there are many people who believe this to be true as the most plausible reason for prompting such a heinous crime.
The next theory that made rounds was that the Hindu devotees misbehaved with some Muslim hawkers on the Godhra railway platform, pulling their beard and religiously abusing them, that sparked resentment among the minority community. Muslims, in an instant reaction stopped the train at the outer signal of the Godhra station, which lay close to their habitat and tried to set the coaches on fire occupied by those rowdies’ elements.
In a press conference, the BJP General secretary Arun Jaitely has come up with another theory saying that the “culprits” had purchased petrol in Godhra the day before the incident and when they were unable to throw the petrol in the S-6 coach, they got into S-7 coach and slit open the protective barrier that divided the two coaches, by sword, and then poured petrol into S-6 coach to set it on fire.
Justice G.T Nanavati and Justice KG. Shah, heading the inquiry commission of the Godhra train fire carnage conducted a mock drill of the incident and actually watched whether petrol could be thrown from the ground position at the eight feet high compartments and could fire be ignited to burn down the compartment.
The action replay revealed that it was impossible to pour any inflammable from that position into the coach and by that action fire cannot be ignited inside the coach. The other inference drawn was that it was impossible for a frenzied mob to procure such a large amount of inflammable in such a short notice to set the train on fire.
In the light of the inferences drawn by the ongoing inquiry commission, the theory propounded by Arun Jaitely sounds unconvincing. First, can such a thick iron sheet that divides the two compartments be slit open by a sword?
Second, Jaitely’s sword theory points the incident to be the handiwork of the frenzied mob that assembled at the railway signal in an instant reaction to the provocation on the Godhra railway platform. However, his contention that petrol was purchased a day in advance points towards a preplanned strategy to the crime. If the two-pieces of information are seen in a sequence then it is difficult to co-relate them together.
As a result of these unconvincing arguments, the Godhra fire incident remains shrouded in mystery. A renewed interest has been generated after the constitution of high-level probe panel that it would unravel the truth of the Godhra incident.
The high level committee has a big job in hand. First of all it has to clearly establish as to what prompted the ‘culprits’ to resort to such a crime? If the provocations at the Godhra railway platform were to be the reasons, then can a mob that had assembled in few minutes or say in hours could perform such a crime?
How can the inflammable be brought in such a short notice to the venue of the crime? For argument sake, even if it was procured, in what way it was transported from the approach road to the railway compartment? Obviously, the truck tanker could not be driven to the railway tracks.
How, the closed compartment was opened for pouring the inflammable, can such a job be done by a sharp edge weapon alone? If all this is accepted, then how much time it took to perform such a crime? Obviously it’s not a few minutes job. If all this took long enough time then why did not the passengers tried to escape from the compartment and chose to be burnt alive in a closed carriage? These are some question, which are still abegging answers. If the high level commission wants to probe the preplanned angle of the incident then it has to establish the motive behind such a planning, as to who all stand to gain from breaching the communal peace of the state? The probe panel also has to establish as who all have executed the crime and how?
If it was the work of the anti- national elements, then who were those behind it? Was it Pakistan’s ISI, that hatched this conspiracy to the malign India at home or aboard or was there some local or regional political elements behind it who tend to gain by breaching the communal peace to reap political dividends from such an outrage?
What benefit the poor Godhra Muslim would have by planning and executing such a crime? Could the provocation at Godhra railway station be the reason of the crime of such magnitude? If it was a work of anti- national elements then why only Godhra Muslims have been arrested and people of other community have not even be put of the suspicion radar?
The Godhra train tragedy is one of the modern day mysteries, which remain covered up from public eye. So far no one has yet been able to convincingly establish the fact as to what prompted such a heinous crime to take place in the first instance and who were the real culprits behind this and how this dastardly act was performed.
It is still too early to say whether the high-level probe panel would unravel all the mysteries surrounding the train carnage. If past history of such probe panels are an indication, then this one too does not deserve any great expectations.
However dismal, the hope remains that this panel would be different from the others and would eventually separate the sheaf from the grain. The Godhra truth may be any an eye opener for the countrymen if those behind this diabolic crime are really exposed.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org