The massacre of Muslims in Gujarat that began on February 28 2002 and went on for the next few days could not possibly have taken place without being condoned and encouraged by police and government officials. And could these officials have acted as they did - on the side of the Hindutva mobs – without an explicit directive from the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi? In public, Modi had spoken of Newton’s law – a clear enough indication that the violence against minorities was being justified as a ‘reaction’ to the Godhra train burning. Had he done more than just make political statements justifying the violence? Had he proactively ensured that the Government machinery would turn a blind eye to the organised violence unleashed by the Sangh Parivar and BJP?
Modi’s role could always be inferred by the actions of his Government and its top officials while Gujarat burned. But now, finally, there is proof positive that Modi and the BJP can no longer brush aside. A senior IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhat, who was Deputy Commissioner of the State Intelligence Bureau at the time, has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court with damning evidence of Modi’s direct complicity in the terrible genocide of Muslim minorities. The Supreme Court is hearing a petition by Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, who was among the 69 people killed by a mob in the Gulbarg housing complex in Ahmedabad in 2002. Zakia Jafri’s petition has alleged Modi’s complicity in the massacre, and the SC had directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate the Gulbarg Society massacre.
In his affidavit, Bhatt has asserted he possesses “information and documentary evidence, which I have already shared with SIT” which can throw light on the real nature of events that led to the burning of the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express ... and the larger conspiracy and official orchestration behind the subsequent Gujarat Riots of 2002.”
Earlier, deposing before the SIT, Sanjiv Bhatt had given an eyewitness account of Narendra Modi’s words and actions at a crucial meeting with senior police and Government personnel on February 27 2002 at the Modi’s residence. Bhatt states that Modi was warned against bringing the bodies of the kar sevaks burnt in the Godhra train carnage to Ahmedabad, due to the possibility of communal violence in the light of the bandh called by the VHP.
Bhatt testified: “The Chief Minister Narendra Modi said that the bandh call had already been given and the party had decided to support the same, as incidents like the burning of Kar Sevaks at Godhra could not be tolerated. He further impressed upon the gathering that for too long the Gujarat Police had been following the principle of balancing the actions against Hindus and Muslims while dealing with the communal riots in Gujarat. This time the situation warranted that the Muslims be taught a lesson to ensure that such incidents do not recur ever again. The CM... expressed the view that the emotions were running very high amongst the Hindus and it was imperative that they be allowed to vent out their anger.”
“Allow Hindus to vent their anger” – that was the clear signal by the Chief Minister himself to police and government officials to allow the Sangh mobs to indulge in anti-minority massacres unchecked. Bhatt’s testimony nails Modi’s lie that the violence that followed was spontaneous and that his government did all it could to prevent and check it. While other officials who attended the meeting have all conveniently claimed amnesia, Bhatt has showed courage of conscience in daring to tell the truth. It must be recalled that BJP leader and former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya had also testified before two judges to reports of a similar meeting at Modi’s house in which Modi asked police not to come in the way of a Hindu backlash. Pandya was later assassinated in mysterious circumstances. Bhatt’s fear for the life and safety of himself and his family has a solid basis.
Equally disturbing is Bhatt’s evidence of the bias displayed by the SIT. His affidavit states that after the SIT’s supposedly confidential summons to depose before it, he “was approached by a very high level functionary in the Government of Gujarat and was sought to be appropriately briefed prior to my scheduled interaction with SIT.”
The SIT initially did all it could to prevent Bhatt from giving evidence of the meeting at Modi’s residence, on the plea that it did not pertain directly to the Gulbarg society case! When Bhat insisted that this defeated the very purpose of any investigation into any larger conspiracy or orchestration of the violence, the SIT finally agreed to record his statement.
As the investigation progressed, details of his deposition were leaked by the SIT “to higher echelons of the Gujarat Government.” This is indicated by the fact that when the SIT questioned Modi about who attended the fateful meeting held at his house on February 27, Modi gave a list of names, and then, unasked, added that Sanjiv Bhatt had not attended the meeting because he was “too junior.” This uncalled for mention of Bhatt is a giveaway - clearly, Modi had been told of Bhatt’s testimony and wanted to undermine it specifically.
Bhatt further alleges that the “SIT has chosen to intimidate certain witnesses and coerce them in to refraining from stating the true facts and thereby has created an impression that the SIT is becoming a party to the ongoing cover-up operation in Gujarat.” One person named as a witness said he had been called before SIT and “virtually treated like an accused and was threatened with arrest and other dire consequences.”
He further said that there was “unconcealed hostility” from SIT members, when he tried to bring up the “issue of a larger conspiracy or official orchestration behind the Gujarat Riots of 2002, as also the ongoing attempts at cover-up”.
Bhatt said he witnessed the effect of Modi’s directive on the conduct of the police. Incidents like the Gulbarg society incident could easily have been prevented, he said, had the senior police and administrative officials acted on intelligence relayed through Bhatt. He himself “personally informed the CM” as well as senior police officers about the violence building up at Gulbarg society and about the “complete police inaction” there. The intelligence was ignored – and the grisly massacre took place unchecked. Bhatt’s testimony records the intelligence report, with gruesome details of the last moments of Ahsan Jafri, when the mob clamped his head in an iron contraption used to catch stray dogs, and hacked him up before setting him on fire. Phone records show Jafri’s vain efforts to call repeatedly for help, with no response from the police.
The few honest police and intelligence officers who did their duty by resisting the carnage and refusing to aid the cover-up have been victimised by the Gujarat Government. Former ADGP (Intelligence) R B Sreekumar had earlier submitted intelligence reports on arms build up by the Sangh in Ahmedabad. Sreekumar, along with Bhatt, were removed from the State Intelligence Bureau on 18 September 2002, once it was clear that they were not toeing the Government’s line. Sreekumar was passed up for promotions and has had to fight a case for his pension. Bhatt was denied any executive posting for the past 8 years. An IPS officer Rahul Sharma who had acted to save Muslim lives and defend a mosque, later gave the SIT crucial cellphone data records of senior ministers, bureaucrats and police officers. The Modi Government served him a show cause notice for submitting these records before the SIT without permission.
As an Intelligence officer, Bhatt was constrained to maintain professional confidentiality. This is why he told the SIT that he was willing to reveal all details that he possessed – but only when he would be placed under “a binding legal obligation” to do so. Since the SIT took no steps to facilitate Bhatt’s testimony and instead jeopardised his life by leaking his testimony to the Gujarat Government, he was forced to approach the Supreme Court directly.
The Supreme Court, in view of Bhatt’s evidence of the SIT’s bias, has handed over the investigation and appraisal of the evidence to the amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran. The amicus curiae has been authorised to meet witnesses and officials directly and report back to the Court on whether or not there is enough material for the registration of an offence against chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 others, as requested by Zakia Jafri’s petition.
The Gujarat government has not only failed to respond to Bhatt’s request for enhanced security in the wake of media revelations of his testimony, it has in fact weakened the existing protection.
The anti-corruption movement in recent times has increased the public respect for whistleblowers who take risks to expose wrongdoing by the powerful. The Gujarat Government’s role in the horrific Gujarat genocide, where government machinery was ordered to ignore massacre and rape, and the attempted cover-up is indeed the worst form of corruption. Sanjiv Bhatt’s courage and integrity in blowing the whistle on this cover up at great personal risk must be hailed as a model to be emulated, and his testimony must, without delay, be used to bring Narendra Modi to book for genocide.