the lie, the more people believe it.
THERE WERE no ill portents as the Sabarmati Express drew
into Godhra station at 7:43am on February 27, 2002, five hours behind
schedule. The last of winter still hung in the air, and elsewhere in the
country, people were busying themselves with an ordinary new day, getting
to school or work or back to sleep, when the news began to break. A fire
was raging through the crammed coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, stalled
just outside Godhra station. Fifty-nine people had been burnt to death
— some karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, some ordinary passengers
on their way back to Gujarat from Sultanpur, Allahabad and Lucknow.
The country was horrified by the gruesome tragedy, but
there was no immediate sense then that the incident at Godhra was to become
one of the most corrosive ruptures in our nation’s recent history.
As 24-hour news channels across the country played and replayed the gory
and traumatic pictures, tension mounted. Angry — and valid —
questions were asked. How did the fire start? Who were the perpetrators?
Was it an accident or an act of arson? If arson, was it preplanned or
The horrific deaths at Godhra cried out for the truth.
And justice. Gujarat, already fragmented, already simmering with latent
communal hostility, now brimmed with a dangerous and restive anger. What
people had needed then was justice, the uncompromised truth — and
a healing touch from their government.
Instead, within a few hours, the incident at Godhra —
heinous as it already was — began to be converted into a lethal
communal hacksaw. The charred bodies were taken from hospitals and paraded
in emotive processions across the state. The 59 dead were not allowed
the dignity of individual identities, but morphed into one terrifying,
unified, rage-inducing idea: Hindu
karsevaks murdered by Muslims. And in less than 12 hours — even
before the first tentative facts could be established, even before the
police had registered their first FIR, even while the post mortems of
the dead were still on — Chief Minister Narendra Modi issued a press
release declaring war: “The abominable event that has occurred at
Godhra does not befit any civilized society,” he said. “This
is not a mere communal event but a one-sided collective terrorist attack
by one community.”
The first of the fires began to burn that night itself.
Over the next three days, more than 2,000 Muslims were killed. Hacked,
shot, burnt, raped. Thousands of Muslim houses were burned, dozens of
mosques desecrated. The rhetoric of hate reached a fever pitch. They had
it coming, Modi said.
The truth about Godhra underlies everything cataclysmic
that happened afterwards. The truth about Godhra underlies one of the
most dangerous and polarising faultlines in India. The truth about Godhra
underlies the very way we see ourselves as a nation.
For five years, Modi — and the political spectrum
he represents — has sought moral refuge in the claim that the genocide
in Gujarat was a spontaneous reaction to a premeditated action. For five
years, he and his government have claimed that the incident in Godhra
was not a spontaneous burst of mob fury that got out of hand, but a conspiracy
pre-planned by significant religious and political Muslim leaders. For
five years, the Modi administration’s justification of the pogrom
in Gujarat has largely hinged on the culpability of eight men: the president
of the Godhra Municipal Council, Mohammad Hussain Kalota Shaikh; four
Muslim corporators — Bilal Haji, Farooq Mohammad Bhana, Salim Shaikh
and Abdul Rahman Dhantiya; two Muslim advocates — Rol Amin Hussain
Hathila and Habib Karim Shaikh; and the local religious head, Maulvi Umarji.
For five years, the people, the courts, and the press
have been told that they are the killers. It is the entire basis of Modi’s
action-reaction theory. Subtract these eight religious and political figures
from the list of 134 accused in the Sabarmati Express fire and what remains
are sundry hawkers, labourers and truck drivers. Subtract the political
and religious names from the list of Godhra accused and what remains is
a criminal but spontaneous act of arson. Subtract the political and religious
angle to the Godhra tragedy, and Modi’s diabolic action-reaction
theory comes crashing down.
So were these eight men culpable?
Some political groups and some sections of civil society
have claimed that Modi himself was behind the blaze in Godhra. They claim
he got coach S-6 burned so that he could orchestrate a pogrom and reap
its political dividends.
Is that the truth?
TEHELKA undertook a six-month long investigation to get
at the truth of what really happened in Godhra. The painstaking investigation
uncovered a web of lies entwined with truth, a mash of fact served up
with fiction. Our quest shocked us: not because the truth was hard to
find, but because it was in abundance, it was everywhere, in case papers,
in statements of survivors, out in the streets. Our quest shocked us:
not because the truth itself is shocking, but because the elaborate and
malicious way in which it has been subverted is. What we found tears at
the status quo and demands redressal. It proves everything Modi and his
government have been claiming is a lie. Not just an ordinary lie, but
a deliberate and manufactured one. Executed through bribery and coercion.
This is the story of what we found. As always, the truth
is in the details.