My truth, your truth: A tale of two panels

September 25th, 2008 - 9:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyAhmedabad/New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) Two probe panels set up by two governments have come out with two conflicting versions of a shocking tragedy six years ago whose after-effects continue to be felt in Indian politics. Will the truth behind the Godhra train-burning ever be known?The investigative commission of Justice (retd) G.T. Nanavati and Justice (retd) Akshay Mehta, set up by Gujarat’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Narendra Modi March 6, 2002, has concluded that the burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra town on the morning of Feb 27, 2002 was a well-planned conspiracy.

It said Godhra-based Maulvi Umarji hatched the conspiracy in the Aman Guest house in the west Gujarat town and two people procured 120 litres of petrol for the purpose.

The train was stopped as it pulled out of the Godhra railway station, the S-6 and S-7 were stonned for 10-20 minutes and the S-6 coach was set on fire, it found.

The incident claimed 59 lives, many of them Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists returning from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh where they had participated in a campaign to build a grand Ram temple there.

It also triggered state-wide communal carnage, one of the worst in independent India, killing 1,167 people - most of them Muslims.

The panel report, tabled in the Gujarat assembly Thursday, has virtually given a clean chit to Modi and his colleagues, saying there was no evidence to incriminate him or any member of his cabinet, even as rights bodies maintain his police force was biased and the violence could have been stopped early on.

The Nanavati-Mehta panel’s findings, however, contradict the conclusion of the U.C. Banerjee committee set up by the Railway Ministry Sep 3, 2004.

The Banerjee committee noted “a preponderance of evidence” that the fire “originated in the coach itself without any external input”.

“The possibility of an inflammable liquid having been used is completely ruled out as there was first a smell of burning, followed by dense smoke and flames thereafter.”

The Modi government was quick to object to the Banerjee committee findings and approached the Gujarat High Court, which Oct 13, 2006 declared the setting up of the Banerjee Committee to probe the Godhra train carnage was “illegal, unconstitutional” and “null and void.” The court also said that the committee’s report shall not be tabled in parliament.

The reactions from main political parties to the two reports, like the reports themselves, are on predictable lines.

According to BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, the Nanavati-Mehta report is “the most extensive, exhaustive and scientific report” on the train-burning, while the Banerjee report was “ill-prepared and politically motivated”.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, on the other hand, said: “It (the Nanavati-Mehta probe) cannot be called a bona fide investigation.”

Mukul Sinha of the Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM) who represented the violence victims before the Nanavati-Mehta investigation panel termed its report as “absurd”.

“The part one of the report is not supported by credible and independent evidence. Everything in it is based on police official Noel Parmar’s report which has been rejected by the Supreme Court,” Sinha told IANS in Ahmedabad Thursday.

“It is a travesty of justice as the accusations were made against the police in the post-Godhra riots and yet the very same police’s report has been used to bring out this report,” Sinha said.

Will the whole truth ever come out? The Nanavati-Mehta panel will submit its second and concluding report, focusing on the communal violence, by December, while a Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) will submit its report on the sectarian strife around the same time.

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