February 01, 2005

Godhra Train Burning Incident and Banerjee Report

Secular Perspective
Feb. 1-15, 2004

Godhra Train Burning Incident and Banerjee Report

by Asghar Ali Engineer

The Sangh Parivar is understandably upset at the U.C.Banerjee
inquiry committee Report on the Godhra train burning incident. The
subsequent Gujarat carnage was justified by the Sangh Parivar solely
on the basis of this incident describing it as a conspiracy by Muslims
of Godhra with involvement of ISI of Pakistan. Even the BJP Prime
Minister Shri A.B.Vajpayee justified the Gujarat carnage saying that
the Muslims of India did not 'condemn it enough' and hence this
carnage took place. Mr. L.K.Advani had similarly justified the Bombay
riots of 1992-93 saying that "Hindus were anguished" by burning of
few Hindus at Jogeshwari. Subsequently the Supreme Court
discharged all the accused in the Jogeshwari incident. But the Sangh
Parivar took the law into its own hand and perpetrated communal
violence in Mumbai in 1992-93. 

In case of Godhra too, before the truth was out, within 24 hours
communal carnage started in other parts of Gujarat in which more
than two thousand citizens were butchered or burnt alive most
brutally. Without any preliminary inquiry, Narendra Modi and his
cohorts drew definite conclusions and, before any one could know
what had happened, started the butchery. Narendra Modi propounded
theory of action and reaction referring to Newton's theory. 

Now that Banerjee Committee, appointed by Lalu Prasad Yadav as
Railway Minister, has come to conclusion that the fire probably started
by cooking from inside, the Sangh Parivar is denouncing it as a
'political act' as if their theory of conspiracy was established beyond
any ken of doubt. More than hundred persons (135 persons) were
accused of pre-planned terrorist attack by one community. Ten
charge sheets have already been filed. 

The conspiracy theory has several loopholes. How did the
conspirators know that there were Karsevaks on Sabarmati Express?
The train was also running more than four hours late. And as for
Karsevaks being on the train, inquiries show that even RAW, L.B. and
Railway Police did not know anything about it. In fact Karsevaks were
scheduled to return a day earlier but were delayed by a day. How
could the conspirators know that Karsevaks were on the train that
day? They could not know more than government intelligence
agencies. Even if they did, delay of more than four hours could have
upset their plans. In such matters even minutes matter, let alone

Even pulling the chain, cross examination in the court clearly brings
out, was not the handiwork of Muslims, the chain was pulled by
Karsevaks themselves as some Karsevaks chasing the vendors on
Godhra railway platform were left out when the train moved. They
pulled the chain twice. The conspiracy theory maintains that the
accused had pulled the chain, stopped the train to carry petrol or
inflammable liquid into S-6, and set fire. The forensic report also
clearly states that no traces of hydrocarbon were found on the floor of
S-6 compartment. That clearly means no petrol was spread on the
floor of S-6 to set fire to it. However, Modi maintained that Muslims
had used 140 litres of petrol. He never said what was his source of
information. With so much petrol, the whole compartment would have
exploded and charred completely. 

The Dy. SP, Railway also said in his statement that he did not see
petrol or any other liquid being carried by anyone inside the
compartment. The survivors had superficial injuries on upper part of
their bodies. Had petrol been thrown on the floor and set to fire, they
would have had injuries on lower parts of the body. Also, no Karsevak
has admitted petrol being smuggled in and poured out on the floor 

Haribhai Joshi, an income tax officer from Ahmedabad, who was
travelling in S-6 with his wife, said he saw only smoke and no fire. His
wife died and he crawled out of the compartment. Though he crawled
on the floor he had no burn injuries. If petrol had been thrown on the
floor to set fire, Mr. Joshi could not have crawled on the floor. His wife
was sitting near the window and did not come out in time and died of
asphyxiation. In fact all those who died do not seem to have died of
burns but of asphyxiation. 

The post-mortem reports the less said the better. Unfortunately much
has not come out in the press about it. Mr. Mukul Sinha, the defence
lawyer rolled out startling information in a talk recently. His information
was based on cross-examination and examination of relevant
documents. There are several flaws in the report. Post mortem was
done before the inquest report. Inquest was done at 6.45 P.M.
whereas post mortem began at 4.30 P.M. Post mortem is always
followed by inquest. 

What is more important is to note that post mortem was done at
railway station itself and one doctor has signed it on 14th March
though it was done on 27th February. This doctor was perhaps very
honest and put the date when he signed the report. Mr. Mukul Sinha
concluded that perhaps post mortem was never done as there were
no signs of severe burns on the bodies of the deceased. Also very
few bodies actually had been identified. Most others could not be
identified at all. 

The then Railway Minister Mr. Nitish Kumar obliged the BJP led
Government by not holding any inquiry as long as NDA was in power.
Actually inquiry should have been immediately held following the
incident. It was Lalu Yadav of the UPA Government who ordered
inquiry headed by U.C.Banerjee, a retired Supreme Court Judge.
Justice Banerjee has concluded that the fire was result of cooking
inside the compartment as some traces of grains were found inside. It
is incidental spark which fell on rubber fittings causing dense smoke
which later at a higher temperature turned into fire. 

It has been testified by witnesses that smoke was noticed before fire.
Also, looking at the other aspect of the matter the train stopped
hardly for five minutes after pulling of chain and it was physically
impossible to carry out such in operation in such a short time. To carry
several cans of petrol (about 60 litres as estimated by forensic
experts) inside S-6 through the vestibule cutting its canvas is almost
impossible. [The claim is that?] In fact they entered through S-7 and
the rubber cover of that S-7 vestibule was not cut. That evidence was
also sought to be destroyed. S-7 was not preserved as an evidence
and was used for 7 days after the incident. In fact if the culprits had
entered through S-7 cutting its canvas, how could it be used for seven
days before it was grounded? 

Also, the terrain was such as to make such an operation impossible.
There was a deep drain between the Signal Faliah and the track and
thick shrubs asking it impossible for the miscreants to cross it and
enter the train. The Karsevaks were also carrying trishuls and how
could they allow without resistance outsiders to enter the
compartment with petrol to set fire to the compartment. 

All these factors have to be taken into account if the conspiracy theory
is to be substantiated. It is unfortunate that Justice Nanavati inquiring
into Gujarat communal carnage and Godhra incident has hurriedly
debunked Justice Banerjee report without having any concrete
evidence to support conspiracy theory. It is not becoming of a Judge
inquiring into these incidents to dismiss other judge's inquiry report.
He should have waited for completion of his own inquiry before
making such statement. Remember he had given a statement
absolving the police from its role in Gujarat riots before he started the
inquiry. It was only after public hue and cry that he took back his

This clearly shows that Narendra Modi has appointed a Judge with
careful consideration to obtain the result he wants. For Sangh Parivar
minorities are always to be blamed and for this there is no need for
any judicial inquiry. It is a forgone conclusion for them that Muslims
are violent and any violent incident should be blamed on them. That
also gives them opportunity to seek revenge and kill them ruthlessly.
Even the person of the stature of the Prime Minister also could not
refrain from making provocative statement like who set fire to the train
in Goa in 2002. When he said this and that Muslims did not condemn
the Godhra incident enough he clearly took it for granted that Muslims
from Signal Faliah were real culprits and had hatched the conspiracy
to set S-6 ablaze. It is highly regretted that the Prime Minister of the
country could become so blatantly partisan for his party totally
forgetting his constitutional duties. 

Of course Banerjee Committee's report is still not final as many police
officials avoided appearing before it perhaps to conceal the real truth.
It is being said that Government is thinking of giving it the status of a
commission under the Inquiry Commission's Act so that justice
Banerjee could summon the police officials and other witnesses. If
that happens it would be possible to know the truth, which was sought
to be suppressed so far by those who were waiting for an opportunity
to fan fires of communal violence. It is highly necessary that truth be
known, not for seeking revenge but to avoid such incidents in future
and keeping the communal zealots under check. 

As for the charge that Lalu Prasad Yadav is using it for election
purposes let those who are making this charge against him [not]
forget that Narnedra Modi had exploited the Godhra incident blatantly
for his election campaign in December 2002 and he had not hesitated
to carry dead bodies of unfortunate victims of Godhra incident in
procession in Ahmedabad to ignite communal fires. Now the Chief
Election Commissioner is objecting to such use of the Banerjee
Committee Report but why the Election Commission allowed
Narendra Modi to exploit the Godhra incident for is election purposes?
It is for the Election Commission to clarify this issue. Of course ideally
no one should exploit such issues for electoral purposes. But then
who will throw the first stone?