Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The report of Raju Ramachandran, the amicus curiae in the Zakia Jafri case, has laid the ground for Narendra Modi to be charge-sheeted for his alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom.
The report is still confidential, though it has now been shared with the Special Investigation Team set up by the Supreme Court to investigate and prosecute cases stemming from the 2002 violence in which more than 1200 persons were killed.
According to informed sources in Ahmedabad, who briefed The Hindu on the report's contents, the report strongly disagrees with the SIT's view that no case against the Gujarat Chief Minister was made out. It says that only the cross-examination of senior Gujarat police officers, including Sanjiv Bhatt — who stated that he was present when Mr. Modi instructed police officials to allow Hindus to vent their anger — could establish whether the Chief Minister was innocent or guilty.
Significantly, the report also says that Mr. Bhatt's statement was made probable by the presence of two Ministers in the Ahmedabad Police Control Room (PCR) at the time Muslims were being attacked.
If the trial court accepts Mr. Ramachandran's view, the sources said, the stage will have been set for the prosecution of the Chief Minister under various sections of the IPC, among them, 153 A (statements promoting enmity between communities), 153 B (imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration) 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 166 (public servant disobeying a direction of the law with the intent to cause injury).
Under Section 166, any public servant who disobeys a direction of the law as to how he should conduct himself as a public servant and knowing the act will cause injury is liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to one year. As the chief executive in control of the administration, Mr. Modi was especially under obligation to quell the riots, the sources said.
The SIT was tasked by the Supreme Court to investigate Ms. Jafri's complaint against Mr. Modi and 61 others. The Court subsequently asked Mr. Ramachandran independently to evaluate the reports filed by the SIT by interacting with witnesses.
The sources said the SIT recommended closing the case against Mr. Modi on the grounds that police officer Bhatt, who was vital to fixing blame on the Chief Minister, was a controversial and unreliable witness. The SIT also concluded that there was no material on record to show interference by the two Ministers who were present in the PCR when Muslims were being attacked across Ahmedabad.
In his testimony to the SIT, Mr. Bhatt had said he was present at the February 27, 2002 meeting where Mr. Modi instructed top police officials to allow Hindus to “vent their anger” against Muslims. The meeting was held late in the evening at the Chief Minister's Gandhinagar residence. The SIT said none of the other officers present at the meeting had corroborated Mr. Bhatt's presence.
The sources said the amicus disagreed with the SIT's conclusions, arguing that evidence has to be weighed and not counted, and this can happen only when Mr. Bhatt and others present at the meeting are cross-examined in the trial court. The amicus' view was that it would be premature and presumptuous to close the case against Mr. Modi without an adversarial party putting the other officers to rigorous questioning: Mr. Bhatt could turn out to have lied. Equally, other officers present could turn out to have lied.
The amicus was in fact credited with the view that the presence in the police control room of two Ministers unconnected to the Home portfolio probablised Mr. Bhatt's statement. More so because the SIT had itself suggested that the Ministers had the Chief Minister's blessings (Tehelka magazine which scooped the SIT report quoted Mr. Raghavan as saying that the presence of the two Ministers fuelled speculation that they were there with Mr. Modi's blessings.)
If the view of the amicus is rejected by the SIT, Ms. Jafri and her co-complainant Teesta Setalvad will have the option to contest it in the trial court. The court can also form its own, independent opinion on the views of the amicus.
Volume 28 - Issue 22 :: Oct. 22-Nov. 04, 2011INDIA'S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
from the publishers of THE HINDU
|Rudrapur, an industrial town in Uttarakhand, witnesses large-scale rioting and clashes of a communal nature.|
Vehicles set on fire near a police station in Rudrapur town on October 2.
THE Garhwal and Kumaon regions, which constitute the tiny hill State of Uttarakhand, were totally free of communal disturbances even when the entire country was in the grip of tension following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 and the Mumbai blasts in 1993. These regions had always maintained communal peace. But on October 2, the bustling industrial town of Rudrapur, located in the foothills of the Kumaon hills in Udham Singh Nagar district, became the venue of the first communal riots in the State.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been taking great pains to explain that the 2002 Gujarat violence was an exception, something that could not be avoided. What happened in Uttarakhand for three days from October 2 proves yet again that with the BJP at the helm of affairs, the administrative machinery does look the other way when members of the Muslim community are targeted by the majority community.
Rioting went on for three days, and shops and houses of Muslims were looted and set on fire. The town was brought under indefinite curfew following widespread clashes between Hindus and Muslims in which three persons were killed and some 100 injured, some of them grievously. Several people are reported missing. Being an industrial hub, Rudrapur has a large population of migrant labourers; these people are now fleeing the town. At the time of writing this report (October 9), night curfew was continuing and reports of sporadic incidents of violence were coming in.
The mayhem could have been avoided had the administration been more vigilant. The first provocation came on September 29 when miscreants allegedly packed beef and pages torn from the Quran in a bloodstained cloth and placed it outside a Shani temple in Bhadaipura mohalla. Members of the Muslim community, agitated over the desecration of the Quran, demanded action against the culprits, but the administration did not act. The alleged act of sacrilege was repeated in the same mohalla on the night of October 1. This time, pages from the religious book were wrapped in a sheet of paper along with pork and thrown outside the house of one Mustaq Ahmad.
The following morning, over 100 Muslims gathered at the town kotwali (police station) to demand action and resorted to stone throwing, in which some policemen and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Vir Singh Budhiyal, sustained injuries.
The police chased the crowd away by resorting to a lathicharge. However, the Muslims regrouped, and this time a thousand people gathered outside the police station at Indira Chowk, stoned the police, damaged and burnt vehicles that were parked there and threatened to set the station on fire. At this stage, the police reportedly sought the help of the Hindu residents of the nearby Rampura mohalla and, thereafter, the two communities started clashing with each other. Soon the clashes spread to the entire city.
Justifying the police action of calling the Hindu residents to control the Muslim crowd, the new Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Abhinav Kumar, said that it had been done to save the police station from being burnt down as the number of police personnel available was not sufficient to protect it. But why was the police force not strengthened when signs of trouble were evident on September 29 itself? Besides, two battalion headquarters of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) are located within three kilometres of the trouble spot. Why were local residents enlisted to join the police action instead of calling for reinforcements from the PAC?
Facing criticism for mishandling the situation, the B.C. Khanduri government removed DIG Amit Sinha and District Magistrate B.V.R. Purshottam. Nobody has answers to questions about the clashes. Abhinav Kumar, who took charge on October 4 after Amit Sinha was removed for perceived lack of efficiency, only offers conjectures. The new District Magistrate, B.S. Jangpangi, only says there was some inefficiency in handling the situation initially.
The initial administrative apathy, however, took a toll on the town. Scores of houses and shops belonging to Muslims were burnt and looted, leaving the community with a deep sense of fear and injustice. The two communities had coexisted without any trouble, but now there is a divide and a sense of mistrust. What has compounded the feeling of insecurity among the Muslims is the fact that not a single leader from the ruling BJP or the government offered their sympathies even six days after the incident. The Chief Minister visited the town on October 3, but he neither met the victims nor visited the affected areas.
The police lathicharge the protesters.
This correspondent saw rows of burnt shops in Bhadaipura, Kicchha Road, Transit Camp, the main Durgadevi Road market and Gandhi Colony. In the Durgadevi Road market where shops owned by Hindus and Muslims stood side by side, miscreants had selectively targeted those belonging to Muslims, thrown the goods on the road and set them on fire. In areas where there were rows of shops owned by Muslims, as in Bhadaipura, they were all burnt down.
Asif Ali, an elderly person who had been running an electrical goods shop in Gandhi Colony since 1976, is inconsolable. He told this correspondent that he kept calling up the police helpline when the miscreants were looting and burning his shop, but he heard only laughter on the other side. No police came to help him. He has incurred a loss of roughly Rs.15 lakh. Similarly, Rais Ahmad, who washes and irons clothes in the same area, had his house looted and all his belongings burnt. “We ran away to save our lives, nobody came to protect us,” says Ahmad's wife. Now they do not know where to go, for Ahmad was born here and grew up thinking this was his home. Suddenly he is feeling insecure and vulnerable.
There are others with similar harrowing experiences. Qauser Ali's ironworks shop in the Transit Camp area, Mohammad Omar's cycle shop, and Mohammad Sultan's tailoring shop in the Durgadevi Road market area were all targeted. Sultan, who employed 15 people, has suffered a loss of Rs.15 lakh. “With the administration turning a blind eye to those who burnt and looted our shops, where do we go now for help?” he asks. “If the administration had taken action against those who were responsible for the desecration of the Quran, this trouble would not have happened in the first place. Our grievance went unheeded, naturally there was anger among the people and they gathered at the police station to protest. But why is the government not paying attention to our grievances?” a member of the Muslim community asked this correspondent.
This sense of denial of justice is deepening by the day because the real culprits, who have been named by eyewitnesses, have not been questioned by the police, whereas several Muslims have been rounded up. Many of the alleged attackers are said to be close to BJP and Congress leaders. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen Hindus with Congress and BJP affiliations leading the mobs that set shops on fire.
The district administration too agrees that “the role of political parties cannot be denied in this” but has stopped short of taking any effective action. According to political observers, the Assembly elections scheduled for early next year is making the two political parties nervous and hence the attempt at communal polarisation. “Both the BJP and the Congress are trying to fish in troubled waters,” says Tejinder Singh Virk, a member of the local traders' association and State secretary of the Samajwadi Party.What is shocking is that the members of the Hindu community see nothing wrong in the police seeking their help to quell the agitating Muslims. Mohit Chauhan, an educated youth working in a leading hotel in the town, said, “After all, the Muslims were the ones who started it all. Why did they throw stones at the police station? If they thought there would be no retaliation for their actions, then they have surely learnt a lesson now.”
A Hindu shopkeeper in Gandhi Colony is also of the view that the police were right in seeking the help of the residents of the Hindu-dominated area to control the Muslims as the police station did not have sufficient personnel.
“The police, all young men without training in handling such a situation, were not even equipped with weapons. The trained policemen of the former Uttar Pradesh Police went back to the parent cadre when the State was bifurcated. The concept of mitra police [people-friendly] has done much harm to the morale of the forces. Had the Hindus not assisted them, the police would have been lynched by the mob,” he said. But why harm innocent Muslims instead of those who started the violence? “This happens in any such situation, nobody can help it,” shrugs a shopkeeper at the Durgadevi Road market.