Modi petals

After 34 Extensions and Hundreds of Croroes in Public Money, the Justice Nanavati Commission Has Predictably Denied Justice to 2002 Pogrom Victims

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani | Special to Caravan

AHMEDABAD — Justice delayed–and denied. It seems it’s all over for victims of the Gujarat 2002 riots as Retired Justice GT Nanavati handed over his final report to Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. Although there is no official word about the role of the then Gujarat chief minister and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the infamous pogrom, it is widely understood that Modi has been given a final clean chit by the commission.

According to various reports, the Nanavati Commission that submitted its final report to the Gujarat government has found “no evidence” to prove allegations of the erstwhile Modi government’s complicity in the post-Godhra carnage. The report by the two-member commission, headed by Justice Nanavati, has reportedly concluded that the Modi government was not involved in the riots in anyway.

In doing so, families of the 2002 pogrom victims say, the Nanavati Commission has ignored the clinching evidence against the then chief minister. All investigating agencies limited themselves to naming only those who were present on the spot and targeted the victims and not those who aided and abetted the killers during the 2002 communal riots.

A scene of carnage during the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat. Photo by AP

An auto rickshaw being burnt during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Image courtesy Indian Express

The families of riot victims feel that the Nanavati Commission has neglected the cause of justice in concluding that those who were not present on the crime scene were not guilty although they aided and abetted in the atrocities that killed more than 2000 Muslims. Even the Special Investigation Team led by former CBI Director Raghavan had changed its view about the infamous speech of Modi at Becharaji in Mehsana district in 2002. First, they found it communal but later changed their stand. It also did not entertain evidence sent by retired director-general of police RB Sreekumar exposing laxity on the part of the state government to curtail the riots.

The Nanavati Commission doesn’t merely stop at giving the then chief minister a clean chit; it also pats his government on the back for taking “prompt action against some VHP and Bajrang Dal workers” who were present at some venues where riots took place. The commission, according to some reports, says the Modi government took prompt action and summoned the Army to control rioters. The Commission has also justified its decision of not summoning Modi for a cross-examination, saying there was no credible evidence to support the charges.

The Commission took 12 years to submit its final report yet it has let down the victims who have waited all these years for justice in vain. During this period it got 34 extensions. But the report, ultimately, concludes what most enquiries into such riots do: That the government did its best to control the riots but apparently failed to act quickly because of lack of resources and staff!

The only additional finding of the Commission, according to reports, is that the situation became worse because of media coverage of the riots and the Godhra carnage. But then shooting the messenger has become a standard practice these days.

Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ, the Director of Prashant, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace issued a statement saying that several concerned citizens like the late Mukul Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Manch, Sanjiv Bhatt and others have tried their level best to bring the Commission on track and ensure that truth prevails and that the victim-survivors are given justice.

“The Commission has been full of inconsistencies, lapses and loopholes. The late Mukul Sinha who cross-examined several witnesses, consistently demanded that Modi who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time, had to be quizzed too.  Why the Commission denied this request from Sinha and several others is yet to be explained.”

“Even though the Commission has submitted its final report, for many of the 2002 victims and survivors (and several others who have accompanied them) the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 is far from a closed chapter, said Father Cedric Prakash. The relentless pursuit for truth and justice will continue until those who presided over this carnage are brought to book, he emphasized. Only then, will they truly be able to sing our motto emblazoned on our national emblem “Satyameva Jayate” (truth alone triumphs!),” he further said.

The Vadodara-based social activist and retired professor of M S University J S Bandukwala said that the Nanavati Commission is a dark chapter in the judicial history of India. A retired Supreme Court judge, Nanavati did everything possible to see that the taint of 2002 Gujarat riots does not touch Modi. In return his two sons benefited hugely through the Gujarat Government. The other member of the panel, Justice Mehta, was appointed to the Commission after he granted bail to the notorious Babu Bajrangi in the Naroda Patia massacre case in which over 100 people were killed.

The Commission got 34 extensions, yet it never once summoned someone who is seen as the principal architect of the Gujarat genocide, said Prof Bandukwala. “Hundreds of crores of public money were spent on this Commission but for what purpose? I hope no judicial commissions is ever appointed in India again. The Nanavati Commission is a slap on the memory of Ahsan Jafari and more that 2000 people who died, and the hundreds of thousands who suffered at that time,” he said.