Godhra Retold

BY AJAZ ASHRAF

Once you complete reading Manoj Mitta’s breathtaking investigative book, The Fiction of Fact-Finding; Modi & Godhra, you are likely to wonder about the priorities of the Indian media, which never shies away from trumpeting its contributions to our vibrant democracy. It’s possible you’d ask why the charges of an elaborate cover-up that Mitta has levelled against the investigators of the 2002 Gujarat riots haven’t been reported in the national dailies, or why there haven’t been follow-up stories on some arguably sensational disclosures he has made in the book.

Indeed, The Fiction of Fact-Finding deserves more than a review on the books pages, not the least because it reveals clinically the convoluted process through which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was declared to have not been culpable in the triggering of the grisly Gujarat riots. Modi is now the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the impending General Elections. To prove, as Mitta does in his book, that the fact-finding in the 2002 riots was barely more than fiction – and, therefore, a sham – is tantamount to expressing deep worries about Modi’s style of governance and, therefore, his suitability for the post he covets.

Yet, compare the silence of the Indian media (Outlook is the sole exception) on Mitta’s charges to the justifiable fury that Times Now anchor Arnab Goswami recently directed against the complicity of Congress leaders in the reprehensible anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Should not Goswami grill BJP leaders on the sheer vacuity, and hypocrisy, of their claims that Modi had been found not guilty of provoking the post-Godhra carnage by none less than the Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT)? Should he not, in his hectoring voice, ask the man who chaired the SIT, RK Raghavan, to account for the twisted logic he and his team invoked to exonerate Modi?

These questions haven’t been asked even in the pages of The Times of India, where Mitta works as a senior editor, though his book can be mined for several stories. It is truly a case of the newspaper not knowing the value of the information its own journalist has unearthed. Or are we to presume there is a more complex reason than ignorance behind the TOI’s decision not to run any of the startling stories Mitta narrates in his seminal book?

The most captivating of these stories dates to May 1991, pertaining to the police officer who was the “overall in charge of security” at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, where former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. This officer was none other than SIT boss RK Raghavan. Minutes before the LTTE suicide bomber Dhanu exploded herself, Raghavan was trailing Gandhi at a distance of 10 feet, but then, surprisingly, “turned around for a few moments”.

In his affidavit to the JS Verma Commission that probed the security lapses at Sriperumbudur, Raghavan said he had turned around to “rearrange the convoy for the return journey” of Gandhi. This was why Raghavan did not witness how Dhanu slipped into the sterile zone, reached a few feet from Gandhi and exploded herself. Nevertheless, in his affidavit Raghavan blamed Gandhi for the security lapse, citing a woman sub-inspector’s account to claim that he had beckoned a gaggle of people to come near him, ostensibly providing the opportunity to Dhanu to accomplish her mission. Adopting an unmistakable tone of incredulity, Mitta writes, “Dhanu could apparently pull off the assassination because of the unforeseen help she had received from her target (italics mine).”

-to be carried in full in a subsequent issue

-by arrangement with The Hoot