Godhra and Aftermath – An analysis

Was it mob fury or business rivalry?

Or blatant cleansing?  Or external mischief?


The Story of ‘Cause and Occasion’




There has naturally been considerable emotion and anger due to the Godhra carnage (burning of S6 compartment of Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002) and the killings in its aftermath.  The divide is both on communal lines and along political affiliations.  In the haze and dust of the killings, careful appraisal of the causes that led to the live burning of personnel in the railway carriage has not been made, neither an depth assessment as to how the aggravation has affected national security, unity and economic progress, nor any meticulous scrutiny of the role of the civil services and the police.  Was Godhra instigated by outside forces to destroy the multi-cultural ethos and weaken India, was it simple retaliation for the misbehaviour of Ram sewaks [1] or were the reasons purely economic?  Is there any psychosocial side to it?


Mechanics of Riots


Gujarat government did foresee trouble and took precautionary steps to check it, but was caught by surprise and overwhelmed by mob fury erupting on 28 February 2002.[2]  The purpose of stating this is not to ‘defend’ Gujarat Government but to state the obvious: the Government was stunned into inaction in the first 24 hours and in the next critical 24 to 48 hours, did nothing more than typically completing files by issuing orders and calling for assistance from outside the State.  There were no timely visits by senior national and state political leaders (including opposition) to and personal contacts with riot affected people or action by police officers in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code.  Gujarat administration does not have any Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to combat such situations or if they have, the SOPs were not quickly put into action. 


While describing[3] the mechanics of riots, the former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Mr. M. K. Narayanan says that all riots have a specific sequence of events.  The riots start with a provocation.  There is a deceptive calm for the first 20 to 24 hours during which period preparations are afoot for the next phase of the struggle.  Then comes the first wave of violence, which lasts from 48 to 72 hours.  If the second and third waves continue, the riots should be classified as severe.  During this period, the violence becomes increasingly directionless.  According to Narayanan, a majority of riots in Gujarat fall in this latter category. 

Psychosocial Aspects


There is a psychosocial side to the consequential violence after Godhra related to Gujarati Muslim community’s success in business.  The violent Hindu behaviour could have been a manifestation of the desire to take control of their lucrative businesses.  The government had implicitly approved such behaviour in the past (Delhi, Sikh slaughter, 1984).  There was simmering jealousy not only among the ‘have-nots’ but also the ‘haves’ of the Hindu community and ‘exploitation’ by the rich Muslims of dalits and adivasis[4], who were their employees.  Over the years, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has tried to ‘woo’ these communities and succeeded. 


The VHP has apparently succeeded in ‘enrolling’ the dalits and adivasis as Jihadis against the Muslims.  It is reported that they were lured by money, power, and social and political recognition to act like mercenaries for the Hindutva cause.[5]  There is a contradiction here because Jihadis are not ever enticed into committing such acts.  They are indoctrinated to do so.  Economic exploitation therefore appears to be the main cause of their wrath against the Muslims. 


Dr. Syed Kamaluddin Ahmed, a mental health professional says, “Aggression sometimes emerges from external circumstances that result in frustration, shame, pain and reprehension.  These conditions may cause enough motivation to inflict injury to the people responsible for such conditions.    Physical assault and undesirable absence of preventive action may be enough in a situation to excite such group behaviour.”  Dr. Ahmed further comments, “mob violence may be a cumulative instinctual drive stimulated by existing non-reaction to a visible crime.  The drive is further strengthened by aggression expressed by some other members of the mob and a phenomenon like 'snowballing of commission' or 'simulation of models' happens.  In this view, the aggression is an inevitable phenomenon; it only needs a stimulus of sufficient intensity to become manifested.” 


The shame here pertains to the burning of Hindus and the pain due to the failure of the police to prevent Godhra.  “A mob of 1500, reportedly belonging to a minority community, attacked a bogie of the Sabarmati Express ferrying VHP activists... using iron rods and swords, and hacked to death over 50 passengers...  Inflammable substances were also thrown into the coach, which led to a fire in a portion of the bogie, and several passengers were charred to death."[6]  The man in charge of the Hindu entourage on the train also told the Age, "There were many girls travelling along with the causeways and about 10 have been abducted by miscreants belonging to the minority community.”  The Muslims have made similar statements.[7].  If the police had made a few telling arrests immediately, the perception that those responsible for Godhra would not be brought to justice may not have come about. 

One should not, at the same time, ignore a general feeling of frustration amongst Indians, especially Hindus, due to the plight of the 3˝ lakh Kashmiri Pundits and 3˝ million Bangladeshi Hindus[8], giving rise to an emotion that the initiators of the crime (torching of the railway compartment) may go unpunished.  Add to this the fact that the population of Hindus in Pakistan has come down from about 20 % in 1947 to a mere 2 % in 2002.  The VHP, which yields substantial influence in Gujarat, has an effective machinery to disseminate such information.  As Francis Gautier, the French journalist says, “Why does nobody bother to say that maybe, the tolerant, easygoing middle class Hindu is so fed-up with being made fun of, hated, targeted, killed, bombed, that he is ready to take to the streets?”[9] 


The reports of extreme violence and the attacks on innocent passers-by clearly point to the ‘snowballing’ effect due to the mob mentality.  The Government too did not make any effort to control the mob violence; reportedly encouraged it.  It was also widely stated that the Hindu gangs had lists of prominent Muslims to be targeted concluding, therefore, that the attacks on Muslims were pre-planned, Godhra or not.  This is rather a hasty conclusion because VHP is supposed to have such readymade lists in all major towns just as the IRA has of British personages. 


Mallick (one of the authors of Frustration-Aggression hypothesis) & Candles showed that retaliatory behaviour is reduced when a reasonable explanation for the provoker's misbehaviour is supplied subsequent to provocation.  ‘Retaliatory behaviour’ after Godhra heightened because the armed perpetrators of Godhra (the Muslim provokers in this case) obstructed the police and fire services.[10].  “But the point, surely, is this: murder is never understandable.  It doesn’t matter what the provocation is, it doesn’t matter what religion the victim is; you can never justify murder, arson, rape, looting or rioting.”  [11]  This reflective is applicable in equal measure to both the communities no matter who the initiator of the upheaval was.  What happened in Gujarat can thus be psychosocially described, not justified. 


Failure of Intelligence and of Governance


Although the administration was aware that the Ram sewaks were constantly making a nuisance along the railway route, it not only permitted the mischief but also failed to assess the intensity of Islamists response to the VHP continuing with its mass mobilisation programme to build a Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya.  No efforts were made to reconstruct the sequence of events from eyewitness accounts.[12]  This would have curbed rumours by letting people know the truth.  Had the administration succeeded even partially in these preventive measures, the situation would certainly have been different.  What followed, especially in the wake of the horrible TV visuals of charred bodies beamed on television channels depicting ‘26 women and 12 children among the 58 burnt at Godhra’, was, therefore, to be expected.  A classic quote attributed to Justice Verma and given wide publicity was, “Godhra was not the cause, but an occasion”![13], which only went to arouse the fervour.  Matters came to such a head that it was not only the Hindus versus the Muslims and the Right versus the Rest; it was also the local Gujarati print media versus the English language media (both audio-visual and print).  If the politicians and the officials had kept their fingers on the pulse of the people, a function of good governance, matters would not have escalated beyond control 


Given the heat generated by the Ayodhya temple issue and the regular organised movement of wayward Ram sewaks in Sabarmati Express, the circumstances were ripe for mischief.  The district administration completely missed the intelligence indicators of Godhra.  It failed to assess the vehemence with which the Muslims would retaliate at the vandalism of the Ram sewaks or the repercussions of the misconduct going on for several weeks.  The leaders of the mob may have wished to respond to anti-Muslim violence seen along the route over previous days, or to put an end to the mobilisation of karsewaks.[14]  Still, IB and State intelligence did not intensify acquisition of intelligence.  Information may not have been shared, a weakness of the country’s intelligence network brought out in the report of the task force on intelligence apparatus set up after Kargil.[15]  There has thus been all round failure at every stage: intelligence gathering, its dissemination and assessment and in governance. 


Having access to information, disseminating it to the right quarters and analysing it are certainly not the prerogative of intelligence agencies alone.  Politicians and officials at the higher echelons must also bear responsibility in this regard. 


The Pre-planned Attack on Godhra – Did it have Larger Dimensions?


Godhra town has in the recent past seen aggressive mobilisation by Islamist groups.  The town saw riots in 1947, 1952, 1959, 1961, 1965, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1980, 1983, 1989, 1990 and again in 1992.  In all these riots, the Muslim community was the larger victim of violence.[16]  Godhra is the administrative headquarters of Panch Mahals district in north-eastern Gujarat.  It is a road/ail junction and a commercial centre.  2/3rd of Godhra’s population of about 125000 is Hindu while the rest is Muslims.  Thriving on the opportunistic outlook of our political parties, the Ghanchi Muslims garner support from both the BJP and the Congress to remain in power in the local municipality generally capturing close to half of the elected seats. 

Sabarmati Express was stopped about a kilometre outside Godhra Railway station and not at the Godhra station where the provocation occurred.  A few Jihadis entered the compartment at Godhra.[17]  The 18 male bodies that remained unidentified until the end are more likely to be of these Muslims.  It is clear that they were the ones who set the compartment on fire.[18].  They were trapped inside and could not proceed to other compartments to complete their mission when the doors were closed in panic or more likely; they were suicide squads, who blocked all exit points. 


According to railway records, the Sabarmati Express pulled into Godhra at 7-43 a.m. and left the station at 7-45 a.m.  At 7-48 a.m., the chain was pulled three times, first from compartment S10 and then twice from an unreserved compartment.  This means that individuals on the railway platform would have had just over three minutes to inform the residents of Singal Fadia about the incident, and then to assemble a mob armed with stones, crowbars and petrol.  In that time, people would also have had to organise the barricade that stopped the fire brigade from reaching the burning train until about 8-15 a.m.  The mob, moreover, would have had to know that the train would indeed stop at Singal Fadia, and not at the station itself.  To resolve this problem, other accounts have suggested that the mob was informed of similar incidents up the line at Dahod.  Investigators, however, have traced the two long-distance calls made to Godhra from the evening of February 25 to Hindu homes.[19]  A crowd of about 1500 could not have gathered within a few minutes of the train leaving Godhra railway station without meticulous planning to pull the chain at the right time.  If this incident was premeditated, it must have entailed several weeks if not months of prior planning.  “It also appears that several individuals may have been part of this conspiracy, and would have been assigned different tasks and roles to perform on the day of the Godhra mass murders.”  [20]


The police have arrested as prime suspects Haji Bilal Ismail Sujela, the President of Godhra Municipality, who has proven links across the border, and Mohammed Hussain Kalota.  Haji Bilal had arranged safe passage to Karachi in 1994 to the wife of an Ahmedabad don.[21]  The Gujarat CID arrested Anwar Rashid, one of the main accused in the Godhra carnage, from Bhadohi on 11 April 2002.  Rashid, 32, is a former president of the banned outfit, SIMI.[22]  As there were inconsistencies in the lie detector tests conducted on Bilal and Kalota, the police administered the “truth serum” (doses of sodium pentothal) meant to lower inhibition and resistance.[23]  This is a “highly unusual and controversial procedure” and shows that Godhra is not a case of straightforward retaliation for the provocation supplied by the Ram sewaks. 

South Asian Voice May 2002 Edition has reported the result of a study conducted by an investigative team for the Council for International Affairs and Human Rights.  According to the Study, the Godhra train carnage was an "act of terrorism planned at the behest of Pakistan to foment communal riots all over the country".[24]  The study was conducted by a five-member team led by Justice D S Tewatia, Former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, which also included Prof. Kuthiala, who is the Dean, Faculty of Media Studies at G J University, Hissar, Dr J C Batra, Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court, academician Dr Krishan Singh and journalist Jawaharlal Kaul.  After interacting with more than 500 officials, NGOs and citizens of the region, the team released their report, describing the Godhra incident as an act of international terrorism planned and executed in connivance with the jehadi forces to set off a conflagration of Hindu-Muslim riots in the country.  "The Sabarmati train incident was pre-planned and we have ample evidence to prove that it was not spontaneous.  The vacuum pipe was also cut in the train, which can be used by the driver to pull it through in case he senses any danger.  Besides, inflammable solvents, firebombs and acid bulbs were used to burn the train..." said Prof. B K Kuthiala.  “Pakistan's aim was to weaken Indian positions on the border (by diversion of troops to riot-affected areas) and make the area more porous so as to allow jehadi infiltrators and smugglers of drugs and arms into the country," added Prof. Kuthiala. 


The report also observed that just before the Godhra mass murders, a large number of foreigners were present at Istemas (religious gatherings) ostensibly to ignite communal passions in Godhra because Godhra is neither a pilgrimage city nor a city of tourist importance.  The study team concluded that the post-Godhra violence was partly planned and partly spontaneous.  The fact-finding team noted that the backlash to Godhra did not spread to the entire state of Gujarat but remained largely confined to those areas where the charred bodies of the Godhra victims went.[25] 


The Gujarat government says that Godhra was engineered from across the border to destabilise Gujarat’s economy.  Gujarat government has appointed a commission under Justice K. G. Shah to solely find out whether the incident at Godhra was pre-planned and whether information could have been used to “prevent the incident”.  Justice G. T. Nanavati, who has an impeccable record of being upright and honest, has now been co-opted in the Commission.  The findings would be of great significance in ascertaining the facts of Godhra attack, leading us on to the larger issues of national security. 






The Great Divide


Godhra has undeniably created a divide in Indian polity.  Politically, it is the opposition versus the ruling coalition.  The opposition stalled parliamentary proceedings of Godhra discussion with the sole aim of snatching political gains out of the tragedy.  They quibbled over whether the discussion on Gujarat should be under Rule 184, which calls for a vote or under Rule 193, which does not.  As Gujarat had been discussed in parliament earlier, the government did not want a discussion.  The opposition wanted a vote to show the cracks in the ruling alliance.  In the event, the motion was not carried.  The desperation of the opposition stemmed from the fact that the government majority in the Lok Sabha looked unassailable and Gujarat was used as a tool to divide the disparate ruling alliance.  Had the opposition succeeded in carrying a cut motion on the budget, it would have ended both the central and the Gujarat governments.  These events, if anything, bring out that ‘Gujarat was not the cause, but an occasion’ for the political parties to play vote bank politics and their concern was not the adverse fallout from Gujarat incidents.  This is in stark contrast to the unity displayed by unions affiliated to different political parties in the nationwide strike on the same day (April 16, 2002) involving ten million workers against government’s economic and labour policies. 


Modi’s ouster


“I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go”, so said President George W. Bush in an interview with Britain’s ITV network in April 2002.  Bush Sr. wanted the same.  What prevents the world’s only super power from getting rid of Saddam is firstly, the opposition from the Muslim countries mainly on religious grounds and secondly, the fear of adverse repercussions if the worm of democracy spreads to other Middle East countries if democracy is imposed on Iraq.  The duly elected leaders of Saudi Arabia or Iraq may not be to US liking.  We witness the same fears of religious consolidation and fear of democratic verdicts that prevent the ouster of Modi.  Even internationally, removing an inept leader is not a politically practicable solution. 


A very large number of Indians along with the entire Muslim community including the liberals insist on Modi’s head.  The removal of a chief minister will not rid India of the psyche that keeps raising its head, irrespective of the political party in power.  It will not ensure the demise of the hideous practice of political interference in good governance, which India has witnessed since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 through Bhagalpur killings 1979, Sikh slayings 1984, Mumbai riots 1992 and many others.  The vociferous demand for Modi’s removal was a diversionary device of our politicians to get the minds of the public away from the core issues of finding out the truth behind Godhra and its aftermath.  Everyone knows the replacements that democracy has provided for Laloo Yadav in Bihar or Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu.  The malady runs so deep that the politicians are afraid to rock the boat lest they lose their vote banks.  It appears that the nation is not yet ready to confront the root causes.  The plain truth is that removing the symptoms (Modi) is not a lasting cure for the festering wound. 

Article 51A of the Constitution specifies fundamental duties of every citizen of valuing and preserving “the rich heritage of our composite culture” and safeguarding “public property” and abjuring “violence”.  This article was inserted to regulate behaviour and to bring about excellence so that people do not conduct themselves in a blameworthy manner.  The clamour for removing Modi would imply that politicians are the only citizens of India to be made accountable for not adhering to the Constitution and later permitting them to substitute persons of the same ethos and mind-set to perpetuate their agenda. 


The Failure of Government Machinery


There is widespread concern regarding the interference by Gujarat politicians to prevent restoration of law and order.  But what of the ‘government machinery’?  Is it all that intangible?  As the British officer in the old Indian Army often said, “We are here temporarily.  We come and go.  You are going to remain with your unit.  Set the right traditions for an ethos of excellence.”  The politician comes and goes; the government machinery stays on.  Hence, the permanent cadres of the civil services have to set the right traditions. 


Julio Ribeiro, the super cop, has aptly said, “The top brass must take the blame.  I did not see a whiff of leadership from top police officers.”  Ribeiro has pertinently pointed out that senior officers can transfer errant subordinates to insignificant wings as a measure to discipline them.  In reality, the politicians use this weapon to “discipline” devoted officers.  What is, however, forgotten is that the DG Police customarily sends out proposals for postings of deputy superintendents and above to the government.  Apparently, Gujarat DGP did not recommend the controversial postings.  The additional secretary signing these orders also did not evidently check that the procedure and norms were followed. 


Senior officers at almost the top of their professions, who can and should take a stand, have ignored the Constitution and the statutes.  They have actually submitted meekly before their political bosses.[26]  The civil services should act fearlessly to uphold the Constitution and deal with situations with equity and fair play so that public trust is won.  Police reform is not the answer but an excuse put forward both by the civil services and the police to cover up their derelictions.  Attitudinal change in the police and the civil services does not need police reform!  It is time that we aim to recreate the ‘steel frame’ that existed with the Indian Civil Service. 


Harsh Mander, an IAS officer who resigned in the wake of Gujarat riots to take up a lucrative assignment, says, “I choose to focus here on the role of only one of them – the higher police and civil services.  The reasons for this focus are that it is a vocation whose central calling is the upholding of justice, of law, order and protection of vulnerable people.  Default in the performance of one’s duty by a civil or a police officer in a riot is not only a crime of a citizen who turns one’s face away from injustice because of indifference, fear or complicity; it is a crime of much graver magnitude akin to that of a surgeon who wantonly kills a patient on the operation table.  Until the ’80s, there was an unwritten agreement in our polity that even if politicians inflamed communal passions, the police and civil administration would be expected to act professionally and impartially to control the riots.” 


The Criminal Procedure Code confers adequate powers on the police officers to maintain law & order.  The civil authority is legally empowered to use force based on their judgement to control public chaos.  The law is explicit that the civil and police authorities are free to act according to their own judgement and ethics.  The magistrate is not required to check with his superiors or his ‘political mentors’.  The excuse of political interference in restoring law and order is thus untenable.  The IAS/IPS associations did not protest when their colleagues and seniors gave the excuse of political interference for neglecting their duties.  Not one amongst the senior officers of the IAS and the IPS (the Chief Secretary or the DG Police) has resigned and made an issue when national interest was concerned.  In contrast, mere mention of Mayawati taking over as the Chief Minister of UP has resulted in scores of officers from the IPS and the IAS to ask for transfers out of their parent cadre of UP!  The most pathetic defence of Gujarat police is that the politicians were in contact with the police inspectors in charge of police chowkeys and took direct orders.[27].  Why was this allowed?  Why were the erring officers not punished?


Experience reinforces the conviction that no one can make you say, “Yes” unless you want to, especially at senior levels.  One should not expect junior officers to take a stand.  Apart from the ethics involved in the senior officers protecting the interest of their subordinates, the younger lot have constraints, mainly pertaining to the education of their children.  The politicians exploit this weakness because their seniors do not protect them.  The fear of posting out to an insignificant place that lacks education facilities is so great that 99 per cent of the officers play second fiddle to the politicians to prevent falling a prey to their whims. 


Today it is the civil services and the police.  Tomorrow it may be the defence officers showing lack of character.  It will then be too late to sack a chief minister or a politician because the integrity of the county would have been compromised.  Are we waiting for that process to come about?  The answer is a big “NO”. 


Unanswered Posers


While India has certainly lost out as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society, hardly anyone has questioned who the beneficiaries from Gujarat incidents are.  The Gujarat incidents have destabilized our country as never before.  It cannot be anybody’s contention that the Islamists will now take it lying down and not strike back in other parts of India with the support of the ever-willing ISI.  There are far too many unanswered posers in this whole episode. 

First, the blatant attack on Hindu Ram sewaks with the aid of recognized criminals with known Pakistani connections.  Then, the disappearance of Haji Bilal to Indore and Mumbai and the police seizing him, in a ‘staged surrender’![28]  Fundamentalist outfits in Pakistan and Bangladesh have called for a renewed jihad against India.  Musharraf has turned to the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the US to take “strong action against India”.  Communal disturbances have taken place in Kalyan and Jalgaon in Maharashtra and Mhow in Madhya Pradesh.  Ahmedabad and Mehsana saw trouble in May 2002.  Will this be followed by a resurgent militancy in Kashmir?  Is this a precursor to intensified cross border terrorism in Kashmir? 


Here we come to the biggest poser of all.  If Pakistan instigated Godhra, it obviously failed to realise that the efforts of VHP over the years to consolidate the Hindutva forces had succeeded.  The Dalit and Adivasi communities joined the middle and upper class Hindus in minority bashing, an unprecedented phenomenon post-Mandal.  Pakistan has since shown enough signs that it wants to distance itself from Godhra especially because any active response may invite suspicion that Godhra was Pak-conspired.  That also appears to be the reason for Bilal not escaping to Pakistan by just walking across the border in Gujarat. 




The Ram sewaks did provide provocation by making the Muslims chant Shri Ram Jai Ram.  However, the severity of the reaction appears to be completely out of proportion to the provocation.  The report that Muslim women were kidnapped and abused by the Ram sewaks does not bear scrutiny.  There have been similar allegations against the Muslims too.  The available indications show that the carnage at Godhra was meticulously planned.  There is a strong possibility that Pakistan has connived in this gruesome episode.  The involvement of Islamists appears to be due to the VHP continuing with its mass mobilisation programme to build a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.  Those who planned Godhra did not anticipate its fallout.  The consolidation of Hindutva forces was a surprise.  The severe reaction of the Hindus, with the unusual collusion of Gujarat government was also not expected.  And the staying together of the disparate National Democratic Alliance too came as a rude shock.  Gujarat has created a vertical divide in Indian society.  What is needed is an India that is structurally strong as a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society, which would strengthen the Indian fabric.  Without this base, India cannot be built up as an economically, politically and militarily strong nation. 


The State appears to have played a major part in the riots after Godhra in which the minority community suffered.  However, there was also a tinge of spontaneity in the Hindu anger and pain, which could be described psychosocially.  The BJP government took advantage of this rage and hurt to become its active participant. 

The politicians as a class have come out in poor light.  It is a sad reflection that none of the senior political leaders thought it fit to visit Gujarat in the first 48 hours after the Godhra incident.  This could have assuaged the fury of both the communities.  The ruling politicians did little to protect the lives and property of the minorities and the opposition politicians showed their main concern was the preservation of their vote banks and not the welfare of the riot-affected.  None of the political parties showed any concern at the long-term adverse effects of the Gujarat riots on India’s security and unity. 


The civil services and the police have largely come out in poorer light.  The Gujarat riots were true to form and the sequence of events could well have been accurately predicted.  Even then, the administration showed a singular absence of perception, imagination, foresight and pragmatism.  They revealed utter lack of character not only in failing to do their duty by the Constitution but accepting orders mutely from their political bosses, orders that border on illegality.  There is a growing danger that this worm may spread even to the armed forces officers, which would affect the country’s integrity. 


Removing a chief minister does not appear to be the answer to this hideous practice of political interference in good governance.  However, Modi’s removal would have sent a signal that the central government does not share his perception, which could have gone some way in assuaging (albeit superficially) the sentiments of the minority community.  A strong civil service and police force can combat this malady effectively.  If that is to happen, it is necessary that all those who were guilty of obeying unlawful commands should be brought to book.  Non-government organisations and social activists can take a lead in this matter. 


There is great likelihood of militancy in Kashmir going up in time to come as a ‘revenge’ for Gujarat.  For the present, Musharraf is lying low and would continue to do so until the time is ripe to revive the insurgency. 


The needle of ‘cause and occasion’ runs through the gory waves of Gujarat riots.  First, the VHP used Godhra as an occasion to slaughter the Muslims; it was not the cause.  Second, the politicians used Gujarat as an occasion to play vote bank politics; it was not the cause.  And lastly, the Islamists used the provocation by the Ram sewaks as an occasion to set the compartment on fire; it was not the cause.  The real cause being VHP’s mass mobilisation programme to build a Ram temple on the disputed site at Ayodhya. 


Words 5617

Maj. Gen. S. C. N. Jatar, Retd

A 102 Neel Sadan

1426 Sadashiv Peth

Pune 411 030


[1] It is by now common knowledge that the Ram sewaks were continually making the Muslim vendors on Godhra railway station chant the slogan of ‘Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram’ for almost two weeks before the incident. 

[2] Preliminary Report of the NHRC and the Minorities Commission

[3] Asian Age, March 1, 2002

[4] This trait is common to many Indian businesspersons cutting across religious, caste and social backgrounds. 

[5] Gujarat – Poisoned Edge, Davinder Kumar, Outlook, July 1, 2002

[6] The Asian Age of February 28, 2002

[7]One witness present on the platform, 14-year-old Sophiya Sheikh, told investigators that some of the men attempted to pull her into the train.  Praveen Swami, Frontline 16-29 March 02

[8] Southern Asia Briefs, SAPRA India Bulletin, May 2002 – “Bangladesh getting Talibanised”.

[9] Francis Gautier in an open letter on current affairs in India (June 2002) to foreign journalists. 

[10] “The principal charge against Bilal, who is being kept in a secret location, was that he "prevented fire fighters from controlling the fire in the burning coaches of Sabarmati Express" in which over 50 people were killed” - Indiaexpress.com 17/3/02.  The writer visited Ahmedabad and Mehsana from 15 to 17 May 2002 and met with a number of people including senior police officers.  The information that the mob prevented even the police from acting in the line of their duty, though not reported so far, is authentic being from a senior police officer. 

[11] Vir Sanghavi, Hindustan Times 21/04/02

[12] Except for the events inside the compartment, there were enough eyewitnesses (including railway personnel) at Godhra railway station and at the site of the carnage, where even the police and fire-fighting personnel were present.  See Note 1. 

[13] Reported in the Times of India

[14] Praveen Swami in Frontline 16-29 March 02. 

[15] Outlook, July 1, 2002

[16] Praveen Swami, Frontline, 16-29 March 2002. 

[17] That a ‘few’ Muslims entered the compartment was confirmed to the writer by a senior serving police officer in Ahmedabad. 

[18] Investigations by the Forensic Science Laboratory, Ahmedabad show that all 60 litres of inflammable material was poured from inside to set the compartment on fire.  Times of India, July 3, 2002

[19] Praveen Swami in Frontline 16-29 March 02. 

[20] Notes to the study conducted by an investigative team for the Council for International Affairs and Human Rights.  See Note 18 also. 

[21] Outlook, April 1, 2002.

[22] Hindustan Times 12 April 2002. 

[23] Indian Express, June 23, 2002 

[24] Also reported by the Press Trust of India and several national dailies including Sify News on 26 April 2002

[25] The writer, during his visits to Gujarat, received similar feedback that the backlash did not spread to all minority localities. 

[26] This is the refrain amongst the junior officers of the civil services in Ahmedabad. 

[27] Statement by a senior Gujarat police officer made in the presence of the writer in May 02. 

[28] Outlook, April 1, 2002.