Zakia’s Punctured Petition
Errors abound in the plea on 2002 riots intended to trip BJP’s prime ministerial candidate
On the twelfth anniversary of the Gujarat riots, Team Narendra Modi believes that allegations linking BJP’s prime ministerial candidate to the horror of 2002 have become a non-issue. The Gujarat Chief Minister was cleared in December 2011 by the Special Investigation Team ( SIT) tasked by the Supreme Court in 2009 to examine Zakia Jafri’s petition against him and 59 other accused and in December 2013 by Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate B.J. Ganatra, to whom SIT had sent the plea for closure. Zakia, wife of Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, one of the 69 people killed in the Gulberg Society massacre in 2002, announced on December 26 last year that she would file a review petition in the high court but the plan is still in the works. Part of the delay could lie in the contradictions inherent in her petition which first surfaced before then Gujarat DGP P.C. Pande in June 2006.
The petition states that then chief secretary G. Subbarao was present at the February 27, 2002 night meeting at Modi’s house where, claims Zakia, the Chief Minister asked officials to allow Hindus to vent their anger on Muslims for the killing of 59 people at Godhra railway station that morning. State records, however, show Subbarao as being on a flight home from the US that day. Eight officials were present at the meeting, including then DGP V.K. Chakravarty, then home secretary Ashok Narayan and then acting chief secretary Swarnakanta Varma. All gave affidavits to the Justice Nanavati Commission probing the riots as well as SIT saying Narendra Modi gave no such order. Chakravarty, Varma and Narayan have since retired but haven’t gone back on their statements.
Zakia’s plea also states that the bodies of slain Hindus were taken out in a procession from Godhra to communally-sensitive areas of Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, to incite Hindus. But official records show they were brought from Godhra late on February 27 for post-mortem at Sola hospital in Ahmedabad and then handed over to relatives.
The petition mentions postings of police officers inaccurately. Anand SP B.S. Jebalia, Zakia says, turned a blind eye to the mob attack on Muslims in Ode village on March 1, 2002. The fact is that the Anand SP then was B.D. Vaghela. She also claims that Rakesh Asthana, now Surat police chief, colluded with Modi during the riots and so did A.K. Sharma as Mehsana SP and that Modi subsequently rewarded both with plum postings. The fact is that Asthana rejoined his parent Gujarat cadre from CBI on April 4, 2002, over a month after the riots, while Sharma was posted in Rajkot during the riots and took charge of Mehsana on March 27, 2002. Zakia has named former DGP K.R. Kaushik as an accused. The petition claims that as Ahmedabad police commissioner, he was party to Modi’s plan of inciting riots. But records show Kaushik took charge of Ahmedabad only in May 2002.
The most glaring error in the petition was vis-à-vis IPS officers Satish Varma
and Rahul Sharma, both known detractors of the state government’s handling of the riots. In the first draft of her plea, Zakia had named them as accused. It was only in 2009 that she asked the metropolitan court to drop them from the list as they were actually her witnesses. Her explanation for this lapse: “Typographical error.”
It’s not just police officers who get short shrift. Zakia accuses former state minister Anil Patel, an industrialist from Mehsana, of using his office to prevent police from taking action against the ri- oters. The truth is Patel was not a minister then; he became an MLA for the first time only in December 2002.
Zakia’s flip-flops also suggest she has not been fully aware of the contents of her petition. In her first statement to the police on March 6, 2002, five days after the Gulberg massacre, she said, “But for the timely action of local police in whisking us (the survivors) away in a van, we would have been lynched by the frenzied mobs”. It was only in the 2006 complaint that she directly accused the Modi government of complicity. This, when there are over a dozen cases from places such as Sanjeli in Dahod, Bodeli in Vadodara, and Ahmedabad, where the police saved lives of thousands of Muslims by using force, including firing.
Zakia, who now lives with son Tanvir in Surat, denies she is a tool in the hands of Modi’s opponents but it took her 11 months to file a petition in the Supreme Court demanding a CBI probe after an Ahmedabad court accepted the SIT closure report in February 2012. “The delay proves that it was done on purpose to suit our opponents’ plans for the 2012 Assembly and 2014 General Elections. It was believed even then that Modiji would be a PM candidate,” says BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.
Zakia’s lawyer S.M. Vora doesn’t deny factual errors but maintains that the petition has to be seen “in a much broader perspective” and that it is “judicially justifiable”. He also defends her right to seek the assistance of NGOS in her fight. “We’re up against powerful forces. But we have documentary evidence and we will fight,” Vora says. “Those alleging Zakiaji is a tool in some people’s hands managed to buy over complainants in the Best Bakery case. Why can’t they do the same now?”
Vora’s “evidence”, however, is call location records of some officers and politicians—not actual conversations— that were considered inadmissible evidence by SIT because they give only an approximate location. “Our team did its job thoroughly. We interrogated the Chief Minister for nine hours. We are open to any kind of scrutiny,” says R.K. Raghavan, who headed SIT. It’s on the count of scrutiny that Zakia’s petition comes up short.
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