New Delhi: The Nanavati Shah Commission investigating the burning of the Sabarmati Express that triggered the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat has cleared the state’s chief minister Narendra Modi (who was also chief minister then) of any wrong-doing, a move that will likely give a fresh impetus to his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has made him the centrepiece of an anti-terrorism campaign which it hopes to make a key electoral issue.
Political opponents of the BJP, however, were quick to deride the probe’s conclusions and also imputed motives to the timing of its release.
“It is a well-tailored report of Modi government. The timing is politically motivated,” said B.K. Hariprasad, the Congress general secretary in charge of Gujarat, alleging that BJP was trying to give a “communal colour” to the terror attacks that took place various in parts of the country for “political mileage”.
The growing frequency of terror attacks has given an opening to the BJP to argue that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is soft on terror. BJP has made terror and inflation key electoral issues, ahead of elections to the key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
The post-Godhra riots had tainted the otherwise impressive administrative record of Modi and was considered an impediment in his playing a more prominent role at the national level.
The Nanavati panel’s report, tabled in the Gujarat assembly on Thursday, claims that the attack on the train carrying Hindu devotees on 27 February 2002, in which 58 people were killed, was a “pre-planned conspiracy”.
The first part of the report has virtually cleared Modi, saying there was no evidence to incriminate him or any member of his cabinet in the ensuing communal violence when Hindu mobs attacked pockets of Muslims in Gujarat. An estimated 1,169 Muslims died in the riots.
The commission is yet to submit the second part of its report.
The findings contradict the conclusions of another panel headed by justice (retd) U.C. Banerjee, set up by railway minister Lalu Prasad, which stated that the fire was accidental and that there was no evidence to suggest that it was planned.
“People will not believe that Modi is innocent. He is a communal virus centre and has been disallowed to travel abroad. Had he been punished for his crime, no youth would have turned terrorist today,” Prasad said.
According to the report tabled in the assembly, two persons, Raza Kurjur and Salim Panwala, had executed a conspiracy to kill the Hindu pilgrims who were returning from Ayodhya, where some pro-BJP mobs had razed a 16-century mosque in December 1992, that was hatched at the house of Moulvi Umerji.
“We will request that the matter should proceed according to the Nanavati commission report in the courts also. It will prove to be a milestone in convicting the culprits,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters in New Delhi.
Arguing that the release of the report ahead of the second part, which the commission is yet to submit, roused suspicions, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, said, “It is obvious that the BJP wants to give a momentum to its campaign on terrorism.”
Congress members in Gujarat assembly staged a walk out alleging foul play.
However, justice (retired) G.T. Nanavati defended his report.
“Unless I was satisfied, I would not have given the report. We have no doubt about what we have written,” Nanavati told Times Now news channel.
PTI contributed to this story.