Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, March 15, 2006
The most significant aspect which lends credibility to the UC Banerjee Commission’s report on the cause of the Sabramati Express fire in Godhra on February 27, 2002 is the testimony in sworn affidavits by three senior IPS officers of the Gujarat cadre who held important positions at the time of the incident.
The three key officials, Raju Bhargava, then SSP, Panchmahal district, RVSreekumar, additional DGP of the state Intelligence Bureau, and Rahul Sharma, then DCP, police control room, Ahmedabad, have not only corroborated the retired Supreme Court judge’s findings leading to his conclusion that the train fire was accidental but have provided enough evidence to suggest that if there was a conspiracy then the state was in it.
The statements of the three officials have come as a major embarrassment for the Gujarat government and the Sangh Parivar, which all along have maintained that the fire was a result of a conspiracy to eliminate the kar sewaks who were returning from Ayodhya in the ill-fated coach on February 27.
It is therefore not surprising that fresh attempts are being made to debunk the panel’s findings even before it is tabled in Parliament. Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues have described it as "politically motivated" and aimed at appeasing the Muslim vote bank.
However, Bhargava and Sreekumar have made it clear that the Gujarat police district administration as well as the CID had no information about the return of the kar sewaks from Ayodhya that morning.
Prior information about their departure for Ayodhya was documented in their records but no information about their return had come to the notice of the state government or the police. The question that arises is that when the state CID was not aware about the movement of the kar sewaks then how did people of Godhra know all this.
Rahul Sharma, who was asked to assist in the investigations by the then police chief, had conducted a scientific study of the cell phone numbers provided by VHP activists who had alleged that the Godhra incident was a result of conspiracy with Pakistan’s ISI and directions had been received from Pakistan by local Muslims on these numbers. The allegation was made in an affidavit filed by the VHP.
Sharma who conducted the probe concluded that no call was either made or received on the cell phone numbers provided by the VHP from Pakistan. Attempts were made by Gujarat home secretary GC Murmu to influence the testimony of Sreekumar, which the latter did not agree to.
The Banerjee panel had earlier sent 14 summons to Gujarat state officials without any response. Only after the panel got the status of a commission did the police and state government officials came forward.
The acceptance of the report could also lead to the prosecution of a number of politicians, who, by creating a wrong perception about Godhra, fanned the worst communal conflict in the history of Gujarat — all this to win an election?