People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 12, 2008


What Nanavati Did Not See

The fire was described as an accident. Chargesheet by chargesheet, it became a conspiracy

Teesta Setalvad

THE alleged deliberate torching alive of 59 persons in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, returning from Faizabad (Ayodhya) to Ahmedabad at the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, became the sordid justification for unleashing the post-Godhra carnage across Gujarat. The incident was first described by the Godhra district collector, Jayanti Ravi, as an accident. But from 7.30 pm onwards the same evening, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, started portraying it as a conspiracy inspired by Pakistan's ISI.

On the afternoon of February 27, in parliament, the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also described the incident as an accident. Weeks later, at the BJP's national meet in Goa, he too fell in line, justifying the post-Godhra carnage with his famous "agar Godhra na hota to Gujarat na hota" (If Godhra had not happened Gujarat, too, would not have happened). The Sangh Parivar's Goebbelsian propaganda machine relayed this message of 'Muslim aggression' and 'Hindu retaliation' throughout the country and abroad. Modi, worried that an independent investigation into Godhra and post-Godhra (directed by the Supreme Court) may indict him for conspiracy and mass murder, pushed the compliant Justices Nanavati and Mehta to release part one of their report, on Godhra.

The judges have swallowed the Gujarat government's untested but widely-publicised theory of a preplanned conspiracy in toto. They have not been so meticulous in contextualising Godhra and the post-Godhra genocide.


It had all begun with the VHP's mobilisation for a programme in Ayodhya, which they called 'Purnahuti Maha Yagna'. Three groups from Gujarat, consisting of about 2,000 Ram bhakts (devotees) each, were to go to Ayodhya for
kar seva. The first group of about 2,200 Ram sevaks was to leave Ahmedabad on February 22, 2002. They left for Ayodhya, as planned, on February 22 and began their return journey to Ahmedabad by the Sabarmati Express on February 25, 2002.

There is no clear evidence that any person in Gujarat (except, perhaps, members of the VHP) knew of the specific date on which the kar sevaks would travel from Ayodhya to Gujarat i.e., on February 25. Central, state and local intelligence agencies have, in fact, deposed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission stating that they did not have any information about the kar sevaks' travel plans. State IB officials, including former ADGP R B Sreekumar, have produced detailed records to reveal that while Gujarat intelligence had recorded the unruly and provocative behaviour of kar sevaks, the central Intelligence Bureau had issued no information or directives on their movements. Neither had the UP state intelligence. The only letter that arrived from central intelligence about the kar sevaks' return was received by the Gujarat SIB a day after the Godhra tragedy i.e., on February 28, 2002. In the absence of specific information about the kar sevaks' return journey, there is little likelihood of a conspiracy hatched to burn coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27.


Yet, on February 27, the chief minister made the following press statement which was widely publicised all over Gujarat: 'The abominable event that has occurred in Godhra does not befit any civilised is not a communal event but is a one-sided collective terrorist attack by one community…' He further said that this was not a simple incident of violence or a communal event but a 'pre-planned incident'. Who could fit the 'international terrorist' label?

They found a maulana – Maulana Umarji – and booked him a whole year after the incident had occurred. Who was this 'terrorist'? An old, semi-invalid, respected Muslim figure from the Ghanchi community in Godhra who ran a riot relief camp at the Iqbal Primary School from March 2002 until August 2002. The maulana was a senior and respected member of his community who had consistently galvanised resources for national tragedies, including the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, from Godhra's citizenry. Bilkees Bano and hundreds of other victims and survivors from the minority community, humiliated and attacked in the Panchmahals and Dahod districts, had found succour in this relief camp. Justice J S Verma of the NHRC also visited this camp.


It is in the second chargesheet, filed on September 20, 2002, that (i) the burning from inside story evolves into a conspiracy carried out by a core group; (ii) the spontaneous collection of a mob on hearing that a girl was pulled into the train is alleged; (iii) Chain-pulling is said to have been done by Anwar Kalandar, who is not made an accused because it is tacitly accepted that he did this to protect the girl. The first chargesheet, which details the altercations between the kar sevaks and the vendors, has no mention of a conspiracy.

The fourth chargesheet, filed by a willing Noel Parmar (an officer who has been given four extensions just for this case after his retirement) added the terrorist conspiracy angle. Thereafter, up to the present 16th supplementary chargesheet, the police version has not changed qualitatively. The case made out in the second and third chargesheets was 'refined' by adding a 'conspiracy' story. According to the police, the conspiracy was hatched by Razzak Kurkur, Salim Paanwala, Haji Bilal and a few others in room no. 8 of the Aman Guest House (owned by Razzak Kurkur) at around 9 pm on February 26, 2002.

The alleged conspiracy included the plan to set fire to the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. For that purpose, 140 litres of petrol was allegedly bought from Kalabhai's petrol pump the previous night and kept in Kurkur's house. It is alleged that at around 9.30-10 pm on February 26, 2002, Maulana Umarji had directed that coach S-6 should be set on fire.

The entire charge by the prosecution (Gujarat government) that coach S-6 was burnt down in pursuance of a pre-planned conspiracy rests on a forensic science laboratory report, which mentions that some residual hydrocarbons were found in samples collected from the site and that petrol was found in two carboys (glass or plastic jars).

The reliability of the FSL report on samples collected from the site is highly doubtful. Hundreds of onlookers and visitors, including the chief minister and other ministers, had visited the site and also entered coach S-6 before the samples were collected. Suspect material could easily have been removed from inside the coach. Equally, what the FSL found inside the coach could well have been planted from outside.

The FSL report dated March 20, 2002, was accessible to the investigation officer (IO), K C Bawa, before he filed the first chargesheet on May 5, 2002. Yet, the chargesheet made no specific allegation about the use of petrol in torching coach S-6. Bawa's first chargesheet was quite vague: 'At that time the accused armed with deadly weapons and highly inflammable fluids filled in cans and shouting slogans, 'Pakistan Zindabad', 'Hindustan Murdabad', burnt down the coach S-6'.

The big question is, why did the IO refuse to specify the fluid that was allegedly used by the 'conspirators'? It appears therefore, that initially the investigation began in right earnest. The two petrol pumps near Godhra station were sealed off by the police on February 27, 2002. The first petrol pump, on Vejalpur road, was owned by MH & A Patel, while the other was owned by Asgarali Qurban Hussein (Kalabhai). On April 9, 2002, seven samples of petrol and diesel were collected from these petrol pumps and panchnamas were made. These samples, four samples of diesel marked A, B, E and F, and three samples of petrol marked C, D (from Kalabhai's pump) and H (from MH & A Patel's pump), were sent for forensic examination to find out whether the petrol or diesel from these pumps had been used to burn coach S-6.

In his report dated April 26, 2002, D B Talati, assistant director, FSL, said that samples A, B, E and F contained diesel while C, D and H contained petrol. He added, however, that he could not give a clear opinion on whether the petrol detected in some samples in and around coach S-6 as per the FSL report dated March 20, 2002, and the petrol detected in samples C, D and H came from the same source.

The fatal blow to the prosecution's 'petrol theory' was delivered by two employees of Kalabhai's petrol pump, Prabhatsinh G Patel and Ranjitsinh J Patel. In their statements recorded on April 10, 2002, the two men flatly denied having sold loose petrol to anybody, adding that they did not sell loose petrol from their pump. (Ranjitsinh told the Tehelka undercover reporter that the police had paid him Rs 50,000 to change his statement).

The chargesheet filed by K C Bawa on May 22, 2002, therefore, 'created' evidence to establish that coach S-6 was burnt from outside using some inflammable liquid. Bawa 'recorded' the statements of nine important eyewitnesses between February 27 and March 15, 2002, namely, Janaklal K Dave, Rajeshbhai V Darji, Nitinkumar Harprasad Pathak, Dilipbhai U Dasadiya, Muralidhar R Mulchandani (reportedly, the current vice-president of Godhra Nagarpalika), Dipakbhai M Soni, Harsukhlal T Advani, Chandrashekhar N Sonaiya and Manoj H Advani.

All nine of these eyewitnesses, who declared themselves to be active members of the VHP, made identical statements to the effect that they had gone to Godhra station on the morning of February 27 to meet the kar sevaks who were returning from Ayodhya and offer them tea and breakfast (The judges do not mention their political antecedents).

After making out a case that coach S-6 was burnt from outside, Bawa started discovering any number of carboys containing traces of kerosene from around the A cabin. Between March 29 and April 5, three carboys were allegedly recovered from three of the accused, Haji Bilal, Abdul Majid Dhantiya and Kasim Biryani.

Since Bilal was considered to be the main conspirator at the time, along with Kalota, the kerosene theory was accepted. In his report dated April 26, 2002, D B Talati said he had found traces of kerosene in the three carboys that were sent to him for examination! The kerosene theory prevailed until the beginning of July 2002. From then on the new investigation officer, Noel Parmar, had more refined ideas and fuel in mind.


It is the fourth chargesheet that outlines the Gujarat government's theory in full.

The primary motivation to introduce 'petrol' as the ostensible fuel used by the alleged conspirators along with the theory that coach S- 6 had been set alight from inside was the May 2002 report by Dr M S Dahiya, director of the FSL, Ahmedabad. Dahiya said that coach S-6 could not have been burnt from outside. His report also said that it would take 60 litres of petrol poured inside the coach to burn the same. Dahiya's report apparently did not reach Bawa in time for him to realise that his theory that the coach was burnt from outside using kerosene would contradict a report based on scientific analysis.

So one year after the incident, the kerosene theory was suddenly abandoned in favour of petrol as the inflammatory fuel used. But the problem lies precisely in this double switchover: from kerosene to petrol, and from the earlier claim that the coach was burnt from outside, to the new theory that the coach was set afire from inside! The contradictions are so glaring they make the investigation a complete charade. Truth, of course, is the biggest victim.

Another significant point is that the carboys containing traces of petrol were not found near coach S-6 but some distance away. They were found at a distant location adjacent to a Muslim-owned garage that was burnt down by kar sevaks at around 11 am on the same day (February 27, 2002) as a reaction to the burning of coach S-6.


Modi had obviously decided on the motives and identity of those who had set coach S-6 on fire by the evening of February 27, 2002 itself. The conspiracy theory has been developed without the slightest application of mind. By using torture, coercion and the draconian provisions of the POTA law, absurd confessions have been extracted whereby a person ends up confessing to having done something that it was impossible to do. As pointed out earlier, it was impossible to stop the train by rotating the alarm disc from outside because of the modifications in design. Yet the investigators forced such a 'confession' to support their claim that Salim Paanwala had instigated Muslim hawkers to stop the train near the A cabin as part of a 'pre-planned conspiracy'!

The most glaring omission in the prosecution's tale is, however, in its silence about what the conspirators' original plan was, had the train not been delayed by several hours. The VHP has alleged that if the train had arrived at the correct time, the plan was to set fire to the entire train at Chanchelav, a village about 12 km to 14 km from Godhra (towards Dahod) around midnight. But the Sabarmati Express has no scheduled halt there. The VHP has so far not disclosed how, in its view, the conspirators planned to stop the train at midnight when its activists had not allowed anyone to even board the train from Lucknow onwards!

The fact is that if the kar sevaks had not pulled the chain to pick up their colleagues who had been left behind at Godhra station, the Sabarmati Express would have passed through Godhra without a hitch and saved the nation one of its greatest tragedies.

While the prosecution's entire theory revolves around the allegation that several Muslims, including Jabir Binyamin Behra, had cut through the vestibule canvas of coach S-7 to get onto the train, there is absolutely no proof of such a claim.

It is evident from their statements that the nine active members of the VHP who were standing next to the A cabin right from the beginning did not see or make any allegations about anyone climbing onto coach S-7 and cutting through the vestibule canvas. The ASM, Rajendra Mina, who was in the A cabin at the time, also does not make such an allegation. In fact, his deposition stated that he had not seen anyone climbing onto the train. If the slashed canvas was the most vital piece of evidence in their case, why didn't the police preserve it? Why was it allowed to be sold as scrap for a few rupees?

How does the prosecution explain the statement it recorded from the parcel office clerk on March 1, 2002, to the effect that after the first chain-pulling at the Godhra station, passengers in the train were pelting stones at the people behind the parcel office?

Where are the black plastic 20-litre carboys that were supposedly filled with petrol and brought on a tempo to a spot behind the A cabin and from which petrol was allegedly poured into the coach? The FSL has found three carboys containing traces of kerosene and three small carboys containing traces of petrol. Why didn't the police find a single one of these 20-litre carboys? The FSL report clearly stated that the burnt residue of materials inside the coach did not contain any residue of a 'plastic container'.

How will the prosecution explain the fact that the two small plastic containers that were found to have petrol in them were found not near the coach but across the tracks near the Mallas Auto garage which was burnt down by passengers and kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express around 11 am on February 27, 2002? Two trucks outside the garage were burnt using petrol. From where did the passengers get the petrol?

Why did police inspector Barot from the police control room, Gandhinagar, inform the DGP's office at 9.35 am on February 27, 2002, that kar sevaks had set fire to three coaches of the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra and that the number of injured was not yet known? Barot, therefore, asks the police to be vigilant.

It is no one's case that Godhra is not communally sensitive, that Godhra's Ghanchi Muslims, as Hindus and Muslims unfortunately in many parts of the country are quick to react, assemble, even commit acts of violence. The moot question is whether here in this case on February 27, 2002, the act of burning alive 59 persons was a pre-planned act designed and executed meticulously? While the state of Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar has booked the guilty without trial, fair or unfair, better sense was expected from retired members of the higher judiciary. If meticulous judicial examination and judgement thus fall prey to ambitious political design, where will the victim turn, for justice?