Yesterday, the state government in Gujarat sacked Sanjiv Bhatt, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who was the former state deputy commissioner (Intelligence) of Gujarat. The order from the home ministry that was issued on 13 August followed the Gujarat government’s recommendation for Bhatt’s dismissal on 11 charges that included “staying absent from duty unauthorisedly and defying orders of superior officer” among others. In his deposition before the GT Nanavati-Akshay Mehta commission— that was looking into the 2002 Godhra riots—Bhatt had testified against the state government. He had alleged that the state intelligence bureau was communicating real-time information about the rising tension in Gulburg society, a mostly Muslim upper-class neighborhood in Ahmedabad, and the subsequent threat to its residents, to Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat. He also claimed that Modi had asked top police officers in the state to allow Hindus “to vent out their anger.” In this excerpt from Emperor Uncrowned from our March 2012 issue, Vinod K Jose reports on what came to pass at Gulburg society, and why Bhatt claimed that the state government was implicit in the communal attacks that followed.
One day in early February 2002, a 12-year-old girl named Anika, the daughter of a senior engineer at Larsen and Toubro in Surat, got word she would be giving a dance performance at her school’s annual day on 1 March. It was to be her first dance in costume, and Anika insisted that her grandparents, who lived in Ahmedabad, should come to Surat to see her on stage. Her grandfather assured Anika he would certainly be there to see her perform.
Two days before Anika’s performance, on 27 February, 58 people—many of them women and children—were killed on a train passing through Godhra, 160 kilometres east of Ahmedabad. The train was carrying members of the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, who were returning from Ayodhya after celebrating the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, and initial reports suggested that a mob of Muslims in Godhra had executed a pre-planned attack on the coach.
As word began to spread from Godhra—and pictures and video from the scene hit the airwaves—fury mounted, led by the activists of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS, baying for revenge. By the evening, the VHP called for a statewide bandh the next day, which was endorsed by the ruling BJP.
That same night, Ehsan Jafri, a 72-year-old former MP for Ahmedabad, called his granddaughter Anika in Surat with some disappointing news. Ensconced in his home in Gulburg Society, a mostly Muslim upper-middle class neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, Jafri, a veteran Congress politician, already sensed it would be risky to attempt a journey to Surat the next day. On the phone, he told Anika he wouldn’t be able to come. “But it’s just a shutdown, and he should make it,” she protested to her mother.