Deccan Chronicle

Mohan Guruswamy | Who lit the fire on Sabarmati Exp at Godhra 20 years back?

Deccan Chronicle.| Mohan Guruswamy

Published on: February 26, 2022 | Updated on: February 27, 2022

A nation which forgives and forgets such huge assaults on its person is only condemned to suffer more of them

The Godhra incident, ahead of the 2002 Gujarat polls, led to a pogrom and polarised Gujarat as never before. (Representational Image/ Twitter)

The Godhra incident, ahead of the 2002 Gujarat polls, led to a pogrom and polarised Gujarat as never before. (Representational Image/ Twitter)

On February 27, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Godhra incident. In terms of historical importance, it ranks no less than the Reichstag fire that propelled Hitler to absolute power in Germany, also on a February 27, but in 1933. The Godhra incident, ahead of the 2002 Gujarat polls, led to a pogrom and polarised Gujarat as never before. It became the springboard to a meteoric political rise.

We have a habit in India of forgetting mass crimes and sweeping the memories under the carpet. A nation which forgives and forgets such huge assaults on its person is only condemned to suffer more of them.

The report of Ahmedabad’s Forensic Science Laboratory on who lit the fire in coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002, killing 59 persons, by M.S. Dahiya, then assistant director of FSL, which was part of the chargesheet, completely debunks the theories about the coach being set afire by an angry mob, which had mysteriously collected outside Godhra railway station. The report concludes that the coach was set on fire by someone "standing in the passage of the compartment near seat number 72, using a container with a wide opening, about 60 litres of inflammable liquid has been poured and then a fire has been started in the bogie".

The FSL conclusively demonstrated by experiments that it was virtually impossible to throw inflammable liquids into the train through the open windows that are at a height of seven feet. The report said there was a three-feet-high mound running parallel to the track at a distance of 14 feet and if the firebombers were standing on this mound and sloshing the fuel at the compartment, only about 10-15 per cent of the fuel would have got inside. As the rest of the fuel would have fallen outside, there would have been burn damage on and near the track. This was not so.

File photographs of the burning coach clearly show the flames raging from within and without even the external paintwork being touched. The pictures also show rescuers trying to hose down the flames standing right alongside the burning coach.

The train was chock-a-block full of kar sevaks and whosoever was carrying "a container with a wide opening holding about 60 litres of inflammable liquid" should have been able to mingle freely with the inflamed kar sevaks. If this person, whosoever it was, was carrying such a container with a wide opening quite openly, then he, she or they would have been known to the other passengers to be able to do so without arousing apprehension. Remember, the country was in a state of heightened military alert after the December 13 attack on Parliament and it would just not be possible for a stranger to walk into a crowded coach of true believers with a large container with liquid sloshing about.

The train was almost a Ram bhakt special and each compartment was concentrated with people from a particular area or belonging to a particular group within the Sangh Parivar, all of who would have been known to each other. It is therefore extremely implausible that a perfect stranger or strangers would have been able to splash the petrol and set it alight and then escape. Furthermore, the train was stopped by pulling the emergency chain and that can only be from inside. Consequently, the theory that it was an ISI cell or a group who boarded the train after it was stopped that carried out the carnage is extremely difficult to sustain.

It would now seem that the harassment and intimidation of the mostly Muslim hawkers at Godhra railway station was deliberate and aimed at provoking an agitated response. But petty harassment in itself would not have provoked such a disproportionate reaction as torching a train. It would seem someone wished to take advantage of this reaction, and if this was so, the torching of coach S-6 could have been meant to provoke a furious backlash. This seems like a classic agent provocateur operation that went out of hand.

The use of agent provocateurs to create a crisis is not at all uncommon.

Sometime it is a pig’s head that is thrown in a mosque, another time it’s a cow’s head that is thrown into a temple. Cadre-based political parties, for who the end justifies all means, are especially adept at this. The Babri Masjid’s demolition was very clearly perpetrated by a handful of people who came prepared to do the job.

The record shows while Uma Bharati and Murli Manohar Joshi were hugging each other in ecstatic joy, a glum L.K. Advani looked on helplessly.
It is not only cadre-based parties that can do this. Countries with active intelligence services routinely do it. Intelligence agencies like America’s CIA, Britain’s SIS, France’s SDECE, Israel’s Mossad, Russia’s FSB, China’s GRI, Pakistan’s ISI and even India’s RAW carry out such operations quite routinely. Even now Pakistan insists the January 30, 1971 hijacking of "Ganga", an Indian

Airlines Fokker Friendship, to Lahore by Hashim and Ashraf Qureshi was an Indian intelligence operation meant to precipitate the termination of overflights to Dhaka, making the link between Pakistan’s two halves even more tenuous.

It is difficult to imagine a container with a wide mouth carrying at least 60 litres of petrol was meant to cause just an innocuous incident on the Sabarmati Express. Clearly, there are many questions to be answered, particularly in light of the subsequent events for which even the NHRC, headed by former Chief Justice of India, Justice A.N. Verma, found the Gujarat government to be complicit.

About The Author

The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy

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