For all its rhetoric, the two-day special discussion in Parliament on “Commitment to the Constitution” has done little to dispel the concerns of civil society over growing intolerance. But it should be no surprise, for in his earlier avatar as chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi has a record of disclaiming knowledge of such a warning even from one of his own trusted police officers.

A letter from Gujarat 2002 presaged, however unwittingly, the intolerance on display in India 2015. It’s an official communication from then police commissioner of Ahmedabad, PC Pande. He was such a favourite of Modi that, although the largest number of Muslims had been killed in his jurisdiction during the carnage, Pande went on to become the state police chief.

In the letter to his superior in the home department, Ashok Narayan, on April 22, 2002, less than two months after the massacres in Ahmedabad, Pande complained about the “undesirable activities” of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, both of which were described by him as “organisations supporting the government”. Going by Pande’s own description in that mail, the “undesirable activities” were actually a range of serious crimes such as extortion and mobilisation of Hindus to enforce a social and economic boycott of Muslims.

The modus operandi

Betraying an inability to exercise the legal powers vested in him, Pande recorded a chilling account of the hate mongering that was going on in Ahmedabad even “when the situation", in his words, was "returning to normal”. This was how Pande, a key member of the Modi regime in Gujarat, listed out what the Hindutva outfits were engaged in:
* In Ahmedabad city, activists of VHP and Bajrang Dal are extorting money from merchants, on the pretext of providing protection from the minority community. Out of helplessness, the merchants pay up but they are unhappy about it.

* VHP and Bajrang Dal activists are exerting pressure on merchants to prevent employment of members of the minority community in their areas of business. The merchants are scared of revealing this truth in public or to the police.

* There are instances in which whenever members of the minority community go for jobs in the localities of the majority community, they are intimidated and told to look for jobs in their own localities. Since this is adversely affecting their means of livelihood, members of the minority community are quite frustrated about the situation. Consequently, stray incidents of violence are taking place. VHP and Bajrang Dal activists are involved in these incidents.

* In places where properties of the minority community are burnt and destroyed, members of the minority community, besides being intimidated, are not being being allowed to reopen their shops. One cannot rule out the possibility of such incidents being driven by interested persons to misappropriate the properties involved, with the help of VHP and Bajrang Dal.

Without a word of explanation for his own inaction, Pande concluded his letter saying that there was “an urgent need on the part of the state government” to clamp down on the VHP and Bajrang Dal for “widening the chasm between the two communities” and to avert the danger of alienated Muslim youths “taking to violence”. But there was no follow-up whatsoever from the state government, despite Pande’s buck-passing and the gravity of the details flagged by him.

How the letter came to light

The letter would have probably never come to light had copies of it not been marked by Pande to the then state police chief, K Chakravarthi, and the then state intelligence chief, RB Sreekumar. Sreekumar produced the document before the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team in 2009 while testifying on riot victim Zakia Jafri’s complaint accusing Modi and others of complicity in the 2002 mass violence. This was followed by the testimonies of Narayan and Pande confirming that they had received Pande’s letter.

Chakravarthi told the SIT that he had advised Pande on the phone to take action if there was any specific complaint against the VHP or Bajrang Dal members. Pande however told him, according to Chakravarthi’s testimony:
“the affected parties were not willing to come forward with a written complaint and as such the matter needs to be brought to the notice of the government to control such nefarious activities”.

Chakravarthi testified that he had then called up Narayan to “apprise” him of Pande’s views.

Narayan, on his part, testified that he had spoken about Pande’s letter with not just Chakravarthi but also Modi. The conversation he claimed to have had with Modi has a contemporary resonance. For when Narayan urged him to “use his good offices” with Sangh Parivar activists to “restrain” them, Modi was apparently reluctant to intervene. Narayan said that “the CM was noncommittal” even as he held forth “in a general manner that the state government was committed to the safety and security of all the citizens living in Gujarat”.

Convenient amnesia 

So did Modi himself admit that he was “noncommittal” about Pande’s allegations against his saffron supporters? After being shown Pande’s letter, Modi was asked during his testimony in 2010 as to what action he had taken on it. Modi ducked the SIT’s question, saying:
“In this connection, it is stated that I do not remember now, whether this issue was brought to my notice or not”.

The amnesia pleaded by Modi seemed to have, however, forced the SIT to cover up Pande’s letter. As with so many other inconvenient facts, the SIT report made no reference to the letter. Any reference to this tell-tale issue, especially the disparity in the testimonies of Narayan and Modi, would have come in the way of the SIT's blanket exoneration. For it could not have touched upon the police commissioner’s missive without running the risk of admitting Modi’s negligence, if not collusion.

After the SIT clean chit had paved the way for his ascent to the office of the Prime Minister, Modi seemed to have come full circle earlier this month when VHP supremo Ashok Singhal passed away. Making no bones about his affinity for this staunch votary of Hindu Rashtra, Modi tweeted that the deceased leader was “an inspiration for generations” and that he was “always fortunate to receive Ashok ji’s blessings & guidance”.

Little wonder then that in the course of the SIT investigation, Modi disclaimed any knowledge about the hate campaign run by the VHP and its youth wing even when one of his trusted police officers had warned in writing about it.

Manoj Mitta authored The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra. As a fellow with National Endowment for Democracy, Washington DC, he is currently working on a book on impunity for caste violence.