Former Central Bureau of Investigation chief RK Raghavan has been appointed India’s next high commissioner to Cyprus. This is the second time that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a political appointment to India’s diplomatic establishment. Such appointments are generally made from among senior Indian Foreign Service officials. The National Democratic Alliance government had earlier appointed Mumbai Police Commissioner Ahmed Javed ambassador to Saudi Arabia in December 2015.
Raghavan, 76, has had a very distinguished career as an Indian Police Service officer of the 1963 Tamil Nadu cadre. He specialises in cybersecurity and holds a PhD in Political Science, having been a Visiting Fellow at Rutgers University and the Harvard Law School.
While he investigated many high-profile cases in his career, what raised many eyebrows on his appointment as high commissioner by the Modi government is that he had led the Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigative Team whose 2012 report cleared Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, of complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots. It was this exoneration which paved the way for Modi to be chosen as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, leading to his eventual victory with a convincing majority in 2014.
Manoj Mitta’s 2014 book, The Fiction of Fact Finding – Modi and Godhra, detailed a controversy about Raghavan which, it claimed, “should have kept him from being considered for the post of SIT chairman” as “he was himself a beneficiary of equally serious questions not being put to him about certain security lapses, which had done inestimable damage to India in a different context”.
“Justice Pasayat’s bench [that appointed Raghavan as the SIT chairman in 2009] was perhaps unaware of the serious questions that had remained unresolved about Raghavan,” the book notes, “rendering him unsuitable for any fiduciary responsibility of such high order.”
Raghavan had himself been a subject of inquiry, a decade prior to the Gujarat carnage. It was for the security lapses surrounding the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Despite his indictment, Raghavan got away lightly and was rehabilitated by the Vajpayee government. What remained a closely guarded secret was that even his indictment in the first place had been a diluted one: a commission of inquiry headed by Supreme Court judge JS Verma had glossed over damaging contents of Raghavan’s own affidavit...
“There had been a feeling of disbelief,” Outlook magazine wrote a decade before that, in 1999, when the National Democratic Alliance government of the time, led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, appointed Raghavan as the 19th CBI chief, as he had been “charged by the Verma Commission with failing to control access to Rajiv Gandhi, then denied promotion, refused empanelment for selection to any Central government post, and further rebuffed by not being awarded the President’s Police Medal”.
What follows are brief excerpts from the book, The Fiction of Fact Finding – Modi and Godhra, about the role of the Raghavan-led SIT.
The connection is more than the coincidence that the subject of inquiry for the security lapses in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination went on to be entrusted with fact-finding on whether Narendra Modi had committed any wrong in his handling of the Gujarat carnage. Had the fact-finding on the 1991 incident not been so opaque, Raghavan was unlikely to have been chosen to supervise the probe into the 2002 violence. Adding to the irony was the further coincidence that [Justice JS] Verma too had done a fact-finding report on Gujarat. In his own post-retirement avatar as chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Verma was the first statutory authority to have indicted the Modi regime, after touring Gujarat in the immediate aftermath of the carnage. As it turned out, Raghavan as SIT chief would contradict Verma on the Modi regime’s accountability, in what was a stark example of a shoddy fact-finding on one subject paving the way for an even more shoddy fact-finding on another subject...
...in a quirk of history, Raghavan ended up playing a profound role in the fates of the central figures in both the 1984 and 2002 carnages. While Rajiv Gandhi was killed on his watch in 1991, Narendra Modi was exonerated by him in 2012, when the SIT headed by him filed a closure report on riot victim Zakia Jafri’s complaint. Between the two events involving Raghavan came the resurrection of his career under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. All this background could well be an underlying explanation for a proclivity betrayed by Raghavan in his latest avatar. It was the tendency to cover up inconvenient truths about the Modi regime, despite the responsibility of steering an investigation entrusted to him by the highest court of the land.
The Dead Bodies
The SIT’s exoneration of Modi owed much to its reluctance to link the dots and get the big picture of Gujarat as it stood on the eve of the post-Godhra carnage: his announcement of a terror conspiracy in the train arson despite the absence of any such evidence with the police, his party’s support to the bandh call given for the next day by the VHP, his decision to shift the bodies the same night to Ahmedabad despite the misgivings of senior officers and the mamlatdar’s letter entrusting the bodies in Godhra to the very VHP leader who was later implicated by it for a massacre during the bandh.
Luckily for Modi, the SIT viewed his decision on the dead bodies in isolation, limiting itself to checking whether they had been brought to Ahmedabad, as alleged by Jafri, in order to parade them. The SIT relied on the word of a senior police officer, R.J. Sawani, to deny that the riots had been instigated by a massive procession in which ten of the charred bodies had been taken from a locality near Naroda called Ramol to the Hatkeshwar crematorium. It had no qualms about taking Sawani’s testimony at face value despite the evidence of frequent phones calls between him and Patel on 27 and 28 February. Indeed, in this charade of fact-finding, the SIT avoided putting the right questions to the right people. Consider what it could have obtained from N.K. Barot, who was police inspector of Ahmedabad’s Bapunagar police station during the carnage. In an affidavit he filed before the Nanavati Commission on 1 July 2002, this was how Barot described the situation on 28 February: ‘As newspapers reported that the BJP was supporting the VHP’s bandh, the impact of the bandh was total . . . When the dead bodies of Hindus killed in Godhra had been brought to Ahmedabad, communal passions were inflamed and the anger of Hindus burst out. A huge number of people, young and old, started pouring out like ants in the jurisdiction of the Bapunagar police station in order to collect in mobs and give vent to their anger.’ This junior police officer’s graphic account in 2002 of the reactions to the dead bodies tallied with the apprehensions admitted to in 2004 by commissioner Pande and additional chief secretary Narayan.
Not surprisingly, the SIT, led by Raghavan, had little use for any such incriminating evidence. In its final report, the same Pande and Narayan come out sounding as officers who had never an iota of doubt over the efficacy of Modi’s decision on the bodies. Why, the final report glossed over Raghavan’s own written endorsement of the SIT’s 2010 finding that Patel had been present at the meeting held by Modi prior to the issuance of the mamlatdar’s letter. Those who read only its 2012 report would have no clue as to how much the SIT had watered down its facts.
The wealth of evidence disregarded by it includes a tell-tale disclosure by Jaydeep Patel of the drama he witnessed in the Sola Civil Hospital after he had handed over the mamlatdar’s letter to the authorities there. It is reminiscent of senior police officer Deepak Swaroop’s revelation about the heckling that Modi had faced in the Godhra railway station the previous evening before he pacified those Hindu hotheads with his terror plot declaration. Emboldened perhaps by Modi’s capitulation, the Hindu right displayed more belligerence the next morning in Ahmedabad, at the hospital where the bodies had been brought from Godhra. Two BJP legislators, who went on to become ministers in the Modi government, were physically attacked by Hindu hotheads. As Patel told the SIT, ‘Amit Shah, the then MLA, Sarkhej, and Dr Mayaben Kodnani came to Sola Civil Hospital and the mob thrashed them between 1100 and 1130 hours for their inability to protect Hindu kar sevaks.’ In her testimony to the SIT, Kodnani confirmed the attack even if she put it more mildly: she and Amit Shah had been ‘surrounded by a big crowd, who were shouting hostile slogans’ and that when they had became ‘aggressive’, the two MLAs were ‘escorted’ out of the hospital by the police. Such pressure from the Hindutva constituency might have prompted Kodnani to rush to Naroda shortly thereafter and instigate the mobs for which she, along with Patel, was implicated by the SIT years later. Many more bodies thus piled up, this time mostly of Muslims. Yet, while probing Jafri’s allegation of a larger conspiracy behind the post-Godhra massacres, the SIT baulked at making the connections.
Another parallel was the post facto rationalizations offered by Modi and Rajiv Gandhi. For much in the spirit of Rajiv Gandhi’s tree metaphor, Modi came up with his own Newtonian twist. He tried to pass off the post-Godhra killings as a ‘chain of action and reaction’. But, like with Trilokpuri, there was ample evidence in Naroda Patiya showing that there was more to the violence than the anger in the majority community (the stated reason) or, for that matter, even the incitement by leaders (the unstated reason).
The mass killings following the Godhra incident were as much facilitated by the police, in various ways. One of the more sinister ways that this happened in Naroda Patiya related to a premises serving, like in Trilokpuri, as a refuge from murderous mobs. This one though was not a place of worship; rather, it was a secure base of the police themselves. Naroda Patiya was, in fact, an unlikely location for a massacre as it was in the immediate vicinity of a 20-acre campus of State Reserve Police (SRP). The massacre was facilitated by the fact that a lot of Muslims fleeing from mobs had been denied refuge in the sprawling SRP premises.
...[A]s the NHRC report said, ‘When the terrorized residents went to the nearby SRP camp for shelter, they were pushed back by the jawans.’
Pushed back, when they needed to be rescued? This revelation was, however, lost in a torrent of such instances of hostility to Muslims displayed by the Gujarat police in Naroda Patiya and elsewhere during the 2002 riots. It took seven years for the special significance of the SRP episode to come on record. The trigger was an order passed by the Supreme Court on 27 April 2009 referring Zakia Jafri’s complaint against the Modi regime to the SIT appointed by it. About two months later, on 11 July 2009, the SIT began recording the statement of R.B. Sreekumar, who was the chief of SRP in the whole state when the post-Godhra violence had erupted. Among his many disclosures was his inside account of how Naroda Patiya victims had been refused shelter on the fateful day in what was the headquarters of SRP’s Group II....
The allegation made by Sreekumar against his subordinates in Naroda Patiya was, by any standards, too serious a matter to be left at that. Especially in the given context of the investigation into Jafri’s complaint alleging that the post-Godhra violence was the result of a high-level conspiracy. Sreekumar’s testimony at the least called for summoning of records related to the SRP camp and questioning of Ahmed and Qureshi for their versions of the episode. The obvious line of interrogation would have been to pin them down on why they had, despite the abundance of space in the SRP compound, changed their policy of providing shelter to victims from Naroda Patiya. What was the compulsion to abandon victims to their fate? When he could have done it so easily, who stopped Ahmed from saving Muslims from mob violence? If need be, the SIT could even have questioned Sreekumar further on his disclosure about the conduct of his subordinate officer.
The Supreme Court-appointed SIT, headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan, did not raise any of these questions, although they were deeply relevant to determining whether the Modi regime had complied with the requirements of secularism and the rule of law. The cop-out was evident from the SIT’s 541-page report on Jafri’s complaint submitted to an Ahmedabad magistrate in February 2012. The SIT made no secret of the pains it had taken to run down the credibility of whistleblowers who had testified against the Modi regime. But when it came to Sreekumar’s testimony, the report focused on his stint as intelligence chief which began about 40 days after the Naroda Patiya massacre. Conveniently for Modi, the tell-tale behaviour of the officer in charge of the SRP campus near Naroda Patiya, a disclosure relating to Sreekumar’s earlier avatar as SRP chief, fell through the cracks of the SIT probe.
The enormity of the SIT’s failure to probe the SRP episode and its ramifications manifested six months later. It was thanks to a trial court judgment, delivered in August 2012, on the Naroda Patiya massacre. The much-awaited verdict proved to be historic as the thirty-two persons convicted by it included Kodnani, making it the first instance in India of a minister being punished in a communal violence case. What went relatively unnoticed was the repeated reference in the 1,969-page judgment to the SRP episode. Trial judge Jyotsna Yagnik, in effect, confirmed the grievance of victims that they had been turned away at the SRP gate. She even made clear that, barring the lucky few who had made it in the morning, many of the victims turned away at the SRP gate had been pushed into the arms of the mobs.
The judgment contained accounts of victims who had been provided shelter in the morning as also those who had been attacked and driven away by SRP personnel from the gate later in the day. It summarized those accounts as follows: ‘In the SRP Quarters, the Muslims were not allowed to get in or enter inside. Hence, many were beaten while attempting to enter the SRP Quarters. However, some of the Muslims could secure their shelter at SRP which might be in the morning itself and thereafter it was prohibited.’
The judicial acknowledgement of the SRP episode indicated that its suppression in the SIT report on the Jafri complaint was quite wilful. After all, in the Jafri case, the SIT recorded Sreekumar’s disclosure in 2009 and submitted its report in 2012. In the Naroda Patiya trial that took place during the intervening period, the same SIT happened to be in charge of the investigation and prosecution. Thus, the SIT was very much aware that Sreekumar’s testimony in Jafri’s case had been corroborated by victims in the Naroda Patiya case.
The SIT showed little diligence in finding out the truth about the absence of any senior officer in Gulberg Society or Naroda Patiya during crucial periods. In a bid to counter the challenge posed by the amicus curiae on facts, the SIT came up with an argument on law. It made out that Section 304A IPC, dealing with death caused by negligence, applied only to ‘an act which is the immediate cause of death and not an act or omission which can be said to be a remote cause of death’. In the SIT’s view, it was therefore ‘necessary to show an immediate nexus between the wrongful act of an accused and the injuries received by another’...
Even otherwise, it was ironic that the SIT should have resorted to the notion of ‘proximate cause’ to bail out two police officers. When the SIT chairman, R.K. Raghavan, had himself been indicted for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination two decades earlier, it was because his security lapses had been found to have constituted the ‘proximate cause’.
Modi’s contemporaneous speeches discriminated between Hindu and Muslim culprits
When Godhra happened, Modi did not broadcast his peace appeal till the evening of the next day, by which time the post-Godhra killings had been well underway. The major massacres of Ahmedabad—at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam—were then peaking or had played out. Though he had rushed to Godhra within hours of the train burning on 27 February, Modi did not visit the next day—or indeed for some days—any of the places ravaged by post-Godhra violence, although three of them were right in Ahmedabad. This was because he was, as the SIT put it, ‘awfully busy’ holding meetings and taking decisions related to the escalating crisis. Significantly, this excuse of his having been ‘awfully busy’ was offered by the SIT only in its 2012 closure report. This was a far cry from the finding in its 2010 enquiry report, which said: ‘Modi has admitted to visiting Godhra on February 27, 2002. He has further admitted to visiting Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and other riot-affected parts of Ahmedabad city only on March 5, 2002 and March 6, 2002 . . . This possibly indicates his discriminatory attitude. He went to Godhra, travelling almost 300 km in a day, but failed to go to the local areas where serious incidents of riots had taken place and a large number of Muslims were killed.’ In a separate note accompanying the 2010 report, SIT chairman R.K. Raghavan added: ‘Modi did not cite any specific reasons why he did not visit the affected areas in Ahmedabad city as promptly as he did in the case of the Godhra train carnage.’ The markedly different finding in the 2012 report to the Ahmedabad magistrate of course superseded the feedback the SIT had given in its 2010 report to the apex court.
But then, however ‘awfully busy’ he might have been to visit the theatres of post-Godhra violence, the SIT conceded that Modi happened to be nearby for over two hours on 28 February 2002. For his convoy, driving down from Gandhinagar, reached Ahmedabad’s Circuit House Annexe around 4 pm. After conferring with officers of the home department, Modi held a press conference there from 4.30 pm to 5.45 pm, when the decision to call in the army was announced. It was then that at about 6 pm, at the same venue, he recorded his peace appeal for repeat broadcasts. As the SIT put it, ‘At about 1800 hrs, the chief minister’s appeal to public for keeping peace and to maintain law and order was recorded by Doordarshan.’ And it was televised for the first time at ‘1855 hrs, before the regional news bulletin’. Yet, in a blog he wrote a couple of days after his testimony to the SIT in 2010, Modi claimed that ‘in the afternoon of 28 February 2002, I had appealed publicly through Doordarshan to maintain peace’ (emphasis added). Why this suggestion that the appeal had been made in the afternoon, when it had actually been recorded around 6 pm and broadcast for the first time around 7 pm? Since he took the trouble of inserting links to the text and video of the appeal in his blog, it would appear that Modi became conscious of an incongruity. The speech threatened action against Muslims involved in the Godhra crime but issued no such warning to Hindus, although they had by then caused greater havoc. Since the violence had intensified in the second half of the day, Modi might have consciously used a wide term like ‘afternoon’ in his blog. This could have been to convey the impression that he had recorded the message before any of the post-Godhra massacres had come to his notice.
Mercifully, the SIT report bore no such obfuscation about when exactly Modi had recorded his appeal to the public. This could be because the SIT’s tack was different. It was impervious to the glaring discrimination displayed by Modi between Muslim and Hindu culprits. The SIT betrayed this attitude while rejecting amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran’s proposal to prosecute Modi for hate speech for his alleged instructions to police officers at a meeting in his residence on the night of 27 February 2002. The allegation was that on the eve of the post-Godhra massacres, Modi had told the police officers to let Hindus give vent to their anger. After discarding all the reasons given by Ramachandran, the SIT said: ‘Even if such allegations (against Modi) are believed for the sake of argument, mere statement of alleged words in the four walls of a room (sic) does not constitute any offence.’ In other words, since Hindus at large did not hear what Modi had said against Muslims in the meeting with police officers, he could not be hauled up for fomenting communal hatred. As a corollary, there was no question of examining if there was any link between Modi’s alleged instruction to let Hindus vent their anger and the mysterious failure of senior police officers to respond, for instance, to repeated alerts from the inspector dealing with Gulberg Society.
Given its curious conception of hate speech, it was no surprise that the SIT referred approvingly to Modi’s ‘four statements within 24 hours’, over February 27 and 28, including the appeal on Doordarshan. After paraphrasing each of those four public statements focusing on Godhra, the SIT said: ‘It may thus be seen that the thrust of CM’s speech everywhere was that the incident was heinous, organized and that the culprits would be brought to strictest punishment.’ Thus, the SIT confirmed, however unwittingly, that even after Hindus had unleashed post-Godhra violence, Modi was railing only against Muslims. The SIT said nothing about the partiality shown to Hindus in Modi’s statements. Even in his Doordarshan speech, Modi’s condemnation was reserved for Godhra and its culprits: ‘Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident. The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams, thinks of committing a heinous crime like this.’ As for the post-Godhra violence, all that Modi could get himself to do was to chide Hindus mildly even as he repeatedly expressed empathy for their grief and pain. ‘Violation of law is not going to help the society at anytime. I can appreciate your sentiments. But I appeal to you with folded hands, we must maintain peace and self-restraint.’ Thus, much like Rajiv Gandhi’s Boat Club speech, Modi’s Doordarshan appeal was addressed exclusively to Hindus. While the ‘us vs them’ tenor was common to both speeches, Modi’s was likely to have added fuel to the fire as it was made in the thick of the carnage and repeatedly broadcast through that sensitive period.
In any case, Modi’s Doordarshan appeal reflected the larger pattern of bias in the official discourse in 2002. A contemporaneous report, titled ‘Rights and Wrongs’, brought out by the Editors Guild of India in May 2002, pointed out that the bias came through even in the way the two phases of violence had been described in official press releases during the carnage. This was the finding of its analysis of the press releases: ‘The phraseology most often used for the Godhra incident was “inhuman genocide”, “inhuman carnage” or “massacre” while the subsequent riots were invariably described as “disturbances”, and occasionally as “violent disturbances/incidents”.’ The SIT ignored this inconvenient finding on discrimination even as it otherwise relied on a part of the evidence collected by the Editors Guild.
When Modi blamed Ehsan Jafri for the Gulberg Society massacre
For a controversial interview given by Modi to Zee TV on 1 March 2002, the SIT had to depend on a transcript provided in the Editors Guild report. This was because of Zee TV’s failure to give a CD of the interview to the SIT, despite two reminders and a legal notice. The interview was crucial because this was where, echoing Rajiv Gandhi’s big tree metaphor, Modi invoked the Newtonian logic of action and reaction. In Rajiv Gandhi’s case, the problem with this formulation lay in its implication that the retaliatory killings were entirely spontaneous and that there was no collusion on the part of the government or the ruling party. There was an additional problem in Modi’s case, which made his Newtonian parallel even more disquieting. It was the factor he had identified as the ‘action’ as opposed to the ‘reaction’, in the context of the Gulberg Society massacre. Modi made it clear that the ‘action’ he had in his mind was the alleged firing by Ehsan Jafri. Modi’s spin was as insensitive to Muslims as it was contrary to due process. For even if he had fired during the prolonged siege of the Muslim pocket, the former Congress MP was legally entitled to act in self-defence. Barely a day after Ehsan Jafri had been maimed and burnt alive, Modi not only prejudged him on the firing issue but also endorsed a defence that could be taken by his killers.
The SIT did question Modi about the Zee interview while recording his testimony in 2010. But it did not refer specifically to the most controversial part of the interview: his attempt to blame Ehsan Jafri for the Gulberg Society massacre. Not surprisingly, Modi too did not attempt to justify his allegation against the murdered MP. Instead, he made out that the actionreaction theory was only an appeal for peace. ‘I do not recall the exact words. But I had always appealed only and only for peace. I had tried to convey to the people to shun violence, in straight and simple language.’ His claim to have been merely appealing for peace was taken with a pinch of salt even by the SIT. As with other aspects of the carnage, though, the SIT’s 2010 preliminary report to the Supreme Court was more strongly worded than its 2012 final report to the Ahmedabad magistrate. What was common to both versions was this admission of the basic facts of Modi’s testimony: ‘Modi has clearly stated in his Zee TV interview that it was Ehsan Jafri who first fired at the violent mob and the provoked mob stormed the society and set it on fire. In this interview, he has clearly referred to Jafri’s firing as “action” and the massacre that followed as “reaction”.’ Then, both reports also expressed a gentle difference of opinion with Modi: ‘It may be clarified here that in case Ehsan Jafri fired at the mob, this could be an immediate provocation to the mob, which had assembled there to take revenge of Godhra incident from the Muslims.’
Where the two reports diverged was in the conclusion. The 2010 report indicted him—morally, if not legally. ‘In spite of the fact that ghastly violent attacks had taken place on Muslims at Gulberg Society and elsewhere, the reaction of the Govt was not the type which would have been expected by anyone. The Chief Minister had tried to water down the seriousness of the situation at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and other places by saying that every “action” has an equal and opposite “reaction”. However this utterance by itself is not sufficient to make out a case against Modi.’ Ironically, the SIT too watered down its conclusion on the Zee interview, when it gave its closure report in 2012. ‘No doubt, during riots ghastly violent attacks had taken place on Muslims at Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya and elsewhere by unruly mob, yet the alleged statements made by Modi appear to have been quoted out of context and therefore, based on these statements, no case is made against him.’
Modi’s exoneration in regard to the TV interview was not only for his aspersion on Ehsan Jafri but also for the remarks he made against residents of Signal Falia, the Muslim-dominated locality near the Godhra railway station. His exact words were: ‘Godhra ke is ilake ke logon ki criminal tendencies rahi hain (the residents of this locality of Godhra have displayed criminal tendencies).’ His justification for religious profiling was that those people had earlier killed lady teachers and now they had committed this heinous crime, for which the reactions were being felt. Interestingly, SIT chairman R.K. Raghavan initially found these remarks ‘offensive’. In his separate note accompanying the 2010 report to the Supreme Court, Raghavan said: ‘Modi’s statement accusing some elements in Godhra and the neighbourhood as possessing a criminal tendency was sweeping and offensive, coming as it did from a chief minister, that too at a critical time when Hindu-Muslim tempers were running high.’ Raghavan’s adverse observations on the Godhra part of the Zee interview came on top of his team’s equally damaging findings on the post-Godhra part. Luckily for Modi, these observations, which had been made in 2010, were excised completely from the 2012 report, without any explanation.
Excerpted with permission from The Fiction of Fact Finding – Modi and Godhra, Manoj Mitta, HarperCollins India.