A former senior officer in the Army has alleged that the Gujarat government was slow in making arrangements to help security personnel quell the riots in the state in 2002, reported IANS. In his upcoming memoir, Lieutenant General (retired) Zameer Uddin Shah, who led the Army operations during the 2002 riots, said he had provided the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi a list of requirements that would help the Army restore law and order.
The meeting had taken place in Ahmedabad in the presence of the then Defence Minister George Fernandes on the intervening night of February 28, 2002 and March 1, 2002. The state government had sought the Army’s deployment on February 28.
However, when the 3,000 troops landed at the Ahmedabad airfield on the morning of March 1, they had to wait for a day before the administration provided them transport. During this period, rampaging mobs allegedly killed hundreds of people.
“These were crucial hours lost,” Shah has written in The Sarkari Mussalman. Shah retired as the deputy chief of Army staff in 2008.
“The crucial period was the night of February 28 and March 1. This is when the maximum damage was done,” Shah said. “I met the chief minister at 2 am on 1st morning. The troops sat on the airfield all through March 1 and we got the transport only on March 2. By then the mayhem had already been done.”
Shah said that there would have been lesser damage and violence if the Army had been given full freedom. “Most certainly the damage would have been much, much less had we got the vehicles at the right time. What the police couldn’t do in six days we did in 48 hours despite being six times smaller in size than them,” he said.
Shah described the police as “dumb bystanders” who did nothing to stop the mobs from “setting fire on streets and houses”. He claimed that they took no action to prevent the mayhem.
Shah alleged that the police refused the Army’s orders to impose curfew in minority areas. “So the minorities were always surrounded by the mobs. It was a totally parochial and biased handling,” he said.
Close to 1,000 people were killed in communal riots across Gujarat after a coach of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at the Godhra station on February 27, 2002. At least 59 people, most of them pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, died in the arson.