Former Vice President Hamid Ansari on Saturday wondered why the central government of the time did not invoke Article 355 of the Constitution during the riots in Gujarat in 2002, PTI reported. The article requires the Union government to protect states against “external aggression and internal disturbance”.

“If the civil and police administration fails to respond to a massive failure of law and order, where does the responsibility rest in a democratic and parliamentary system,” Ansari asked. “Why was Article 355 not invoked even when the Centre had the benefit of Raksha Mantri [the Defence Minister George Fernandes] on the spot?”

Ansari made the remarks during the launch of the book The Sarkari Mussalman by Lieutenant General (retired) Zameer Uddin Shah, who led the Army operations during the riots. Shah, who retired as the deputy chief of Army staff in 2008, alleged in the memoir that the Gujarat government was slow in making arrangements to help security personnel quell the riots.

Shah said in the book that he had provided the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi a list of requirements that would help the Army restore law and order. The meeting took place in Ahmedabad in the presence of Fernandes the night after the state government sought the Army’s deployment on February 28, 2002. However, when the 3,000 troops landed at the Ahmedabad airfield the next morning, 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 book. He reiterated the claim at the book release function, and said “hundreds of officers from my formation can speak on that, and there are war diaries of the battalion”.

However, Jasim Mohammad, the director of Forum for Muslim Studies and Analysis, Aligarh, has countered Shah’s claims about the role of the state government, PTI reported.

“He [Shah] had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2016, where I was also present and Shah sahab had praised Modi for providing support to the Army in 2002 as the chief minister,” Mohammad claimed. He also wrote to Ansari, urging him not to attend the book launch.

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.