The Godhra riots of 2002 remains a painful memory in the hearts of many. One community against the other, killing & vandalising in the name of religion – it was another one of those riots that bled India. Yet, this one was different.
Most commentators conveniently ignore the burning of pilgrims travelling in the Sabarmati Express. But what almost everyone ignores (or maybe aren’t even aware of) is the real reason behind the riots – who triggered it & why.
The Godhra incident took place on the 27th of February, 2002. Just two months back, Pakistani terrorists had stormed the Parliament. Go back three months when Al-Qaeda terrorists had flown two jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York.
These events led to America launching massive military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban government; this on Pakistan’s western border. On the eastern border, India had deployed almost 5 lakh troops in response to the Parliament attack. Pakistan was sandwiched in between.
Even though it knew no war would ensue, it needed to create a diversion to neutralize India’s advantage in warfare. As Pakistan has learnt over time that fighting India in a conventional war is beyond its ability, it resorts to terrorism as a method of proxy-war to bleed India by a thousand cuts. This time again the ISI had to do something similar. And Godhra was its target.
The incident took place at around 8 AM on the morning of the 27thof February when a mob of around 2,000 Muslims attacked the Sabarmati Express & burned the S-6 coach.
But this wasn’t a random mob. This was a pre-gathered mob which was waiting to target the pilgrims coming from Ayodhya. The Sabarmati Express was five hours late & was to actually arrive in the middle of the night. The mob had in fact gathered at night in anticipation of the train! It dispersed when the train got late, & gathered again in the morning. The train getting late was fortunate because much more damage can be done at night, & in fact the mob had planned to put to death all the pilgrims in the train!
Any actual event of communal violence is triggered by some event, the news of which then spreads rapidly, & two communities clash. There isn’t any planning to the clash. But in this case, there wasn’t any immediate incident that would have triggered the attack. And the way the mob had foregathered clearly indicates how this wasn’t an act of communal violence. There was coordination, which shows it was more of a terrorist operation.
Not only this, but the fire brigade took time in reaching the spot because it realised that its fire tenders had been tampered with! This is another example of planning & coordination which is generally absent in a genuine case of communal violence.
Later, the Nanavati Inquiry provided details as to how this all had been planned. Like –
- there was a sudden increase in firearms licenses being issued
- outsiders who lacked ration cards flooded the town before the incident
- unemployed Muslims were suddenly made available with mobile phones
- the local population saw a sudden spurt of growth prior to the burning of the pilgrims
The local conspirators were identified & punished, but they had been in contact with Karachi. This was ensured by people who had travelled from Kashmir to Godhra. K.P.S. Gill, an expert on security & intelligence (also Modi’s own security advisor then), himself analysed & concluded that the carnage was carried out by the ISI with the help of Kashmiri infiltrators.
Why Target Gujarat & Narendra Modi?
Gujarat, in particular Godhra, had been a hotbed of communal violence & Muslim-disenchantment for decades. During the 1980’s & 1990’s, Gujarat was a tinderbox of violence & possibly the most volatile state. Also, Muslims of the state harboured deep resentment because of their worsening economic situation. This meant that once a trigger was set-off, there were great chances that it would snowball into something catastrophic.
Narendra Modi was seen as a ‘kattar’ Hindu & an enemy of Muslims. He had delivered an anti-terrorism statement after the 9/11 attack in New York. In his speech, he had called for a ban on SIMI as it supported the al-Qaeda. The SIMI was banned later on.
Also, just a month before the Godhra carnage, 123 SIMI activists had been arrested from Modasa which is just about a hundred kilometres away from Godhra. All this meant that Narendra Modi was the perfect ‘target’ for the ISI because they saw him as a hater of Muslims, & one who openly talks & even acts against terrorists.
The coordination, the planning, the execution, all clearly pointed out at the fact that this was not an event of communal violence, but a terrorist operation hatched by the ISI of a kind & scale that possibly the country had never seen before.
(Credit – ‘Narendra Modi: A Political Biography’ by Andy Marino)
Vinayak Jain **