Millennium Post

Doubts remain on Nanavati’s clean chit

It is the season of clean chits. First, the Nehru-Gandhi family’s loyalist, A.K. Antony, gave a clean chit to the dynasty to absolve it of any blame for the Congress party’s miserable showing in the last general election. Then, the Mukul Mudgal committee exonerated N. Srinivasan of any wrong-doing in the IPL betting scandal. Finally, the Nanavati commission cleared the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government of the charge of complicity in the 2002 riots.

However, as in politics, popular perception is more resilient than official claims. In all the three aforementioned examples, therefore, the belief that the investigations have been unable to decipher the whole truth is likely to persist if only because the wiliness of the individuals under scrutiny is generally recognized and the moral courage of the investigator is under question
The exculpation of Modi by the Nanavati commission is all the more curious because judicial inquiries usually succeed in identifying the culprits and are generally in keeping with the widely held views about the incidents. Usually, therefore, the inquiries put a formal stamp on what is believed to have happened. The B. N. Srikrishna Commission, for instance, noted how “Hindu communal organizations” fomented “communal frenzy” during the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 and mentioned the Shiv Sena in this context.

Similarly, the M.S. Liberhan Commission report on the Babri masjid demolition held several BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, responsible for the demolition, saying that their speeches provoked the assembled mob and that they made only “feeble requests to the kar sevaks to come down” from the dome of the mosque.

The directness of these findings is in contrast to the Nanavati commission’s failure to find any “evidence of any lapse (on the state government’s part) in providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims”. Considering that the Supreme Court described the rioters and their patrons as “modern-day Neros (who) were looking elsewhere when … innocent children and helpless women were burning”, the commission’s verdict can seem to be odd.

As for the Commission’s observation that there was “no evidence of any lapse in providing protection …” etc, it is worth recalling that the apex court said that “the (police) investigation appears to be perfunctory and anything but impartial without any definite object of finding out the truth and bringing to book those who were responsible for the crime”. It was the perfunctory nature of the functioning of the police which made the Supreme court transfer some of the cases to Mumbai, where sentences were handed down to some of the perpetrators of the riots.

Since the Commission had given Modi a clean chit in its interim report in 2008, it could hardly have been expected to reverse the verdict four years later. However, doubts will remain as to whether it has been thorough enough in its job in the light of the judicial strictures against.

Moreover, the indictments carry considerable weight since they were closer to the event and echoed much of what the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had said. Like the Supreme Court, the NHRC had noted “a comprehensive failure on the part of the state government to control the persistent violation of the rights to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people of the state.

As for the Nanavati Commission’s comments on the adequacy of the relief and rehabilitation measures, it will be worthwhile to quote the National Minorities Commission’s views on the subject. It said that “during a tour of the camps (in 2006, four years after the riots), members observed that the residents were denied the most rudimentary civic amenities. They are deprived of potable water, sanitary facilities, street lights, schools and primary health care centres … The accumulated garbage, the slush and the puddles of water are a source of Another evidence of administrative apathy can be found in a report of the Human Rights Watch, which quotes witnesses as saying that “their calls (for help) either went unanswered or that they were met with responses such as “we don’t have any orders to save you;” “we cannot help you, we have orders from above”; “if you wish to live in Hindustan, learn to protect yourself”; “how come you are alive ? You should have died too”.

Much of all this was known within days of the outbreak, suggesting that there was a formidable body of material for investigators to examine. A commission entrusted with judicial powers should have been able to ascertain how much of it was true. Unfortunately, the Nanavati panel appears to have brushed aside virtually all the charges, thereby absolving the state government of any wrong-doing.
The inordinately long time which the Commission took to come to what many will consider an unsatisfactory conclusion recalls the story in the Aesop’s fables where a mountain of labour produced a mouse. However, the passage of time has an advantage for investigators. Memories of even a traumatic event fades away and circumstances change to make any reference to it largely irrelevant.
Only those who lost their near ones continue to mourn in silence. IPA

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