The author is a young though proven and fearless journalist who posed as a filmmaker from the US to go undercover and interview the state’s top bureaucrats and police officials, both serving and retired, to prove for the first time on tape what was otherwise widely known that the 2002 bloodbath was an orchestrated disaster.
Taking the identity of a Maithili Tyagi, independent filmmaker from the American Film Institute Conservatory, Rana Ayyub, then 26, set out with generous help from a young French male student (she needed a firang, gora face to add to her credentials), in 2010-2011 to befriend Gujaratis who would introduce her to people in power as she was supposedly making a movie on Gujarat.
Her only other companions were her hidden cameras and a put-on accent. Not realising they were talking to a Tehelka journalist, everyone opened up and the result is this gripping Gujarat Files.
G L Singhal, who headed the Gujarat ATS, told Rana Ayyub/Maithili Tyagi that all ministers in Gujarat were “rubber stamps” and all key decisions were taken by CM Modi, who does not come in the picture directly. He gives orders to bureaucrats. According to Singhal, “riots huey, Muslims ko maara, benefit liya.” (Riots took place, Muslims were killed, people benefitted.)
Rajan Priyadarshi, another ex-ATS chief who was not allowed to become the Director General of Police because he was not considered pliable, had far more harsher things to say about Modi and then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah.
Priyadarshi – who claimed the Gujarat government was “communal and corrupt” – said he was once asked to kill a man in custody but he refused.
According to him, Ishrat Jehan was kept in illegal custody before she was killed in cold blood in June 2004 after being dubbed a terrorist out to kill Modi. Then Home Secretary Ashok Narayan recalled that several Gujarat ministers “were standing on the roads and inciting the crowds” during the 2002 riots and that top politicians got things done through “agents and agents and agents”.
G C Raigar, who headed the Police Intelligence in 2002 and was later the Director General, accused Modi of reaping political benefit from the riots and “he is what he is today because of the riots”. He made it clear that he and some other officers refused to take illegal orders from Amit Shah.
Former Ahmedabad Police Commissioner P C Pande, who was widely considered close to Modi, said “encounters” were like “murders” and he was opposed to them personally “but at times it becomes necessary.” He too admitted that had the 2002 riots not happened, Modi “would not have been known internationally”.
There, Rana Ayyub says, they “developed amnesia”. But because they did not know who they were talking to, they told “Maithili Tyagi” what they otherwise would have never coughed up. Jagruti Pandya, wife of slain former minister Harren Pandya, was the only one to whom Ayyub confessed her who she was. “Aap Mohammedan ho,” a stunned Jagruti asked the author, embarrassed that she had used uncharitable expressions about Muslims earlier.
Once she finished the Gujarat sting, the author realised that Tehelka was not ready to publish what she had uncovered, because the editors felt that Modi was set to become the prime minister soon and “if we touch him we will be finished”. “I have remained silent since. Till now”, Ayyub said.
This book is the ultimate in investigative journalism. One has to salute Ayyub for taking extraordinary risks. When she launched the book, she revealed that no publisher was willing to publish it; and so she decided to self-publish it. If Pulitzer had a prize for courageous journalism overseas, she would undoubtedly get it.