Gujarat riots book names Seltalvad, others 'detractors'

Gujarat Riots: Ex-SIT chief Raghavan's book describes Setalvad, Bhatt as detractors

"I held my ground much to the annoyance of those who were opposed to the chief minister (Modi)" Raghavan said

Sanjiv Bhatt, Teesta Seltalvad. Credit: DH/ Twitter

Former chairman of the Supreme Court appointed-Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed nine major rioting cases of 2002 post-Godhra riots, R K Raghavan in his autobiography has termed Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad, Gujarat cadre IPS officer R B Sreekumar, retired, and sacked and jailed IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt his "detractors" who allegedly targeted him during the probe into riots.

Setalvad and her NGO "Citizen for Justice and Peace" had provided legal assistance to riot survivors, including Zakia Jafri, wife of ex-Congress MP Ehsan Jafri. Ehsan Jafri was killed in the Gulberg Society massacre and Zakia had approached the Supreme Court seeking investigation against the then Gujarat Chief Minister and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the entire state machinery for allegedly orchestrating the riots as part of "larger conspiracy." Setalvad is facing several cases including a case of alleged misappropriation of funds meant for Gulberg Society riot survivors.

The two ex IPS officers - R B Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt - were witnesses in the complaint filed by Jafri but the SIT had not believed their testimonies and called them "liars." The SIT report had given a clean chit to Modi which was accepted by magisterial as well as Gujarat High Court.

Also Read | Modi didn't accept even tea during 9-hour questioning by Gujarat riots SIT: Raghavan

The ex-CBI director Raghavan, who was appointed as chairman of SIT in 2008 by the Supreme Court, has defended another two Gujarat IPS officers Shivanand Jha and controversial officer Geetha Johri who were removed from the SIT by the apex court on allegations that they were "partisan." Both the officers retired as director general of police.

"Johri and Jha were eased out during the early days of the SIT by the apex court on some flimsy charges levelled by some vested interests, backed by a political party which was bent on defaming the then Gujarat government," Raghavan mentions in his book, A Road Well Travelled.

The former IPS officer claims that there were efforts to "dislodge" him from the SIT because he was "politically inconvenient to those who were in great danger of being permanently eliminated from the Indian polity."  He goes on to write, "I held my ground much to the annoyance of those who were opposed to the chief minister (Modi)."

The book contains less than 50 pages on his about nine-year stint as chairman of the SIT. It doesn't mention why the SIT was constituted in the first place and ignores the fact put on record before the court by several litigants, including the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), NGOs, and several prominent citizens, that had sought a probe into the violence. The NHRC had filed the petition in 2003 to transfer cases outside Gujarat over faulty probe by the local police and the government's apathy to take action against the erring policemen. It was following a prolonged hearing that in 2008, the apex court had ordered an SIT probe into eight major cases including Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam, Gulberg Society, among others.

Questioning of then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi

In his book, Raghavan also recalls the day when the SIT had grilled Modi at their office in Gandhinagar for nine hours. He describes the occasion as a "significant event" during the SIT probe. He claims that the SIT had conveyed to Modi's staff that he had "to come in person to the SIT office" for the questioning and that "meeting elsewhere would be misconstrued as a favour." The book claims that Modi "understood the spirit" of their stand and "readily agreed to come to the SIT office".

Raghavan has written that he took the "unusual step" by asking Ashok Kumar Malhotra, a member of the SIT, to question Modi. He writes -- "A lot of people were intrigued by my action to stay away." "My decision was mainly to avoid any mischievous allegation later that Modi and I had struck a deal," he clarifies. However, his claim has not gone down well with some active members of the SIT DH spoke to.

"On that day, March 27, 2010, when Modi arrived, we were a bit angry with our chairman since he didn't show up even to introduce us. In high profile cases, the supervisory officer should remain present to complete such formality. We were a bit surprised at his behavior. He didn't come to SIT office even for a second and remained stationed at IPS Mess in Ahmedabad," said one of the members on the condition of anonymity.

The book mentions how Modi turned down Malhotra's, who is now leading the SIT, offer to take a lunch break. An SIT member told DH, "The claim is a bit exaggerated. Modi and Malhotra both were on fast on that day. I remember correctly, it was Chaitra Navratri. Malhotraji used to have tea even during fasting but Modi didn't have anything except water. This is true that he had brought his own water bottle. It was perhaps of the Himalayan brand."

He also recalled that the questioning started at 11 am. Modi took a break at 6 pm and came back in a different attire at around 9 pm which lasted for three hours. "Modi took the break at 6 pm as he had to do perform pooja," the member claimed. "He (Raghavan) tried to keep himself away from the SIT and its probe. He always played safe and that's why he didn't come for the questioning," said an old SIT member who also spoke on condition of anonymity.  

Raghavan describes the break in the book as -- "It required tremendous persuasion to make him (Modi) agree to a short recess. This was possibly Modi's concession to the need for a respite for Malhotra rather than for himself."  "Such was the energy of the man," the book adds. When contacted, Malhotra refused to comment.

Raghavan has brought these "details" of his SIT days in the chapter "Life After Retirement" which is followed by a chapter titled, "A Mediterranean Saga" that begins with his appointment as India's high commissioner to Cyprus in August 2017, five months after he was relieved from the SIT on his request.