Nanavati panel: Sweeping clean chit

The clean chit given by the GT Nanavati-AH Mehta Commission to the Gujarat government led by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi over the 2002 communal riots in the state has not come as a surprise. Over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, are estimated to have been killed in the riots. It is rare that commissions find or report actionable lapses and offences of commission or omission against governments when they hold enquiries into major upheavals or riots. The reports often become irrelevant because they are presented many years after the events have taken place. Governments withhold them also sometimes for years after they are submitted. The Nanavati-Mehta Commission’s report has come 17 years after the 2002 riots and it may not provoke any discussion, especially because politics has changed much since then and Modi is now prime minister with a strong national mandate and support. 

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court had already exonerated Modi and his government of charges of complicity and instigation of the riots. The absolution has been judicially accepted too. Two main charges against Modi were that he had instructed the police at a meeting of senior police officers to ‘’allow the Hindus to vent anger against the Muslims’’ and had posted two ministers at the police control room during the violence, which constrained its functioning. These were rejected by the SIT. But the SC’s amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran disagreed with the SIT’s view and told the court that Modi could be prosecuted for various offences during the riots including “promoting hatred among different groups’’. The court rejected the amicus curiae’s view, and the matter ended there in the legal sense. The Commission’s report supports that and does not add much to it. 

But the sweeping clearance given by the panel to the government and its conclusion that no organisation or party was involved in the riots and there was no orchestrated violence, detracts from its credibility. A former BJP minister, Maya Kodnani, officials and political leaders have been convicted by the courts for their role in the riots. Like the SIT, the Commission also rejected as unreliable testimonies of three former Gujarat police officers about the role of Modi and others in the riots. But the fact remains that its conclusion that “there is no evidence to show that these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abated (sic) by any minister of the state,” is very much at odds with the conclusions of many fact-finding teams, impartial individuals, independent groups and journalists who investigated the riots and found out that some members of the government and its officers were complicit in the violence. 

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