Nitish who repelled Hitler and Communal Forces in 2013, Looked the Other Way, or Almost, when the Godhra Mass Arson Took Place in 2002
Cartoon: India Today
Nitish Kumar was union rail minister in AtalBehari Vajpayee’s cabinet on February 27, 2002 when the Godhra mass arson took place. NDA I with Vajpayee and LK Avani at the help was in power. It is an incident that is etched in public memory, especially with the maniupulatedcolours given to the deaths of 59 persons, by burning in Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, specifically by the extreme and supremacist right.
The Godhra tragedy has been used as justification for the gory reprisal killings of 1926 Muslims in far-flung districts of Gujarat, eerie in their similarity of pattern. Orchestrated mob violence was let loose in 19 of Gujarat’s 25 districts. NarendaModi was chief minister of the state, then.
Nitish Kumar, now chief minister of Bihar –having just broken the ‘grand alliance’ (Mahagathbandhan) with the secular forces of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress—with the support of an over-eager BJP. Kumar, has never quite left the stains of the Godhra tragedy behind.
Accused of abdication of responsibility as union rail minister time and again in the past 15 years, Kumar has always carefully passed the buck. “As a railway minister in 2002 I was more responsible for railway safety and related issues than the law and order situation in Gujarat” has been his preferred refrain. Kumar sat comfortably with the NDA for 17 long years and broke this only when Modi was chosen as the prime ministerial candidate for the supremacist BJP in 2013. In 2002, Ram Vilas Paswan, another friend turned foe turned friend of the saffron party had resigned over the genocidal Gujarat carnage.
Railway accidents normally draw visits by the rail minister, even if the act may be dismissed as many as tokenisms. A tragedy of the kind Godhra was, with the potential of a communal fall-out falls in a class of its own.
The Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT), Crimes Against Humanity—Gujarat 2002, headed by the justice VR Krishna Iyer, PB Sawant and Hosbet Suresh, has a significant chapter on its Findings where the Role of the Central Government comes in for sharp examination and scrutiny.
Apart from commenting on the unsatisfactory role of the Vajpayee government, the CCT comments clearly on the abdication of responsibility by Nitish Kumar as union railway minister.
“1.8. The conduct of the railway minister, who rushes to the spot whenever a train accident takes place, failed in his duty to visit Godhra, to survey the situation for himself and to order an immediate inquiry into the cause of the fire.”
The Tribunal questions the reluctance of the union rail ministry to get to the bottom of the Godhra mass arson.
“…Questions about the fire in the railway compartment at Godhra still beg for an answer. Who pulled the chain? How did the fire occur? Surely this merited the urgent attention and immediate intervention of the railway minister? Yet, to this date, the minister has not visited Godhra. What explanation has he to offer for his utter inaction? “
The Judges say unequivocally that the conduct of the railway ministry is “shocking.”
“1.9.The conduct of the railway ministry related to the entire Godhra arson is shocking. On February 27, as reported in The Times of India (February 28), ShriNitish condemned the attack on the Sabarmati Express and asked the Gujarat government to take proper measures to ensure the safety of railway property and passengers. Shri Kumar, who spoke to the Gujarat chief minister on telephone in this regard, asked the state government to take appropriate measures to ensure the smooth and safe running of trains, from the capital without visiting the scene of the incident.
The Tribunal also comments on Kumar’s evasion further.
“1.10. However, in the six months that have followed, ShriNitish Kumar has been distancing his ministry from the Godhra carnage on the ground that what happened was not a ‘rail accident’ but a law and order issue. But the very fact that the Railways made speedy ex-gratia payments to the relatives of those killed and to those injured is proof that the ministry indeed treated Godhra as any other ‘accident’ with a difference: in many earlier rail accidents the ex-gratia payment has not necessarily been so prompt.
The Tribunal raises pertinent questions.
“1.11. In fact it was not until the media made specific inquiries that the internal Western railway reservation list of that day was made available. From this, it is not at all clear if all those killed were karsevaks. Reservations for coach S-6 were made in Lucknow and not Faizabad. The Gujarat government released the names of 39 of those who died. Nineteen of the 58 dead have yet to be identified. One of the passengers who suffered grievous injuries was a Muslim.”
Read here: What the Concerned Citizens Tribunal Said about the Role of the NDA I Government on the Godhra Tragedy