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Sunday Sentiments

  • Satyameva Jayate

    Posted On January 27, 2005

    By Karan Thapar

    Sometimes I feel the only truth is that there's nothing simple about the truth. Justice Banerjee's interim report on the Godhra incident illustrates this very aptly. The press has shown how different parties have politicised its 'conclusions', but that's not all. Almost everything that has been said or written about it has been disputed or put into a different perspective

    Consider the following.  The Opposition claim Laloo Yadav picked Banerjee because his choice would guarantee a favourable outcome.  This is why he was chosen without consulting the Chief Justice of India.  Laloo, on the other hand, points out that Banerjee was one of the Supreme Court judges who denied him bail in the Fodder case.  So where does that leave us? 

    Then, the BJP insists the timing of the report, bang in the middle of the Bihar campaign, is deeply suspicious.  In response, the Congress initially maintained this was just a coincidence.  Reports cannot not be held up by elections.  But now The Hindu hasrevealed that, way back in December, when Justice Banerjee’s term was extended, he was told to submit an interim report by the 15th of January.  So does that allay suspicion or does it mean that Laloo Yadav, who must have known the Bihar campaign would be under way, ensured that the timing would suit him?  Once again, we don’t know. 

    Thirdly, it’s alleged that Banerjee submitted his report without questioning the Gujarat police or the Forensic Science Laboratory.  If true, that would be a serious lacuna.  For three days this question mark hung in the air.  Then, suddenly, Laloo Yadav announced that Banerjee had made several attempts to question the Gujarat police but the State government would not let him. The very next day The Indian Express revealed that three officers had been cleared to meet Banerjee.  Again, what do we make of this?

    Sadly, it only gets worse. Justice Banerjee accuses the Railways of casualness and failing to adhere to the norms of the accident manual.  His principal charge is that an initial inquiry ordered by the Commissioner of Railway Safety was abandoned when the State Government appointed its own.  On the surface, this seems inexplicable if not also damning.  But Digvijay Singh, Minister of State for Railways at the time, points out that Section 119 of the Railways Act requires that a judicial inquiry take precedence.  Now, surely, a former Supreme Court judge should have known this and yet he has criticised the Railways.  Tell me, who should we believe? 

    Claiming Godhra was an accident Justice Banerjee says it is inconceivable that Kar Sevaks armed with trishuls would allow themselves to be burnt without a murmur of protest.  Again, this stands to reason.  But Arun Jaitley points out that whilst the fire was raging a mob on the platform was pelting the coach with stones.  So, presumably, the passengers could not escape.  Jaitley adds that the trishuls were only four inches long and not six foot tridents.  Furthermore, the Kar Sevaks were mainly women and children.  Again, both sides have a point.  Also, who do we believe?

    Jaitley says the Gujarat police have details of when the conspiracy was hatched, where the petrol was obtained and how the coach was set alight.  He claims Justice Banerjee ignored this.  On the other hand, Banerjee presents a plausible case based on the sequence of events : first the smell, then the smoke, finally the fire.  He concludes the blaze could not have been caused by inflammable liquid poured inside the coach.  Again, both arguments seem credible. The problem is how do we decide. We know the facts but we don’t know what to make of them!

    Perhaps most intriguing are the two issues I have left to the last.  After a three month extension and almost three years after the incident itself, why do we need an interim report? Why couldn’t we wait for the final one?  For the life of me I can’t think of an answer.  But then nor can I answer another question : why is the BJP so upset with Banerjee for ‘proving’ Godhra was a terrible accident?  Why are they insisting it was sabotage or terrorism?  I would have thought they would be relieved.  Again, I can’t answer.

    So, now, can you dispute my conclusion?  There’s nothing simple about the truth. In fact, the deeper you dig the more bottomless it seems.  May be it’s easier to believe a lie.

    Yet our national slogan is Satyameva Jayate!


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