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January 18, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Return to Jai Srikrishna

The Sonia Congress plus Pawar Congress coalition in Maharashtra just couldn't resist the temptation. Probably egged on by its Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, the state government has decided to rake up the Srikrishna Commission report (on the Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993) that had been buried by the earlier Shiv Sena-BJP government.

It doesn't require genius to record that what Bhujbal is really targeting is to explore whether that report of a Bombay high court judge can be used as a peg on which to arrest Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, his ex-boss turned enemy number one.

Bhujbal is obviously basing his hope (dream?) on the Srikrishna report's highly publicised observation that 'like a veteran general, Balasaheb (Thackeray) commanded his Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organizing attacks against Muslims.'

Now Bhujbal belongs to the mali (gardener) caste and his genes, if not his brains, tell him that, like a flower, even a thorn needs to be plucked off carefully, without haste. And so his government has, instead of rushing into FIRs and chargesheets, decided to first refer the Srikrishna report to 'the investigating agencies,' hoping that the Mumbai police will find something so damaging as to blow Thackeray straight to the jail. Maybe that was the reason why the state's incumbent director general of police, Arvind Inamdar, known for his ability and integrity, was shunted out of office the other day without any apparent cause.

The truth may well be that no DGP --- unless he is a sycophant and a dunce --- will find in the Srikrishna document any consistent and clinching evidence to convict Thackeray. What he will find, instead, is a plethora of inaccuracies and inconsistencies. And, shockingly, he will find that some of the really guilty ones are those who will not be allowed to be even touched by Bhujbal & Co.

Let's first take those on whom the axe of guilt could well be put.

* In his deposition to the Srikrishna Commission, Srikant Bapat, the Mumbai police commissioner at the time of the riots, said, 'During a meeting at the chief minister's residence, Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had questioned why the police should interfere if the Hindus and Muslims were fighting amongst each other. I politely told him that the police are expected to maintain law and order and cannot remain mute spectators.' With that deposition, Congressman Azad needs to be promptly examined by Congressman Bhujbal's 'investigating agencies' and hauled up for wanting to abet riotous acts.

* Para 9 of volume I of the Srikrishna report deals with the alleged ineffectiveness of the army. The report mentions the contradictions within the then political leadership of the governing (Congress) party. The newspaper reports of that time also commented on the in-fighting within the party resulting in the army not being called out in time and not being given clear-cut instructions. Will Bhujbal now do what Srikrishna did not: hold the politicians concerned guilty of dereliction of duty?

* Another count on which the politicians in power then should be held guilty is their refusal, according to the Commission, to grant sanction to the Mumbai police to legally prosecute those newspapers against whom the police had registered offences under Section 153 A of the Indian Penal Code.

Listing out all the errors and contradictions in the two volumes of the Srikrishna report could consume pages. A few instances should suffice.

In para 4.2 of volume I, Justice Srikrishna talks about a gathering of 155 people at 0010 hours (on December 6, 1992) at Ambedkar Garden, Charni Road, and trouble near Bharat Café at Chembur at 0045 hours the same day. However, the Ambedkar Garden is actually at Chembur, not at Charni Road, and the Bharat Café is at Ghatkopar, not Chembur. Similarly, at para 4.13, the honourable justice records that there was trouble at Kala Killa, Chembur, at 2115 hours (on December 6) In para 4.8 however, the time mentioned by him is 1640 hours; and Kala Killa, besides, is in Dharavi, not Chembur.

Take the inconsistency between the contents of volume I and volume II of the Srikrishna document. In para 10 of volume I, the Commission records that 'A taxi in which two Muslims were travelling was set on fire in Pratiksha Nagar, Antop Hill jurisdiction, resulting in the two Muslims being burnt alive.' However, in volume II --- which, inter alia, gives details of selected police stations --- there is no mention of such an incident with respect to the Antop Hill police station. The closest one gets is where it talks of about three (not two) Muslims being burnt in a Maruti car (not a taxi) on January 14, 1993 (not January 12).

Come to the contradictions, confusing and confounding. Among the many in the report, perhaps the most conspicuous is regarding the attitude of the Mumbai police. Thus, in para 10 of volume I, the Commission records that 'There was no serious combing operation carried out even in cases where private firing was suspected. The excuse was that soon after the occurrence of the suspected private firing the police personnel on hand was small and by the time their strength had been augmented and combing was carried out it was too late to apprehend miscreants or unearth fire-arms.

'Consequently, though the police claim there were so many instances of private firing, some even from sophisticated fire-arms, they have not been able to seize any but one country made pistol.' And what, pray, had Justice Srikrishna said in para 4? Here's what: 'The police were hopelessly outnumbered as the strength of the police staff was inadequate by about 30% to 35% even to handle day to day problems. A fortiori it was hopelessly inadequate to handle extraordinary situations which arose during December 1992 and January 1993.'

Incidentally, with respect to an operation launched in January 1993 by the Mumbai police's special squad against suspected terrorists holed up in a known Muslim locality, Srikant Bapat, the city's police commissioner, had stated in his affidavit before the Commission that the police found four empties of AK47, one slug of AK-47, two live cartridges of AK-47, one empty 7.62 SLR and two empties of 9mm pistols. Justice Srikrishna just didn't believe the police commissioner--- Jai Srikrishna!

Now see a blend of bias and contradiction in regard to the Mumbai police. In para 6 of volume I, the Commission records that, 'That there was a general bias against the Muslims in the minds of the average policeman which was evident in the way they dealt with the Muslims, is accepted by the officer of the of the rank of Additional Commissioner V N Deshmukh.' This charge of bias is on the basis of one police officer whose political views on the BJP and Shiv Sena were known and rigid. But the contrary view known to have been given by four very high-ranking police officers was not taken cognisance of by the Commission. Why?

And see how foggy the learned judge had become while writing his report. In para 4 of volume I, he wrote, 'Media had criticised the police for having used unnecessary and excessive fire power, going far as to suggest that Muslims were intentionally targeted and selectively killed. This refrain was repeated by political leaders and ministers, past and current. The explanation of the commissioner of police that the aggressive and violent mobs in the initial stages comprised Muslims and, therefore, Muslim casualties were higher does not appear to be as far-fetched as it has been made out by Muslims, nor can it be dismissed offhand.'

In the very next paragraph, the judge recorded that, 'Considering it from all aspects, the Commission is not inclined to give serious credence to the theory that disproportionately large number of Muslim deaths in December 1992 was necessarily indicative of an attempt on the part of the police to target and liquidate Muslims because of bias.' So what is the truth, milord?

Consider his treatment of the Radhabai Chawl tragedy --- the major episode of that December 1992 aftermath. In para 11 of volume I, he records that, 'During the wee hours of 8th January 1993, at about 0030 hours, some of the Hindu residences in a chawl popularly known as Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari jurisdiction were locked from outside and set on fire by miscreants. One male and five female members of a Hindu family and their neighbours were charred to death and three other Hindus sustained serious burn injuries. One of the victims was a handicapped girl. This incident was sensationalised by the media by giving exaggerated and provoking reports.'

Now this was the incident that was horrifying, gruesome and provoked the maximum anger of the Hindu community. Yet, Justice Srikrishna did not find angry adjectives to label the incident.

Rather, he chose to minimise its gravity by blaming some Marathi newspapers for blowing it out of proportion, and by dismissing the whole event in just a quarter of a page in volume II of his report. But an incident in a Muslim locality where the police succeeded in dispersing the unruly crowds in four minutes occupies two pages of his report; he goes two better in the holed-up terrorists incident where nine Muslims were killed and 78 Muslims were captured --- over four pages are devoted to that!

Consider, again, the Commission's contrasting disposition towards the writings in two Marathi newspapers upholding the Hindutva viewpoint and those in the Urdu newspapers. Since the learned judge could not read/comprehend Marathi, he got those writings translated for his review. But he refused the Shiv Sena's request that he do the same for Urdu newspapers though his ignorance of that language of the Muslims was as bad if not worse than that of Marathi. Morever, he chided the Bombay police for not having staff who kept an eye on the contents of the Urdu press.

Finally, consider his sweeping comments on the Hindu-Muslim issue and Jinnah's two-nation theory without discussing it with anyone; and there was his verdict that the cry for the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Babri dispute, the Rath Yatra et al being 'the distant thunderclaps portending the storm to come.'

The BJP had wanted to put forward its views on the subject before the Commission. It had even obtained a date for Ram Naik, a very senior leader of the party, to depose before the Commission. However, the Commission cancelled the deposition saying it was not going to deal with the subject!

It is to the same honourable man's report that Chhagan Bhujbal & Co have now chosen to return, portending, perhaps, another communal storm, if only the new DGP is suppliant enough to oblige. Shall we therefore say "Hey Ram" or "Jai Srikrishna"?

Arvind Lavakare

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