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The Rediff Interview/Amit Shah

February 27, 2003

As Gujarat's minister of state for home Amit Shah (photograph below left) says God has been "kind to bestow upon him" the opportunity to pursue those who are guilty of the Godhra carnage.

A confidante of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Shah was an office bearer of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad between 1984 and 1986.

In an exclusive interview to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, he spoke about the investigation into the Godhra murders.

The arrest of Godhra-based religious leader Maulana Hussain Umarji is quite a surprise in the Godhra investigation. It has taken the police almost a year to come up with one more 'mastermind' of the case. The Opposition parties and many legal experts don't justify the invoking of POTA at this stage.

People may not justify it because they don't have all the facts before them. Since the investigation of the case is going on, I can't share much information. One of the accused Zabir Bin Yamin Behra has confessed in open court that Godhra is not the result of an accident or provocation but it was a cold-blooded conspiracy.

He also said Maulvi Umarji and Haji Bilal were two of the main conspirators. When he confessed this in an open court, the Godhra carnage became a case of organised crime. The primary requirement to invoke POTA was fulfilled. But at that time we still believed POTA should be invoked with patience since the lives of many of the accused is involved.

On the basis of Behra's statement, the police arrested the Maulvi. During his interrogation many new facts came before us. In view of those facts if we don't invoke POTA than we should be termed bigger culprits than the Maulvi!

Since the case is still under investigation I am not in a position to reveal more at this stage but I would surely share one fact. The most serious fact that we came across during the Maulvi's interrogation was that he was receiving large sums of hawala money from abroad through cheques and cash since the last six years. He didn't have any record of this money.

He is a leader of the Tabligh-e-Jamat and a religious leader of the Ghanchi Muslims of Godhra. He was illegally sending this black money from Godhra to some 300 Muslim organisations in 14 states of India. He has also confessed that this money has not only been spent on spreading the message of Islam or in repairing old masjids or in Islamic education. It has also been used in anti-national activities. After the Maulvi's confessions this case becomes most fit for POTA.

Are you convinced that the Godhra carnage was a pre-planned conspiracy?

On the basis of evidence, I am convinced this was a pre-planned crime. We are looking out for one more accused who is crucial. Once he is caught, the Godhra mystery will be solved.

What could be the possible role of Pakistan's ISI behind the Godhra carnage?

Four people who had migrated from Godhra to Karachi in 1947 have been traced. These residents of Karachi are reportedly connected to Dawood Ibrahim's network and possibly with the ISI. These Pakistani nationals could be connected with the Godhra investigation.

I am not in a position to say that Pakistan is behind the horrendous act but our investigation is heading in that direction. The investigation is speedy and in the right direction.

What was the motivational factor behind the Godhra carnage?

I don't think the Tabligh-e-Jamat is an innocent religious organisation as it apparently appears. They have a well-organised plan to isolate the Muslim community from mainstream India. What they ask from the Muslim families looks harmless but it leads the community to isolation.

They would ask women to wear burkhas and men to grow beards. They would insist they should not keep a moustache. Then they would say wear caps. Once this is accepted by any family, they would ask them not to listen to television and radio. Then, the maulvis would ask the parents to send their children to madarssas only. They would only talk about Islam.

All these are innocent suggestions but it detaches the family from the mainstream. In the long term it will harm the country. No community should get isolated from the mainstream.

How is the Tabligh-e-Jamat connected to the Godhra carnage?

Maulvi Umarji, the prime accused in the Godhra carnage, is a leader of the Tabligh-e-Jamat.

Not as a minister but as a person I believe the Jamat's explicit aim is to spread the values of Islam. But they have a hidden agenda of isolating the Muslim community from the mainstream of India. I repeat, these are my personal views. The Maulvi is an important leader of the Muslim community.

Are you satisfied with the police investigation where the police have changed their theories thrice?

Initially, the situation was chaotic. The police was busy in maintaining law and order. Under those chaotic situation many arrests were made. The media was also too eager to know the fact of the matter. They highlighted the case and projected some of them as the masterminds of Godhra. Those who operated on the ground were arrested first like Haji Bilal.

In the second stage, we have arrested those who had planned the operation. In the third stage, we will arrest those culprits who provided the motive.

Did Maulvi Umarji provide motivation to the gang who burnt the carriage on the Sabarmati Express? Is he the real brain who thought of torching the train compartment as alleged by the police?

I personally believe there must be someone who must have asked Maulvi to execute such an act. I can't say much on this because the police is still continuing with the investigation. One should only speak on the basis of facts. Let us wait.

Do you agree that the accused like Razzak Kurkur and Behera who executed the plan did it for money? Most of the accused in the Godhra case are uneducated and poor. Some believe the communal angle was absent in their case.

I don't know who told you such things. If I gave Razzak Kurkur Rs 5 crore, would he attack a masjid? I am just giving an example. If the answer is positive, I don't have anything to say. Would all the accused in the Godhra event, attack a bogey of Hajis as they attacked the karsevaks?

Some critics of the government have observed the way the investigation is going on, it will be of advantage to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

You may find the fallout of Godhra as 'advantage for the BJP' because our opponents are not capable of judging the event with a neutral eye. If the Congress would have taken a stand similar to the BJP, Godhra would not have been beneficial to the BJP. The Congress took a stand on the basis of its policy of Muslim appeasement and that has helped the BJP. If the Congress had taken a tough stand like we took the investigations would not have helped the BJP.

You are a hardliner of the party, a former Vishwa Hindu Parishad man. Why shouldn't the defenders think that behind the police investigation your political instinct might be at work?

When any party fights an election it presents an agenda before the public which is debated. The public gives a mandate on the basis of that agenda. The same agenda gets converted to the agenda of the government when the party gets elected. The 20-point programme of the Indian government was nothing but the election agenda of the Indira Gandhi-led Congress.

Now that we are in power our party agenda becomes the agenda of the Gujarat government which is led by Modi.

In that case your party's Hindutva agenda can be reflected in the investigation.

We don't do the investigation. It is done by police officers. We don't interfere in the investigation. Most important is that the accused are punished only on the basis of evidence. Another fact is that in this country, the media is so independent that you just can't hide anything.

One year later, what do you feel when you look back at the Godhra?

My wish to punish the guilty is as intense as it was on day one. I am thankful to God for giving me a big opportunity because this case falls in my department. I will try my level best to see that the real culprits get punishment from the court. Last year as a party worker I read about Godhra and now I know the facts because I am a minister. The facts are more scary than I had imagined.

Don't you think the Muslims of the Signal Falia area in Godhra are different, isolated and an exception if compared to the mild Gujarati Khojas and Bohras?

I would say the Muslims of Signal Falia are more fundamentalist! There are many instances in the recent past which have been as brutal as Godhra.

What kind of people were behind those who torched the S6 compartment?

They may not have imagined these repercussions. In similar cases of communal carnage in the past, the accused have been acquitted in Gujarat. But after the Godhra event, we are determined to teach the culprits such a lesson that they will not dare to do such a horrendous act again in the next 50 years.

Also read:

The Gujarat Riots: One year later

The Rediff Interviews

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