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Exclusive: Arun Jaitley on Godhra and Modi

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 16:40 IST
Firemen try to put out a fire on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, Gujarat February 27, 2002. Inset: Arun Jaitley

Arun Jaitley, one of the BJP's seniormost leaders and a friend of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, discusses the 2002 Gujarat riots in an exclusive conversation with's Sheela Bhatt.

The word Godhra has many connotations since February 27, 2002 when the S-6 compartment of the Sabarmati Express was burnt down by a communal mob killing 59 Hindus, mostly kar sevaks, who were returning from Ayodhya.

The gruesome killings provoked a disproportionate and savage response in Gujarat. The violence was so bloody that it shook India and created a benchmark in India's communal history.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's administration failed to stop the violence nor could it save the lives of hundreds of Muslims, who faced the murderous aggression of the majority community following the Godhra incident.

It severely tarnished the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government-led by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre.

Modi remains tainted for his communal political plank and Gujarati Muslims have been left permanently traumatised with memories of the 2002 riots.

BJP leaders, particularly Modi, have rarely spoken on the Gujarat riots. After achieving spectacular success in developing Gujarat, Modi has, now and then, tried to correct the nuances of his politics that attracts Hindus, but the forces opposed to it have kept a tight watch on him to ensure that without political, social and human reconciliation vis-a-vis the Muslims and a request for forgiveness, he cannot be viewed kindly.

The tussle between the BJP and Modi on one side and the victims, their supporters and secular voices on other side, is uninterruptedly on, inside and outside the courtrooms. What is the BJP's stand on Modi? How does the party view the Gujarat riots now?

Arun Jaitley, one of the party's seniormost leaders and a friend of Narendra Modi, took two questions on the sensitive issue in his exclusive conversation with Sheela Bhatt.

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'There was huge, huge, over-reaction'

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 16:40 IST
Angry crowds went on a rampage in Ahmedabad, killing Muslims, in reprisal for the Godhra incident'

Ten years after Godhra, when you look back, do you see that your party has been dented badly by the event?

I don't think so. We have won many elections after it. In terms of popular support, the answer is no. Nobody likes communal tension of this kind. There is a mature way to deal with it in society.

As far as Godhra is concerned, there is little doubt that the compartment S-6 with the kar sevaks was set alight and there was huge, huge, over-reaction against it.

Obviously, nobody can justify any form of violence against any individuals, irrespective of its community or religion. It is regrettable that Gujarat has come a long way out of it, but some people haven't.

There is a greater amount of inter-community communication in the state, there is peace in the last ten years. It's a huge achievement.

There is a huge developmental impetus in the state. The state is doing extremely well. Notwithstanding that, some people are keen to see that you keep reviving the memories. Obviously, there is a small section which is concentrating on it.

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'The time has come to close the matter'

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 16:40 IST
A protest against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on April 13, 2002

As far as we are concerned, the state government and the judiciary has intervened. They have various mechanisms to deal with it.

People responsible for the violence in Godhra and post-Godhra are being prosecuted and sentenced. The law will take its own course.

Some people have been personally interested in targeting Narendra Modi.

You had three phases of investigation. You had the Gujarat police, you had the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court, comprising officers of the Gujarat police, then, you had another SIT appointed by the Supreme Court comprising former officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the role of the government and others.

All that appears in media reports says that there has been no evidence against him (Modi). Therefore, I think, the time has come to close the matter.

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'Somebody who is not responsible can't be held responsible'

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 16:40 IST
Firefighters try to extinguish a burning building set on fire by rioters in Ahmedabad on May 10, 2002

For the greater good of India, don't you think there should some 'command and control' link established to fix responsibility?

When thousands of people die, the political leaders' responsibility needs to be fixed to make them accountable. Right?

If the political person has participated in the activity or if he has contributed to it, whether directly or vicariously has been responsible for it, then he should be held responsible.

But merely because somebody is trying to manufacture evidence against somebody you can't accept it.

Somebody who is not responsible can't be held responsible.