The cross-examination of police officers and witnesses before the two-member Nanavati Commission probing the Godhra carnage is turning out to be a major embarrassment for Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his government.
When the S-6 compartment of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire on February 27, 2002, K C Bawa was a deputy superintendent of police with the Government Railway Police and headed the initial inquiry into the incident in which 59 people died.
His cross-examination before the Commission on June 29, 2004 was nothing less than sensational.
Despite S-6 being a reserved compartment, inexplicably a list of the deceased was never released.
This, however, did not stop the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and other adherents of the Sangh Parivar from claiming that the deceased were Ram bhakts returning from Ayodhya, considered the birthplace of Lord Ram.
But going by what Bawa had to say, the inquiry into the most sensational case in recent times was tardy, inefficient and lacked commitment.
Bawa told the Commission that the panchanama was delayed by almost two months, dead bodies were not sent for advanced forensic tests and photographs of the bodies were not taken.
Significantly, he told the Commission that there was no pre-planned conspiracy to set fire to the S-6 bogie and that the incident was the fallout of a clash between a tea vendor and kar sevaks.
Secondly, his report said there was no trace of petroleum hydrocarbon in the 550 kilograms of samples picked up from the site of the carnage.
However, the first forensic lab report found traces of petroleum hydrocarbon in the S-6 coach.
Bawa did not have convincing answers to some questions.
For example, he said the fire started from the floor of the coach but could not explain why some people's faces and chests were burnt.
He confessed in court that he did not investigate certain aspects like how the coach got burnt and whether any of the passengers discovered any inflammable material being brought aboard the train during the journey from Ayodhya to Godhra.
He ruled out the involvement of foreign agencies in the incident.
His statement cast a shadow over the investigation, which is even now trying to find out if Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence had a role in the incident.
Bawa's statements may have adverse political consequences for the BJP because they contradict the perception that the BJP government in Gujarat is a 'strong one capable of protecting and pursuing the interest of Hindus.'
But state police officers are not perturbed.
"Whatever Bawa said is the ardh satya, just the first part of the story," said a senior police officer. "The latter part will prove the police investigation is correct."
Except for the part about 'foreign agencies,' Bawa's statements do not negate the claims made by the Gujarat police subsequently, they say.
After he retired, more than seven additional chargesheets were to support the charges placed before the trial court.
Special Inspector General of Police (Baroda Range) Rakesh Asthana, who had extensive experience in the Central Bureau of Investigation, took over the Godhra carnage investigation. He was assisted by Deputy Superintendent of Police Noel Parmar.
When told to appear before the Nanavati Commission, Parmar begged off, pleading that he should not be summoned since he has not filed any affidavit or plea before the Commission.
If Parmar does appear before the Commission and highlights the 'latter half of the Godhra story,' it might help the BJP contain the political fallout of Bawa's statements.
But the state government believes that 'premature' cross-examination of a senior officer like Parmar at this stage could end up helping the accused defend themselves when the case comes up for trial.
However, the Commission has conveyed to Parmar over the telephone that it has not accepted his plea to stay away.
The consolation is that the political effect of Bawa's statements would be diluted once other facts pertaining to the investigation emerge, a senior BJP leader said.
Before Bawa, then police chief of the district Raju Bhargava had been cross-examined. He created a stir by saying, 'There was no waiting mob (to set fire to the train).'
According to sources in Gandhinagar. Modi has asked his supporters to contain the fallout of the cross-examination and its media coverage.
Lawyer and BJP leader Vijay Patel and state Law Minister Ashok Bhatt are part of a team constituted to control the damage caused by Bawa and Bhargava's depositions before the Nanavati Commission.
Since Bawa's statement cannot be dismissed outright, the BJP's legal brains are looking for ways to present the "correct picture before concerned Hindus."
Notably, some vital questions still remained unanswered.
Even though investigators know how the coach was burnt and who the executors of the crime are, they do not know the master conspirator operating from behind the scenes.
Secondly, they do not have an answer to why the S-6 coach was singled out and burnt.