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Of Gujarat riots, Modi and the babus

Modi at Gaurav Yatra
By Rajiv Shah
Early days of Gujarat riots are again back in focus. Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt recently named officials who were present in the controversial meeting on February 27, 2002, where, according to Bhatt, chief minister Narendra Modi asked those present to allow the Hindus to vent their anger. Bhatt named some IPS officers, and also a few IAS officials who were present in the meeting. The IAS officials are acting chief secretary Swarnakanta Verma, additional chief secretary (home) Ashok Narayan, Modi’s principal secretary PK Misra and Modi’s secretary Anil Mukim.
While two of these IAS officials – Verma and Narayan – live a retired life, Misra is an important person in the powerdom, serving the post-retirement assignment as chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC). The fourth one, Mukim, is on deputation to Delhi, working as chief vigilance officer with Hudco. Of all three, one official whose behaviour disturbed me most during those days was Misra.
I would rate Misra highly before the riots. Call it my naivete, I would always respect any babu who had a bit of scholar in him. Misra had written a book on agriculture, basically a research work, Agricultural Risk Insurance and Income, published from UK in 1996. He even gave it to me to read. I found it interesting. However, the newsperson in me made me desist from reporting it. Before Modi came to power, as state agriculture secretary, Misra would informally tell me how corrupt the system had become. "Find out, and you will get to know more," he once told me.
It was February 28, 2002. My colleagues in Ahmedabad were already out, covering some of the worst communal carnages that were to happen – Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patia. I reached office early after "examining" two small incidents. Waqf Board and Gujarat Minorities Finance Corporation offices in Old Sachivalaya were set on fire. The fire was extinguished immediately. There was no casualty. On reaching office, I began to find out from whomever I could what was happening.
Opposition leader Amarsinh Chaudhury told me that he had "unconfirmed" reports that Gulbarg Society had been attacked and the house in which former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri lived was set on fire. There were several casualties. A few minutes later, he added that he had "learnt" Jafri was killed. I stood up to leave for Sachivalaya, and Chaudhury rang me up to say, "It’s confirmed. Jafri is killed. His hands were chopped off. And, he was burnt alive." I was aghast. I rushed to the CM office, less than a kilometer from my office.
The first thing I did was to meet Modi’s secretary Mukim. The activist in me appeared to resurface. I asked Mukim, who sat alone in his chamber, "Why don’t you ask the CM to go on air and appeal for peace? The rioters would understand if he appeals, as they know him. Gulbarg Society has been attacked. Ahsan Jafri has been burnt alive. There is looting and arson all over." His response was something like, "sure, sure, let me see" type. I thought, he was too junior to advise his boss. I rushed out and just banged into Misra’s room.
I repeated the same words to Misra, who was sitting pretty in his chamber, smiling. I didn’t like that smile. It was a nauseating response. "Is that so?," he asked me looking over his glasses. I told him what Amarsinh had told me. I also told him that being an opposition leader Amarsinh need not be believed, and that he should make independent confirmation from the city policy commissioner. It was very serious. There was looting and arson all around. Jafri had been brutally murdered. Misra looked at me skeptically. I can never forget what he told me next: "You can quote me, if you want, Rajiv. Nothing of the sort has happened. The situation in Ahmedabad is absolutely peaceful and normal!"
The other two officials Bhatt mentioned were Swarnakanta Verma and Ashok Narayan. As additional chief secretary, family welfare, Verma had stood firm in the pre-Modi days against a bill that was being planned to penalize those who had more than two children. I found in her a person with clear perceptions. I didn’t meet her during the riots, as I thought she didn’t matter. I was right. A couple of years later, before she retired, I asked her, informally, what happened at the controversial meeting on February 27.
"Arre Rajivbhai," Verma told me. "I was sitting in the chief secretary’s chamber on that day. I did not know anything about the burning of S-6 coach at Godhra till late afternoon. Nobody cared to report to me about the incident. When I came to know of it, it was already too late. Yet, I asked the office to prepare my car. I rushed to the CM’s residence. I met him. I told him that I was sorry, but nobody had informed me. Now I was available for his orders. The CM told me not to worry, and I returned to my office…"
During those days Ashok Narayan would never appeal me. As head of the home department, I always used to think, he wasn’t doing enough. A quiet person, a passionate singer and the author of a book on Bhagwat Geeta, later I found him to be a sensitive person.
It was the second half of 2002. Modi had declared polls, and had begun his Gaurav Yatra. He had already dissolved the state assembly. The Election Commission sent across its early objections to the Gaurav Yatra, yet Modi didn’t care and continued with it.
One of these days, Ashok Narayan was just back from Modi’s residence. Someone had told me he had a tiff with Modi on Gaurav Yatra. I met Narayan. He was fuming. I asked what had happened. "Nothing, Rajiv. It was regarding Gaurav Yatra. Modi asked me whether I was with him or not. I told him, I was not under him but under the Election Commission. I have already ordered the Gaurav Yatra to stop." So, could I quote him that he was not under Modi? "Of course, you can. I am not under Modi till the polls are over. Quote me," he declared.
Narayan was tipped to be Gujarat’s chief secretary. He was refused the chance. A person junior to him was given the post, while Naryan was pushed to the state vigilance commission. For nearly five years he remained there, he fought to make the vigilance commission an effective body with semi-judicial powers, but to no avail. "It's a toothless body. They don’t give us any powers. What’s the use of these inquiries?," he told me once.
Years later, I was told by a friend how he had approached Narayan at midnight during the riots to stop a frenzied crowd from attacking Chhotaudepur in Vadodara district. "I was pleasantly surprised. In the wee hours next day, jawans from the rapid action force, which was there to control the riots, had already reached Chhotaudepur. If that had not happened, the town would have suffered one of the worst carnages," this person told me.
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https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/true-lies/of-gujarat-riots-modi-and-the-babus/

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