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No evidence anyone in Gujarat showed remorse during post-Godhra riots

By Rajiv Shah 
Former Gujarat DGP PGJ Nampoothari, who was emissary of the National Human Rights Commission during the Gujarat riots, monitoring the aftermath of the tragedy which befell the state in 2002, says that there’s nothing to suggest that the state administration acted in an impartial way during the riots.
He is a retired top cop, who is better known as a human rights activist. Indeed, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi wasn’t quite off the mark when he privately remarked with a sense of prerplexity about him to a senior IPS officer, “Who doesn’t know PGJ Nampoothiri?” Ex-director general of police (DGP) of Gujarat, who first attracted attention during his intensive investigations as CBI officer into the Harshad Mehta security scam in the early 1990s, Nampoothiri shot into fame as special rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following the Gujarat riots.
Between 2002 and 2007, Nampoothiri monitored and reported to the NHRC the manner in which the Gujarat riots were being investigated by a complacent state administration. He was also privy, first-hand, to the hurdles put up by the state administration in order to ensure that the riots accused went scot free.
“The remorse sought to be expressed by the Gujarat chief minister in a recent blog on the 2002 Gujarat riots is eyewash, and I can vouch for it”, he says, even as he seeks to relate one incident after another on the way the cases were handled. “The administration under Modi tried its level best to ensure that the riot cases never reached their logical conclusion. The political establishment sought to influence the police administration in every possible way”, he comments.
“Privately all cops admitted to me deliberate government complacency. But no top-cop dared speak out in the open, such was the fear. Senior IPS officers didn’t want them to be seen with me, lest they would be blacklisted. Efforts were made to compromise me. A top Modi emissary approached me, asking me to leave the NHRC job and work for Modi as advisor to put the state police in order”, a soft spoken Nompoothiri points out during an informal chat on a sunny Ahmedabad afternoon.
Aged 74, unassuming and straightforward, Nampoothiri, who retired from the IPS in 1998, and took over as NHRC rapporteur, an honorary job which he continued to hold on till 2007, it was the post-riots phase which seemed to agitate him. Currently living a retired life in his home state, Kerala, he was in Ahmedabad to chair a college seminar on child rights. “I’d thought I will not speak on anything but child rights here”, he says, smiling, with a copy of full text of the Modi blog, “Satyamev Jayate… Truth Alone Triumphs”, in his hand.
Written a day after an Ahmedabad metropolitan court declared that “there wasn’t enough evidence” to persecute Modi for his alleged participation in the riots, Nompoothiri decided to dish several instances to suggest how there wasn’t an iota of evidence, either, of repentance during or after the riots. “Grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony — mere words could not capture the absolute emptiness one felt on witnessing such inhumanity,” Modi wrote on December 27, 2013, terming the riots “mindless violence” for the first time in his life.
Namoothiri joined NHRC as special rapporteur in 1998 along with Gagan Sethi, a senior human rights activist, who heads the NGO Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedadad. “The administrative indifference towards the rioters was visible even during the early days of the riots”, Nampoothiri says. “NHRC chairperson justice JS Verma had come to Ahmedabad for an on-the-spot inquiry about the riots, and he was to go to Vadodara. He was already late, and suddenly, dozen-odd Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists appeared from nowhere. They created ruckus, banged at his car, yet tens of cops present there didn’t care to intervene. The driver was intelligent, and whisked us away. Justice Verma had his first-hand experience of the way the administration was behaving.”
Justice Verma went to Vadodara and Godhra. During his trip, he met Bilkis Bano at a refugee camp. She was one of the 35 persons who were attacked by rioters, leading to the death of 14. Pregnant, Bilkis was gangraped, and was abandoned – the rioters had assumed she was dead. During the interaction with Justice Verma, she named the persons who were responsible for the killings.
“The district administration appeared to be quite cooperative. It assured us of all the help. However, within six months I found, from my own sources, that the police had filed A Final report, meaning there wasn’t any evidence against the accused. The police report even said Bilkis had named some ‘reputed persons’, whose credentials could not be doubted! It was on NHRC’s intervention that the matter went to the CBI, something that the state administration tried its best to prevent by asking the local CID to investigate”, Nampoothiri says.
“The CID seemed to show such great eagerness that an official phoned me up early in the morning at 2.00 to arrange Bilkis to be taken the spot of the incident! Bilkis was rumoured to be in UP, and the CID fellows thought I knew Bilkis’ whereabouts. But for the NHRC’s decision to approach the Supreme Court, which ordered to take the case out of Gujarat, the guilty wouldn’t have been punished a decade later. The CBI did such a thorough job. It even named the state cops shielding the rioters”, he adds.
Suggesting that each of the two-dozen-odd reports he and Sethi submitted to the NHRC on the way the riots cases were being handled in Gujarat showed some or other administrative complacency, Nampoothiri insists, “Whether it was Bilkis Bano or Zahira Sheikh or other cases, the state government tried to see that none of the NHRC recommendations were implemented. I observed, non-cooperation with the NHRC remained hallmark of its behaviour till I was associated with it (2007).” He adds, “In case the the state government had followed NHRC at every step, the intensity of the riots would have reduced considerably.”
Concluding, Nampoothiri recalls, “The harried decision of the Gujarat government to appoint an inquiry commission to look into reasons behind the riots in March 2002 was itself meant to preempt the NHRC’s intervention. The administration supported those who organized dharnas and demonstrations against the NHRC. It remained indifferent when the NHRC’s effigies were burnt. Modi wanted to start his Gaurav Yatra to ‘celebrate’ the aura that he had built around himself during the riots as Hindu Hriday Samrat two months before he actually kicked it off in September 2002. He couldn’t do it only because of the NHRC’s intervention. I wonder if he was ever pained by the riots.”

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