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'Godhra never grew out of its image'

Last updated on: January 18, 2005 08:22 IST

The Justice U C Banerjee Committee, constituted following a Union Cabinet decision to inquire into certain aspects of the incident on the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express at Godhra, Gujarat, on February 27, 2002, has submitted its interim report.

According to the report, it was an accident that led to the fire in the train's S-6 coach, which killed 59 people and triggered riots in the state.

The report has led to allegations of political interference.

The chief investigating officer in the case, Inspector Noel Parmar, said that a "terrorist link" had emerged during his investigations.

Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt spoke to Rajendra Patel, who was the Congress legislator from Godhra when the incident took place, to hear his version.

"If you ask me my preference I would not like to react at all on the Justice Banerjee report or on the event itself, because as a resident of Godhra I feel Godhra has suffered immensely.

Godhra's growth has been stunted because the incident is just not going away from headlines.

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You see some movement in the market only because it is a district headquarter, but there has been no development whatsoever in Godhra since that carnage.

I have a few points to elaborate. When the incident happened it created such a huge reaction that police had to arrest whoever they could lay their hands on.

Some people had gone to the police station for some work or to file a complaint. Even they were arrested. None of the arrested person is a hardened criminal. Most of them are people who thrive on railway robberies or petty thefts.

For the first few days there was no professional investigation to catch the real culprits. There was only a panicky reaction to show the number of arrests to impress upon the media and the Hindu society that the government had captured many people.

Another important factor is that criminals never commit crime in their own area.

Why would the Ghanchis of Godhra, who have, according to police reports, participated in a conspiracy and committed a heinous crime, commit it right in front of their residential colony?

Signal Falia [where the incident took place] is a peculiar area where people gather in no time. So, the presence of Ghanchis at the platform or outside the S-6 compartment doesn't prove that they burnt the train.

We all know that railway compartments cannot be locked from outside. They can only be locked from inside. Only when they are parked in yards are they locked from outside.

Two years back we argued that it was not possible to burn the compartment from outside.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi twisted the Godhra incident. I was present when the public showered abuses on Modi when he visited the site and the S-6 compartment after a few hours.

People shouted in anger: 'Narendra Modi murdabad.'

A government officer, who was close to Modi and was present on the spot, told me, 'Sir, after 48 hours the same public will cheer him and they will say, 'Narendra Modi zindabad.' How true!

On that day, a harassed man was struggling to get the dead body of his wife. He belonged to Dahod. His wife used to travel everyday from Dahod to Godhra.

A member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad who was wearing safari suit told that grieving husband, 'Now we are the owners of these dead bodies. Soon we will add few more zeroes to the death toll.'

I'll never forget that man."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi