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Ahmedabad/New Delhi: Senior police officer Sanjiv Bhatt's affidavit accusing Narendra Modi of instructing the state police brass to allow rioters to “teach a lesson” to the Muslims is the first incriminating eyewitness account of that controversial February 27, 2002 meeting to reach the courts. Haren Pandya, a Minister in the Modi government at that time, gave a similar account of the Chief Minister's remarks to a citizen's tribunal soon after the riots but was assassinated – allegedly by “jihadi” terrorists – before he could make a proper legal deposition.
Going by his affidavit, Mr. Bhatt, too, appears worried about the consequences of knowing too much. In his plea to the Supreme Court, he chronicles the lack of interest displayed by the court-appointed SIT in what he has to say, its systematic attempts to undermine his testimony by intimidating witnesses who have testified to his presence at the meeting, and the State government's refusal to provide him security despite his plea that the “deliberate leaking” of his testimony to the SIT had made him a marked man.
Mr. Bhatt's affidavit, filed in the Supreme Court following the SIT's probe into Zakia Jaffrey's complaint that the anti-Muslim riots were officially orchestrated, states that as Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence he had attended many meetings convened by the Chief Minister and other “high constitutional functionaries” before and after the February 27 meeting and therefore was privy to secret and classified information. He, however, was in no position to disclose the information unless required to do so under a “binding legal obligation.” It was because of this reason that he remained silent on the issue till he was asked to depose by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT probing the massacres.
Mr. Bhatt, however, expressed strong resentment over the functioning of the SIT and its “attempt to cover the issue of large conspiracy and the administrative complicity.”
He said that during his March 25 deposition, when he tried to bring up the issue of the “larger conspiracy and official orchestration” and the attempts to cover up the issues behind the riots, he faced “unconcealed hostility” from the members of the SIT.
He said he had given the names of some witnesses who could corroborate his presence in the meeting with the Chief Minister. “I was hopeful that this information would be gone into thoroughly by the SIT to unravel the true nature of events that transpired. However, the SIT has chosen to intimidate some of the witnesses and coerce them into refraining from stating the true facts” giving an impression that the SIT itself had become a party to the cover-up operations.
He said he had named K.D. Panth, an Assistant Intelligence Officer with the State Intelligence Bureau in 2002, who would substantiate his claim of being present at the February 27 meeting. But Mr. Panth later told him that he was summoned by the SIT on April 5, but was “virtually treated like an accused and was threatened with arrest and other dire consequences.” He believed that other witnesses named by him were also similarly coerced and threatened by the SIT. Mr. Bhatt said he had written to SIT chairman R.K. Raghavan about these matters on April 6.
Mr. Bhatt's affidavit states that the first time he was summoned by the SIT was in November, 2009, when he had provided it certain relevant information and documents including original floppy discs of phone call records of Godhra town and print outs of phone call records of some high ranking State functionaries from February 26 to 28.
He said he had also provided the SIT “verifiable details” regarding the “on-going cover-up operations” including the “contemporaneous efforts” made by the high officials of the State administration to undermine the proceedings before the court. He said he had “time and again” tried to bring these facts to the notice of the SIT but “they seem to be disinclined to follow up these important leads in the course of the investigation.”
The affidavit said, “given the overall demeanour of the SIT officials while dealing with the crucial aspects of the on-going investigation, I believe it is to be my painful duty to bring to the notice of this Hon'ble court that the SIT does not appear to be living up to the enormous trust reposed in it by the Supreme Court to conduct an impartial and thorough probe into the allegations of larger conspiracy and administrative complicity behind the Gujarat riots of 2002.”
He said he was again summoned by the SIT in March, this year, for deposition in connection with the Gulberg Society massacre as part of Ms. Jaffrey's petition before the Supreme Court. He said despite insisting that the subsequent course of the communal violence could be fully appreciated only in the light of the “directions” given by the Chief Minister on the night of February 27 meeting, he was told by the SIT that all these aspects could not be gone into as his statement was being recorded only in the context of the Gulberg Society case. He said it was only after he told investigators that the procedural constraints on their part defeated the very purpose of “ascertaining the existence of any large conspiracy or official orchestration” behind the 2002 riots, that the SIT agreed to record his statement on the controversial February 27 meeting with the Chief Minister.
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