On 6 October 2018, some excerpts of an upcoming book of Lt. General (Retd.) Zameeruddin Shah, “The Sarkari Mussalman” were published which claimed that when riots broke out in Gujarat in February 2002 following the carnage of Sabarmati Express train where pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive, the Gujarat government led by Narendra Modi failed to provide immediate transport to the Army, thereby delaying Army deployment in the riot-affected state.
As per the reports, Lt. Gen Shah has claimed that he met Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, with the then defence minister George Fernandes at 2 am in Ahmedabad on the intervening night of 28th February and 1st March. The Sabarmati Express was set on fire killing 59 people on 27th February 2002 following which the state was engulfed in one of the worst communal riots in the history of Gujarat.
Lt. Gen. Shah claims that the “3,000 troops had landed at the Ahmedabad airfield at 7 am on 1st March but had to wait for a day before the Gujarat administration provided transport.” He says since the crucial time was lost, it led to more deaths in the state. Shah further writes that
Upon arriving at the “dark and deserted” Ahmedabad airfield, he enquired: “Where are the vehicles and other logistic support we had been promised?” He learnt that the state government was still “making the necessary arrangements”.
“The crucial periods was the night of 28th February and the 1st of March. This is when the maximum damage was done. I met the chief minister at 2 am on the 1st morning. The troops sat on the airfield all through the 1st of March and we got the transport only on the 2nd of March. By then the mayhem had already been done.”
He claims that had Modi government would have provided necessary logistical support, the damage and loss to life would have been contained.
“What the police couldn’t do in six days we did in 48 hours despite being six times smaller in size than them. We finished the operation in 48 hours on the 4th of March but it could have been finished on the 2nd of March itself had we not lost those crucial hours.”
He then claims that at such a crucial time, the arrangement of transport for Army troops could have been done faster. He even adds that the police were “dumb bystanders” while the “mob was setting fire on streets and houses”.
They were taking “no action” to prevent the “mayhem” that was being done.
“I did see a lot of MLAs from the majority community sitting at the police stations. They had no business to be there. Whenever we used to tell the police to impose the curfew, they never did so in the minority areas. So the minorities were always surrounded by the mobs. It was a totally parochial and biased handling,”
Following the publication of this news, it was widely shared by people over social media. The truth, however, seems far from these claims.
Following the Sabarmati Express carnage on 27th February 2002, where 59 pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive, widespread riots broke out and escalated on 28th February. As reported by India Today in 18th March 2002 issue, Modi had called officially called for the Army by 4 pm on 28th February and by 6:30 pm a formal request for the Army landed in Delhi. On 1st March at 1 am, the then defence minister George Fernandes reached Ahmedabad and at 11:30 the Army was staging a flag march.
The Hindu reported on 1 March 2002 (Friday) that “The Army units, frantically called by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, as the situation seemed to slip out of hand, started arriving in Ahmedabad and are likely to be deployed in the city on Friday (1 March).”
Another 1st March The Hindu report from the front page says,
The Army began flag marches in the worst-affected areas of Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot and Godhra cities and the ‘shoot at sight’ order was extended to all 34 curfew-bound cities and towns in Gujarat as the orgy of violence in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage continued unabated for the second day today.
The report further stated,
He (then Gujarat CM Modi) claimed that despite the prevailing tension in the walled city and labour-dominated areas of Ahmedabad, the flag march had a “salutary effect”. He said one Army brigade, airlifted from the border areas and which arrived early this morning, began flag march later in the day while another brigade was expected to arrive in the night.
Rediff report from 1st March corroborated above claims of deployment of Army as well as shoot at sight orders on 1st March itself.
Modi has issued directives to the police to deal ‘strictly with arsonists and if need be shoot-at-sight any person indulging in rioting’, they added.
Meanwhile, the army staged flag marches in the violence-hit areas of Ahmedabad – Daraipur, Shahpur, Shahibaug and Naroda – to instill confidence among the people as unabated violence has claimed 111 lives in the city alone so far.
The army personnel were out in different areas like Daraipur, Shahpur, Shahibaug and Naroda, police said.
The same fact is also reflected in the note submitted by ACS (Home), Ashok Narayan as part of the investigation.
The note further states that in wake of the terrorist attack on the Parliament in December 2001, there was a war-like situation on the border. Hence, the whole force was deployed in the forward/border areas of the country. The state government then requested for Army personnel in the cantonment of Ahmedabad, but no force was available there either. Despite the fact that in such a scenario, withdrawing the Army from the border would require a high-level decision at the Centre, the decision to withdraw the same and deploy to Gujarat was taken without delay.
The note says Army personnel were airlifted by using about 40 aircrafts from the border and landed in Ahmedabad by 28th February midnight. 6 buses, 9 trucks and 15 jeeps were sent for use by the Army by 2:30 am on 1st March 2002. During the day 39 additional vehicles were provided. A total of 131 vehicles were provided to the Army. Additional executive magistrates were provided to the Army. Escort officers from the police force were provided to the Army.
Personnel were airlifted to be deployed to Vadodara and Rajkot as well.
Contradicting Lt. Gen. Shah’s claims, the note further states that the deployment of Army started in the early hours of 1st March and by 11 am, the Army had already started reaching some of the affected areas in the city.
The report further states that while parts of the state like Bhavnagar and Surat were initially unaffected by violence, riots soon started there as well. Following which, the Army was deployed there as well on subsequent days.
At the peak of deployment, as many as 26 Army columns were deployed in the state. Finally, once the law and order improved, it was decided that Army is sent by 10th March 2002. However, considering the situation in Ayodhya, the Army was kept on standby. Following incidents of violence in Surat and Vadodara later, Army was again deployed there and on 15th March, the Army held a flag march.
To summarise, first oral communication was made to the Army on 27th February itself and the state was informed that no personnel were available for internal security duties.
Within 16 hours of official communication, the Army was brought from forward/border areas and deployed in Gujarat, thereby completely refuting Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah’s claims.
Brother of actor Naseeruddin Shah, Lt. Gen. Zameeruddin Shah was appointed as the vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University in 2012, under the UPA. As vice chancellor of AMU had rejected demands of girls to access the Maulana Azad Library by reportedly saying that there would be ‘four times more boys’ in the library if girls are around. Since Times of India reported the incident, Lt. Gen. Shah banned Times of India on the campus.
Note: The article has been compiled with help from Gujaratriots.com.