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The real Saba Naqvi: Here is how the ‘neutral journalist’ supported killers of Ram Sevaks in Sabarmati Express burning

Saba Naqvi followed Vir Sanghvi's observation on Godhra: "We ('secularists') shy away from the truth-that some Muslims committed an act that is indefensible- and resort to blaming the victims."

In this tweet by Saba Naqvi, she talks of articles on her by OpIndia. Saba Naqvi is hailed as a so-called ‘secular’ journalist. However, her reality is horrific and another full proper article is needed to expose her true face.

She had stooped to an unimaginably low level on the Godhra carnage of 27 Feb 2002 to defend the fanatic Muslims who were the barbaric killers of 59 Ram sevaks [including 25 women and 15 children, including babies] returning from Ayodhya. Her heart wouldn’t melt even in this case where 25 women and 15 children including babies and toddlers were burnt to coal by a mob of Muslims.

The word “Godhra” records the gruesome killing of some 59 innocent people, including 25 women and 15 children and injuries to 40. The attackers had a plan to set on fire the entire train but could not do so because the train was late for four hours and they could not take the advantage ofthe darkness of night. There were many witnesse, and survivors of the train attack in Godhra whose testimonies prove beyond doubt what had happened. Initially, even the self-styled ‘secularist’ media houses had reported and accepted the truth, though they changed track later.

27 February 2002 was not the first time, nor the last time, that Godhra witnessed communal vandalism.  The town had a long history of bloody communalism. It was well-known for it. There were major acts of violence and fanaticism by Muslims recorded in 1928, 1946, 1948, 1965, 1980, 1990 and 1992.  There were acts of Muslim fanaticism in Godhra even after 27 February 2002.

In September 2003, Ganesh idol immersion saw stone pelting and conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. This was reported by and The Times of India, but was forgotten by everyone, including the Sangh Parivar leadership.

On 13 March 2002, a mob of 500 Muslims again attacked Hindus in Jahurpura area of Godhra near the Old Bus Stand. The report of NDTV was:

“Mob Attack in Godhra, 12 Arrested

Wednesday, March 13, 2002 (Godhra): Within a fortnight of the February 27 railway station mayhem and subsequent violent fallout, tension escalated again today with a minority mob allegedly attacking people in the town, leading to police firing. Police said a ‘500-people strong mob of minority community’ attacked people in the Jahurpura area near the Old Bus Stand. They resorted to stone pelting and also ‘opened fire’ with private arms, police said. Police opened fire and hurled tear gas shells to disperse the mob. There was no report of any injury or casualty so far.

Additional forces of police, State Reserve Police and anti-riot Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel led by senior DSP, Raju Bhargava, rushed to the spot and carried out a combing operation. ‘Twelve persons including two women were picked up from a nearby place of worship,’ police said. The situation was under control but tense, police said”.

Thus Muslims attacked Hindus in Godhra again soon after the 27th  February carnage. The Times of India also reported this PTI news. All the above details of Godhra (except the 2003 stone pelting and mob attack of March 2002) are also mentioned in an article titled “Godhra in Ferment even before Independence” in the Milli Gazette magazine on 16 March, 2002.

This magazine is considered as a voice of Muslims in India. This is the Indian Muslims’ leading English newspaper and it had also published these details about Godhra.

Even the Nanavati Commission report on Godhra said: “Communal riots had taken place in Godhra in the years 1925, 1928, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1953, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992. The communal riots that had taken place in 1948 were very serious…”

The then Railway Minister Lalu Yadav appointed a Banerjee Committee which was a departmental committee and not a full-fledged Commission of Inquiry which gave its interim report in January 2005, a fortnight before the 2005 Bihar Assembly elections, that Godhra was an accident (as expected, absolving the heinous killers of their crime). What was not expected was the extent of support this act of Lalu got from the media. Other mainstream parties like the Congress, CPM staunchly defended this report insulting both the dead Ramsewaksand the intelligence of the people (thinking that people would believe Godhra could have been an accident and Ram sewaks would not run out of the train had there not been a mob of 2000 Muslims surrounding the train and preventing the Ramsewaks from running out). The report of The Tribune on 18 January 2005, one day after the Banerjee report was made public can make one easily know the Banerjee report.

Saba Naqvi writing in Outlook fully supported the findings of the Banerjee Committee in January 2005. She said in an article along with Darshan Desai:

“Is the Godhra report only a political stunt being pulled by Laloo Prasad Yadav? Will the real facts about Godhra never be known because it is such a political hot potato? The truth perhaps is not as obscured by circumstances or motives. Laloo may well have done a disservice to the credibility of the U.C. Banerjee Committee report by blatantly extracting political mileage from it. Yet, senior police officials from Gujarat and technical experts Outlookspoke to believe that to date the Banerjee report offers the most coherent explanation of the Godhra tragedy, if not the complete picture.

So, even as political clouds gather around the report, it has somewhat lifted the fog of smoke that engulfed coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, claiming 59 lives, and sparking off the most horrific communal violence in independent India.

Justice Banerjee himself made two trips to Godhra and examined the report of the Gujarat state forensic science laboratory. And throughout his three-month probe, he was assisted by S.K. Dheri, a retired chief fire officer of the Delhi Fire Services. Sources in Rail Bhawan say Banerjee even experimented with an old abandoned railway bogie in Calcutta. It was set afire to draw conclusions from the burn patterns. He also drew on the expertise of Calcutta forensic experts.

Even more significant is the information an independent group of IIT engineers and multi-disciplinary experts from the Hazards Centre, New Delhi, submitted to him. One of the most imaginative steps they took was to locate another coach—16526 gscn—known to have caught fire from the inside while under maintenance at the Jagadhri yard in Delhi. The burn marks were highly similar to those on S-6.

The findings of both the judge and the experts ruled out a planned conspiracy to set the coach on fire. “It is unbelievable that 150 kar sevaks armed with trishuls would allow themselves to be burnt without a murmur,” the judge states. “The inflammable liquid theory also gets negated by passengers who suffered burns on the upper parts but not the lower parts of the body,” the report notes.

The reason is this: any inflammable liquid thrown from the outside could not have produced the kind of marks found on the top of S-6. Since the only inflammable material inside the coach were the ply and foam berths, the experts say, the fire may have started under a seat. Eyewitness accounts and other evidence indicate this might have been so. There are accounts of cooking in the carriage.If clothes or mattresses under a seat caught fire, it would smoulder for some minutes before leaping out in flames. On the other hand, in the case of an inflammable liquid, the smoke would be noticed immediately.

In the Godhra coach, therefore, the independent experts conclude, “It is possible the fire originated in the…lower berths. The resultant dense and high-temperature smoke spread to the top of the carriage and moved along the ceiling, and between the ceiling and the roof, throughout the length of the coach. The radiative and convective heat generated eventually resulted in a flashover when the fire engulfed the entire coach towards the top.”

Before that, the burning foam and rexine would have released cyanide, carbon monoxide and dense smoke, causing passengers to faint. They would later burn to death. Only those near the exits would escape with minor burn injuries.

These findings are clearly not palatable to the BJP. The Godhra incident, with all its anti-Muslim resonance, had been the central plank of the party’s successful 2002 assembly poll campaign in Gujarat. Which is why the party dismisses the Banerjee report as mere “secularist propaganda” and insists that the Nanavati Commission appointed by the Gujarat government will present the “real truth” about Godhra and the subsequent riots.

Yet, as Outlookhas learnt, several testimonies and evidence presented before the Nanavati Commission also contradicted the Muslim conspiracy theory. And neither Laloo nor Banerjee could have influenced such accounts. For instance, DSP K.C. Bawa, who investigated the Godhra incident in the first crucial months, in his deposition before Justice Nanavati said he found no evidence of a conspiracy to burn the train nor any involvement of outside or foreign agencies. Then, no passenger, including the kar sevaks, said they saw anyone boarding the train and throwing inflammable material on the floor or setting the coach on fire. In fact, the Gujarat government’s own forensic science laboratory had found no trace of petroleum hydrocarbons in the debris, which report is also with the Nanavati Commission.

Moreover, the experts who probed Godhra, also say the post-mortem reports were a “charade”, made in 20 minutes. More outrageously, of the 27 post-mortem reports they studied, only five bodies were identified. So, if the majority of the victims are listed as “unknown”, how did the Modi government conclude the dead were exclusively kar sevaks?

While the BJP continues to squirm on the Godhra issue, the report’s release has come as a bit of a breather for Muslims across the country.The overwhelming sentiment is that a huge taint has been removed. But in the light of the assembly polls in Bihar, the more pertinent question is, will the report do for what the incident did for Modi in Gujarat?

…Given the EC’s strictures, Laloo will no longer wave copies of the interim report. But that won’t stop him from making tangential references to “having exposed the conspiracy to defame Muslims”…”

This report of Saba Naqvi in Outlook again defended the heinous crime of Muslims and did not answer how it could have been an accident when the kar sevaks would have ran out of the train had the fire been accidental, and how so many stones were pelted on the train. It totally ignored the testimonies of dozens of survivors and witnesses, like Gayatri Panchal and others, and resorted to stooping to this level to whitewash the heinous crime of Muslims of Godhra, just because the killers were Muslims and victims were Ram sevaks.  

It also lied that Godhra sparked off the ‘most horrific communal violence in Independent India’ while there have been many far worse riots in India post-1947, in Gujarat itself in 1969 and 1985 as examples. It exposes only Darshan Desai, Saba Naqvi and Outlook which published such a third class article.

Saba Naqvi lied horribly here saying: “Eyewitness accounts and other evidence indicate this might have been so. There are accounts of cooking in the carriage.”  This is nonsense and third-class lies by Saba Naqvi. The coach was so crowded that there was no space for any cooking. This was mentioned by survivors. Outlook itself reported in March 2006 when the final report of the Banerjee committee came:

“…Gayatri Panchal, a resident of Ahmedabad, who survived the incident on February 27, 2002, but lost both her parents in her reaction to the report has said, “The report of the Banerjee Commission is absolutely wrong. I have seen everything with my own eyes and barely escaped myself but lost both my parents.”

Panchal, who has three sisters, said the Banerjee Commission report was not correct as the fire could not have been accidental as no one was cooking in the S-6 coach and it was packed with passengers.“Mobs pelted stones at the coach for long and then threw in burning rags and also poured some inflammable material so that the coach was on fire.I will maintain the same whereever I am called to depose on the matter,” Panchal said.”

In Feb 2011, 31 Muslims were convicted for the Godhra carnage, of whom 11 were given death penalty and 20 were given life imprisonment by the trial court. Even after that, Saba Naqvi did not have a melt of heart. She defended the heinous Godhra killers even after their conviction in Feb 2011 and tried to imply that the ‘BJP and/or VHP did Godhra’. Her article in Outlook in March 2011 said:

Molten Mindsets

The verdict in the Sabarmati Express fire at Godhra on February 27, 02, was delivered after nine years on February 22

Of the accused, 63 acquitted, 31 convicted

Alleged mastermind Maulana Umarji is acquitted

State government claims the verdict proved that the riots were triggered by a conspiracy hatched by Muslims in Godhra

Many believe that members of the minority community were picked up and targeted in order to justify the post-Godhra riots


…Godhra was a decisive political event in the BJP’s history. The party had just lost power in its base in Uttar Pradesh in 2002 and was expected to lose the Gujarat elections later that year, when the Godhra incident happened. Indeed, the kar sevaks were travelling from Ayodhya via Godhra the day after the BJP was defeated in the UP assembly. Then coach S-6 blazed, 59 passengers died, many of them members of the VHP. The ensuing riots saw a massacre of Muslims, in the polarised communal situation Narendra Modi emerged as a Hindu strongman, and ever since the BJP under him has remained undefeated in the state…

…Similarly, in Gujarat Narendra Modi is in a very different position than he was in 2002. Then he had been sent to the state as a replacement for Keshubhai Patel against whom anti-incumbency had built up. He had been in power for just a few months when the train caught fire…

…Which is why the judgement delivered by the special court is politically expedient for Modi. On the one hand, the court has bought the theory of the train inferno being the result of a criminal conspiracy—a fig leaf he needs to try and cover the taint of the riots. On the other, the court has also let off some of the accused to keep up a semblance of justice being delivered in a state from where the Supreme Court shifted out many of the riot-related cases.

Yet there is no missing the fact that the so-called justice delivered in this case is as curious as the original incident of the burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. There was no logic behind a judgement that freed 63 of the chargesheeted but found 31 guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy although the so-called “mastermind” was let off. Gagan Sethi of the Ahmedabad-based Centre for Social Justice says “it’s crazy and cruel that people were kept in jail for nine years when even if they had been convicted for the skirmish at the Godhra station they would have spent less time inside”.

Social activist Hanif Lakdawala says, “I am very puzzled about this whole thing because the so-called main conspirator has been acquitted but still the conspiracy apparently hatched at his behest has been upheld. This means the police has done a very shoddy investigation…people were picked up randomly, sent to jail and also never granted bail. Who will compensate for those nine years in jail?”

There’s no logic behind a judgement that freed 63 of the accused, fixed 31 for murder and let off the ‘mastermind’.

Maulana Umarji was a businessman who had done a lot of relief work for the Muslim community after the riots. He had even made a presentation to then PM A.B. Vajpayee during his post-riots visit to Godhra, and had also spoken before some inquiry committees. Then suddenly Umarji was picked up and named as the mastermind who incited people to set the coach on fire in order to unleash a communal frenzy. In the police version of events, it seemed the man who was working for peace was actually behind the troubles. Now nine years later, he has been been let off, although others have not been so fortunate.

Several questions remain about the entire process, including about the witnesses on whose testimony a conspiracy has been proven. Then there is the basic question—why would the Muslims of Godhra plan such a horrific incident in a BJP-ruled state? After all, the incident became the trigger for the worst anti-Muslim violence in independent India as mobs seeking revenge rampaged through their neighbourhoods during three days of bloodshed.  It was the BJP, VHP and Modi who benefited from the gore.

Today, the BJP may be muted but the VHP is not. Praveen Togadia issued a statement: “Now that the honourable court has accepted the brutal criminal conspiracy that 59 Hindus were burnt alive by the jehadis, all conspirators must get the same punishment…a death penalty and nothing less than that.” At the time of writing, the sentence had not been pronounced though the prosecution is likely to seek death sentence for key convicts. The trial court has identified five accused who poured petrol on the bogey to set it on fire. They are: Aiyub Patalia, Mehbub Popa, Sadiq Vohra, Irfan Qalander and Saukat Patalia. Besides these five, Razaq Kurkur, owner of Aman guesthouse where the conspiracy was apparently hatched, has also been convicted.

The Gujarat government is naturally trying to showcase the judgement as an example of the exemplary justice meted out in the state (no matter that the state has been slammed by the SC and rights organisations). According to its spokesperson, Jaynarayan Vyas, “the verdict is a major setback to those elements out to defame Gujarat, its police, judiciary and people”. Actually, the trial only began after the SC asked the Gujarat HC to set up special fast-track courts to conduct trials in the nine most sensitive cases linked to ’02. The legal labyrinth has been a complex one till date, it’s a pity no one’s counted the human cost in all this.

By Saba Naqvi with bureau reports from Ahmedabad”

Saba Naqvi thus whitewashed the horrific crime of the heinous killers of the Godhra carnage of 2002 after the conviction in Feb 2011. She refused to blame Muslims for it writing in Outlook, and instead tried to imply that BJP-VHP did Godhra!

She said: “Yet there is no missing the fact that the so-called justice delivered in this case…” Why the words ‘so-called justice’? It implies that Muslims have been wrongly convicted.

She refused to call it a conspiracy though Godhra is impossible to have been anything but planned. She says: “Why would Muslims of Godhra plan such a horrific incident in a BJP-ruled state?” as if Muslims did not plan and do it. The question should be: “Why would Muslims of Godhra not plan such a horrific incident in a BJP-ruled state when they planned and executed such incidents since 1925 in Godhra during the rule of the British in Mahatma Gandhi’s times on which he had to write as well, and the Congress?”

“BJP had just lost power in UP in 2002 & was expected to lose the Gujarat elections later that year when Godhra happened.” Read her implications. She implied that BJP planned and killed the 59 Ram sevaks in Godhra in light of the Gujarat elections. But she is wrong on facts, elections in Gujarat were scheduled i.e. due to be held in Gujarat in Feb-March 2003, not that year in 2002! They were held on December 2002 due to the dissolution of Assembly on 19 July 2002. But the schedule was for Feb-March 2003, a good one year after Godhra occurred on 27 Feb 2002.

There was a judicial confession by a Muslim in Feb 2003 that Godhra was planned and in that carnage, he had taken part and that confession had named Umarji as the chief conspirator. This was totally ignored by Saba Naqvi in this article. In her entire article nowhere does Naqvi blame Muslims for this horrific planned carnage, doesn’t mention that 25 women and 15 children including babies and toddlers were victims. Saba writes: “After all, the incident became the trigger for the worst anti-Muslim violence in independent India…BJP, VHP and Modi who benefited from the gore” as if they did Godhra and not Muslims! Has she said directly anywhere that ‘Muslims roasted the 59 Ramsewaks in the train?’ Not once.

She lied that “It was the worst anti-Muslim violence in independent India”. And of course, she lied that riots post-Godhra were ‘massacre of Muslims’ ignoring the killings of hundreds of Hindus even after Godhra completely! That’s nonsense. Even after Godhra, Muslims also killed Hindus and made them homeless. Saba whitewashes Muslim violence even after Godhra. Were Hindus killed in Gujarat even after Godhra, not humans?

This Lalu appointed Banerjee committee’s report was used by Lalu in the Bihar Assembly elections in January-February 2005. Lalu Yadav and his party RJD went to an extent to which even U C Banerjee did not go. He campaigned in Bihar in public rallies saying “BJP-RSS men burnt 59 to coal in Godhra, accused Muslims of doing so.”Banerjee report said that Godhra was an accident, not that BJP-RSS men burnt the train, a level to which Lalu went. At that time, the whole UPA backed Lalu, after this report of Banerjee, CPI (M) leader H S Surjeet openly said that this shows that Muslims did not burn the train in Godhra, etc. The Congress Party fully supported Banerjee’s report.

But Lalu Yadav did so in case of a heinous crime like Godhra, and the media did nothing of that sort, and Lalu is a media hero even today, there is and was no outrage in any of the ‘seculars’ for Lalu doing this. In fact, papers like The Tribune and journalists like Khushwant Singh and journalists like Saba Naqvi supported the claim of U C Banerjee and said it was an accident.

It is not as if Saba Naqvi does not know that the Godhra carnage was not done by Muslims. It was done by a mob of 2000 fanatic Muslims in Godhra’s densely Muslim dominated Signal Falia area, in a town where Muslims did many such horrific acts since 1925, and even after the 27 February train carnage when they attacked Hindus on 13 March 2002 within a fortnight again. But Saba Naqvi followed Vir Sanghvi’s observation on Godhra: “We (‘secularists’) shy away from the truth-that some Muslims committed an act that is indefensible- and resort to blaming the victims.”

Saba Naqvi, OpIndia will continue to publish such articles because people like you will never stop lying.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Author of the book “Gujarat Riots: The True Story” which gives all the details about the 2002 Gujarat riots - Godhra and thereafter.

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