NEW DELHI, Feb 22: Akira Kurosawa would gape with disbelief at the confidence with which a Gujarat judge gave his verdict on Tuesday over the gruesome death of 59 passengers, mostly Hindu activists, in a train fire on Feb 27, 2002.
The mysterious tragedy had all the ingredients of the plot that made Kurosawa’s Rashomon a classic thriller. No one knew after a series of varying and equally compelling narratives from four different persons linked with the victim as to who had killed him or if he had committed harakiri.
In the Godhra case there were at least two different narratives. A special court headed by Ahmedabad Additional Sessions Judge P.R. Pate convicted 31 Muslims on Tuesday but acquitted 63, including the alleged key conspirator.
It was in his house that the alleged plot was claimed to have been hatched to lead to what has come to be called the Godhra train carnage case.
According to the chargesheet filed in the case, an unidentified mob of around 900 to 1,000 Muslims attacked the train near Godhra railway station. Intriguingly, a federal inquiry commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge had earlier made for a Kurosawa twist. He had concluded that the fire was an accident.
The less reported facts of the case are as follows. The train, the Sabarmati Express, was bringing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP) volunteers from Ayodhya, where their political face, the Bharatiya Janata Party — had badly lost the Uttar Pradesh state elections to a Dalit group on Feb 25. The volunteers were incensed.
A few weeks before the Uttar Pradesh disaster struck the BJP, the party had fared poorly against the opposition Congress in local municipal elections.
The communal polarisation whipped up after the Godhra tragedy altered the sate assembly election outcome in favour of the BJP. The party has never looked back.
Prominent Supreme Court lawyer and public interest activist Prashant Bhushan said Tuesday’s verdict in the Godhra train carnage case coming nine years after the incident was a travesty of justice.
“It is a travesty of justice. I understand most of the 63 persons let off today were denied bail and spent all these nine years behind the bars,’ Mr Bhushan said.“While I will wait for the details of the judgment to make any further comment, it is a sad commentary on the delays of the judicial system that such a long wait had to be made for a verdict.
“Who will compensate for the loss of their valuable years of life? What has the government to say about the difficulties and defamation faced by the acquitted persons and their families,” he asked.
The incident, which was labelled as a conspiracy, triggered state-wide communal violence, in which close to 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
Civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad said: “An extremely old man was put in jail, a boy who is 99 per cent blind was in jail without bail... somewhere these are ethical questions that will remain for the criminal justice system.”
As far as the conspiracy theory is concerned, one will have to see on what grounds the conspiracy has been upheld, she said. While 31 people have been convicted, their sentences will be given on Friday.