THE MAN WHO BURNEDTHE MUSLIMS ALIVE GUJARAT CHIEF MINISTER NARENDRA MODI IS THE SPEACIAL GUEST OF JAYALALITHAA WHO READIES TEAM OF MINISTERS
It was also being speculated that not only had “Hindus” been allowed to vent their feelings, they had been given “three days” to do this. Then defence minister George Fernandes who had been sent to Ahmedabad by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also knew of this “three days” and I personally can vouch for this. With a view to figure out what he was up to, I had called on Fernandes on Saturday, March 2, 2002, in Circuit House in Ahmedabad. Initially, I had some apprehension about how much time the minister would give me because he was on a mission and the riots were on full blast. But I was pleasantly surprised that he had all the time in the world for me. Very soon I could figure out the purpose Fernandes was so keen to engage me in conversation: he wanted to cross-check the facts of the riots that he had heard. It was a long three-hour meeting. At one point the chief secretary, G Subba Rao, and additional chief secretary Ashok Narain, along with a senior army officer, came into the room. They had been confabulating with the minister before I dropped in. Leaving them behind, Fernandes took me to his room. Now the officials wanted to know if they should wait or could leave. The minister asked them to leave and resumed his conversation with me. Fernandes spoke about a whole lot of things, how Ahmedabad had changed, how he had come to the city when there was a massive riot in 1969, how he had walked to the Governor Shriman Narayan’s house from the airport at that time, etc. With the evening advancing and the need for me to go back to the office, I excused myself. Fernandes persisted but I went out. As I climbed down the stairs, the defence minister beckoned me once again from the top of the stairs and said that I should have dinner with him. In the end, I retraced my path. While having an early dinner, Fernandes who was beating around the bush for so long suddenly let it out: “ I have heard that the rioters have been allowed three days time before any action is taken?” I shot back: “ Ya, I have also heard it.” The minister said: “Humm. I see.” We continued on the dinner silently. I must admit that there was no talk about the Modi meet about which Sanjiv Bhatt has now filed an affidavit. But very soon our meeting was broken. Harin Pathak, the minister of state for defence and the BJP MP from Ahmedabad and a hardliner himself, walked into the room with decisive steps and plonked himself on the sofa. In the manner that he walked in it seemed that Pathak was aware that we were having a long meeting and wanted to be privy to the conversation. Immediately after the dinner, I left the place.
A couple of months later, the Outook magazine ran an exclusive report on a serving minister of the Gujarat government having deposed before a citizens’ commission about the Modi meeting on the evening of January 27 where the chief minister had talked about allowing the Hindu reaction. The minister was not named but I instinctively knew that it was Haren Pandya. So I called Pandya and said: “So you tendered evidence before the commission?” Pandya demanded: “How do you know?” I said: “I can make out because you have told me this before. Though I am not sure about others because there is some speculation that it is Suresh Mehta ( another minister). But I am sure your boss Modi can make out too.” The minister said in a dismissive tone: “Who cares about him.” Then I told Pandya: “But your testimony is second hand. Why don’t you get me somebody who attended the meeting and confirm this to me?” Pandya thought for a moment and replied: “Chakravarthi (director general of police ) can.” I told him: “I don’t know him. But since you were close to him and once were his boss as home minister, why don’t you set up a meeting.” Pandya said: “Let me get back to you.” He was back on the line in 10 minutes. “I have spoken with him. Here is his cell number. You have to ask him the questions but he will answer only in yes or no. He is not willing to go any further.” OK, I said and kept down the phone. In the event I did not call up Chakravarthi. The reason: I had written an article for the edit page about the guilty men of Gujarat and had named Chakravarthi and this was going to appear in the paper the next day. I did not think it morally right to get information from a source one day and next day publish an article that would put him on the mat. Moreover, the prospect on a yes or no answer did not appeal to me.
A few months later when I came to know of the names of officers who were present at that fateful meeting, I asked one of them about what had transpired. The officer, Anil Mukim, then private secretary to Modi and now a joint secretary to GOI told me: “Not while I was there.” My specific query was: “Did Modi say that a Hindu reaction be allowed?”. I noted from media reports recently that this is also exactly what Mukim told the SIT on the Gujarat riots. If I recollect correctly Ashok Narayan, the additional chief secretary (home) who had attended the meeting told the Nanavati Commission that there were instructions that the bodies of all those perished in the Godhra train carnage be allowed to be brought to Ahmedabad. This is what Sanjiv Bhatt has also said as part of his affadavit about what had transpired at the meeting.
Incidentally, it seems that on the evening of February 27 there were two meetings that had been convened by Modi. The first one was a law and order meeting with top cops and secretaries, which Sanjiv Bhatt is supposed to have attended. The other was a meeting of ministers. Haren Pandya had told me that at this meeting some of the ministers said that the bodies of those who died in the Godhra carnage be brought to Ahmedabad. Haren said that he resisted because he felt that this could lead to an outpouring of sentiments leading to a serious law and order situation. Pandya said that he was outshouted at the meeting and mentioned a minister (I am withholding the name, but it was not Modi) who said that this is what we want. “Our party strength is in Ahmedabad. We want everything to happen here. It will help our party.”
Haren Pandya was murdered under mysterious circumstances in early 2003, so he cannot come back to life to testify whatever is attributed to him by me. I am acutely aware of this. I am also aware that George Fernandes is suffering from Alzhiemer’s, a disease that robs its patients of all his memories.
The midnight arrest of M Karunanidhi on June 30, 2001 still sends shivers down the spine of DMK leaders. They hope the AIADMK Amma has turned mellower. The 2001 comeback Jaya was not kind to the media either. Soon after taking over as the chief minister, reporters had a virtual street fight with her police after her cavalcade threatened to run over reporters who tried to block it in front of the secretariat after she refused to accept a memorandum from them.
More than a hundred journalists who protested against this were rounded up and kept for a day in a police station on June 29, 2001. That might have been a strategy, as she might have thought that the famished journalists released that evening would go to bed tired and wake up late the next morning when her police could drag the DMK leaders from their bedrooms. That was not to be. At the first call from Karunanidhi’s residence, the scribes were there, in the wee hours, to witness the police atrocity. Those reporters who refused to be cowed down and continued to write hard-hitting stories against the government’s high-handedness on several fronts were served with legal notices and defamation cases by the dozen. Towards the fag end of that tenure, however, Jaya did mellow down. This phase also saw some welfare measures.
If there is something in Jaya that nobody wants to change, it is her efficiency in dealing with the bureaucracy. When she is the chief minister, civil servants and other officers know they cannot bluff. Jaya does her homework well and expects her officers to do the same. And when it comes to law and order, she is a no-nonsense administrator. During her previous tenures, goons had kept their date with the bullet. Self-proclaimed human rights groups had fumed; many others had sighed.
That active Jaya is what Tamil Nadu, on the cusp of a fast-paced development, needs. It would do well if the chief minister doesn’t allow her cadre’s inherent sycophancy to inflate her megalomania. To start with, she could withdraw the case against Penguin and lift the stay on her new biography authored by Vaasanthi, ‘Jayalalithaa—A Portrait’.