New Delhi, Oct 8 : Retired Lt. General Zameer Uddin Shah, who led the Army troops in quelling violence in 2002 Gujarat riots, has described portions of the enquiry report by the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT), related to the Army movement, as “a blatant lie”.
Shah has said in his upcoming memoir, “The Sarkari Mussalman” that after about 3,000 troops landed at Ahmedabad airfield at 7 am on March 1, they had to wait for a day to received transport and other logistical support from the state government in order to fan out to the cities and towns which were engulfed in violence.
This delay happened despite a request by the Lt. General to the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi at 2am on March 1 in Ahmedabad, in the presence of Union Defence Minister George Fernandes.
The SIT report, that had cleared Modi’s name, had concluded that there was no delay “in requisition and deployment of the Army”, based on testimony of Ashok Narayan, Additional Chief Secretary (Home). “The deployment of Army commenced at 1100 hrs on 01-03-2002, after a high level meeting of Chief Minister and Union Defence Minister along with the senior officers of the Army and State Administration”, the SIT report said.
“This is a blatant lie,” Shah told IANS on Monday, maintaining that the 3,000 Army troops were kept stranded at Ahmedabad airfield for more than a day as the state government was said to be still “making arrangements” to provide them transport. The troops were moved by the Air Force from Jodhpur on orders of the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen S. Padmanabhan, following widespread killings in Gujarat on February 28.
Shah’s assertions have been backed by Gen Padmanabhan to whom the After Action Report on the army’s action to quell the riots, was submitted by Shah in June 2002. “In this event, as far as I remember, the army troops must have landed by the middle of the night. If they landed in the middle of the night, what were they going to do? Start running around all over the place? The vehicles were not there. They were not provided by the state government. How will they function? So if he (Shah) has said that then he’s certainly right. He was the man on ground,” Padmanabhan told IANS over telephone from Chennai.
The SIT never called the Lt General for questioning. It looks apparent from its report that the SIT did not look at Shah’s After Action Report submitted to Gen Padmanabhan, which was later passed on to the central government.
The SIT report further stated: “The deployment of the Army required additional logistic support by the Civil Administration in the form of Executive Magistrates, vehicles, liaison officers, guides and maps. The District Magistrtae, Ahmedabad provided 6 buses, 9 trucks and 15 jeeps for Army use by 0230 hrs on 01-03-2002. During the day on 01-03-2002, 39 other vehicles were also provided to the Army personnel.”
Shah refuted the SIT’s findings and said “that never happened”. He said that Fernandes came to the airbase at about 10-11 am on March 1 and addressed the troops. “We do not operate without the magistrates and the police guides because we don’t know the way in the city. We can operate in the jungle but not in the city. So I told Mr George Fernandes about the problem and he said that he would do something,” Shah maintained.
“I got it (the transport) only on the 2nd (March 2002). Why would George Fernandes come and speak to us if the troops had been deployed?” he asked. Shah had told IANS in an earlier report that many more lives could have been saved had the Army got the transport and other support on March 1.
The SIT Enquiry Report was submitted in the case of Zakia Jafri and Anr. VS State of Gujarat and Ors. Of the 30 allegations made by Zakia Jafri, widow of late Congress legislator Ehsan Jafri — who was killed in a mob attack in Gulbarg Housing Society — allegation No. XIV was that “there was an undue delay in requisition and deployment of Army”.
The SIT had rejected the charge in its closure report, which was made available to the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) through an order of the Magistrate’s Court dated April 10, 2012 saying that “the allegation is not substantiated”.
Shah says he “could not be surer” about the events leading to the deployment of Army in Gujarat as he had mentioned every detail in the After Action Report on Operation Aman. “Every single thing is in the Report. This was around June 2002. I filed my report and gave a copy to Gen Padmanabhan. He was not there but I left it with his Military Assistant. He later told me he had read it and had handed it over to the government.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])