2002 Gujarat Riots: State Govt Delayed In Providing Vehicles, Says Ex-Lt General
The 2002 Gujarat riot is among the most violent riots in the history of our nation. The massacre took the lives of many people, engulfing the entire state in its claws. The faceless mob was on the rampant which killed many people and left many without their homes and livelihoods. The then Lieutenant General of the Indian Army, Zameer Uddin Shah is launching his memoir titled “The Sarkari Mussalman” in which he revealed many facts and several accounts of what happened during that time and how “crucial hours were lost“.
According to the The New Indian Express, when the riots were on its peak, Lt Gen Shah on the night of February 28 and March 1, 2002, met the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in the presence of then Defence Minister George Fernandes. The meeting took place at 2 am in Ahmedabad in which the Lt Gen Shah handed over a list of immediate requirements for the army to contain the riot, to the then CM.
“Crucial hours lost”
On March 1, at 7 in the morning, some 3,000 troops landed at the Ahmedabad airfield but there was a delay in providing them with a transport which led to the death of hundreds of people. According to the Lt Gen Shah, who retired as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, because of the delay in providing the transport “crucial hours were lost”. In his memoir, Shah has mentioned that at the time of the massive commotion in the state, on February 28, 2002, the Gujarat government requested for Army deployment through the Centre. He quotes then Chief of Army Staff, General S Padmanabhan saying, “‘Zoom (Army columns), get your formation to Gujarat tonight and quell the riots.’ I replied, ‘Sir, the road move will take us two days.’ He shot back, ‘The Air Force will take care of your move from Jodhpur. Get maximum troops to the airfield. Speed and resolute action are the need of the hour.’”
The next morning when the Army troops arrived at the Ahmedabad airfield, Padmanabhan enquired about the transport arrangements. He said, “Where are the vehicles and other logistic support we had been promised?” He was told that the Gujarat state government was still “making necessary arrangements”.
Lt Gen Shah said, that between the night of 28th February and the 1st of March was a crucial period, this is the time when the maximum damage was done in the state. He says that during this time the Army columns just sat on the airfield for an entire day of March 1. The transport was provided only on March 2. “By then the mayhem had already been done,” he added.
“The damage would have been lesser”
While talking about the damage in the state and if it could have been minimised had the Army been allowed full freedom and provided with “immediate requirements” that he had personally asked from Modi, Shah said, “Most certainly. What the police couldn’t do in six days, we did in 48 hours despite being six times smaller in size than them.” Without blaming anyone particularly, he further said, “It may take some time in arranging transport but in a situation like that, it could have possibly been done faster.”
In his words, the police during the entire pogrom was a “dumb bystanders”. He said that while the mob was setting up houses and street on fire, he saw many MLAs from the majority community sitting at the police stations. He says that those MLAs’ had no business in the police station yet they were there.
“Whenever we used to tell the police to impose the curfew, they never did so in the minority areas. It was a totally parochial and biased handling,” said the army official.
“Don’t want to reopen any old wounds”
When Shah was asked about any political links that could have led the riots he said that he does not want to reopen any old wounds. “It takes three generations to forget. I do not want to reopen the wounds. I have spoken the truth about police and I stand by every word I have written,” he said. He also pointed out that the purpose of his memoir is to tell the facts that happened at the time of 2002 in Gujarat.
In 2005, the government had revealed the death toll during the Gujarat riots in the parliament. It said that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, while 223 more people reported missing and another 2,500 injured during that time. The government was responding to a written question from an unnamed MP, reported BBC.
Claiming that these numbers do not show the clear picture, Shah said, “Official figures of deaths and damage do not reflect a true picture of the actual extent of the carnage”.
Lt Gen Shah’s memoir is to be launched by former Vice President Hamid Ansari on October 13. While endorsing the book, at least two chiefs of army staff, including General S. Padmanabhan said the book is full of revelations, juxtaposed with his personal experiences as an army man and a Muslim in India.