GODHRA : The Beginning

BACKGROUND:Today, 27th of February in the year 1998 marked a very significant course in Indian Politics. For the first time in the history of Independent India a “different” kind of political party assumed power at the centre. Indian politics for the first time saw a party coming into power which was totally different than the erstwhile parties and having an ideology completely in contrast with the Indian National Congress which had been running the country for the major part of the 2nd half of the 20th century post Independence. L K Advani’s aggressive campaign and “rathyatras” towards the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century marked the beginning of an upsurge of Hindu Nationalism which became the key factor of Indian Politics henceforth.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with an ideology of an admixture of anti-Congress, pro-develpoment and Hindu nationalism became the largest political force in India. BACKGROUND The westernmost state of the country was no exception to the upsurge of Hindu Nationalism and the anti Congress sentiments. In the Gujarat assembly elections of 1998 the Bharatiya Janata Party won the majority and Keshubai Patel became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Towards the end of 2001 the situation stood at the fact that BJP was having a coalition Government at the centre while its chief opponent Congress was ruling in 15 states of the country. Keshubai Patel’s falling health, growing anti-establishment sentiments in Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2001 Bhuj earthquake with the government being accused of mismanagement in relief works; resulted in the BJP leadership to be in search of a new Chief Minister candidate in Gujarat. In the village body and civic body polls in the year of 2001 the Congress got massively voted in the BJP stronghold of Gujarat. Keshubai Patel was replaced by NARENDRA DAMODARDAS MODI, a then hard-line Hindutva leader and an ex member of the Rastriya Swayamseva Sangha (RSS)- a core Hindutva outfit and often referred to be the father party of the BJP. On the 24th of February, 2002 , Narendra Modi won the bypolls as CM .

BEGINNING: The Godhra Train Burning :- Date: 27th of February; Time: 7:43 a.m. ; Sabarmati Express was returning from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad. The train was carrying a large number of Hindu pilgrims or Ram Sevaks, who were returning from Ayodhya after performing a religious ceremony at the site of the disputed Babri Masjid, which had been demolished 10 years back by a militant Hindu group. The train was stopped by pulling a chain a few 300 metres from Godhra. The S6 coach of the train caught fire. Claims largely vary over the cause of the fire outbreak in the Sabarmati express compartment. While some call it an accident; many others call it as an organised attack by a local Muslim mob on Hindu pilgrims; few again term it as a Terrorist attack having active involvement of the ISI (Pakistani intelligence agency) in the planning and process of carrying out. According to some eye-witnesses the local mob locked the S6 coach from outside and the passengers were burnt alive inside the compartment. Others though claim that it was an accident and train caught fire owing to an electrical fault. In the ghastly incident of the Godhra Train Burnings 59 people (all Hindus) were killed including 25 women and 15 children. Several eye witnesses claim the mob blocked the doors of the train so that no one can escape. Gujarat Police claimed to have recovered 60 litres of kerosene from the spot. Some eyewitnesses even claim to recollect the wails of women while the train burnt; while others reject so. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi visited the spot and after coming out of the train called the incident as “AN ATTACK ON HUMANITY” and claimed possible involvement of foreign conspiracy from Pakistan and appealed for state wide peace. However there were marked differences in attitude of other BJP leaders including some ministers of Gujarat assembly who claimed it to be an attack on Hindus by a local Muslim mob. Many Hindutva leaders openly called for “REVENGE”. The news of Godhra train burning was spreading like a forest fire throughout the state of Gujarat. THE SPARK Hard-line Hindutva groups were accused of openly rallying in Gujarat and putting the entire blame on muslims. A Bajrang Dal leader, Praveen Tagodia openly said in a rally “Ravan ne Hanuman ki poonch mein aang lagaye thee .. fir Lanka mein aang lag gaya thaa” . As the flames of burnt compartment of Sabarmati express engulfed the air; the venom of hatred started spreading like madness throughout the state. Right wing party Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) gave the call for a BANDH in Gujarat. The Supreme Court warned the Gujarat Government of possible outbreak of violence but the State was accused of not taking adequate measures by different media houses. The situations turned “Worse” as the dead bodies of Godhra were brought to Ahmedabad for identification. Massive riots broke out in Ahmedabad soon and very shortly engulfed the entire state of Gujarat. Riots were mostly retailiatory in nature and were mostly organised attacks on the minority community.

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