D'j' Vu: Samjhauta and Sabarmati Express

Two burning coaches five years apart and a single theory.  The theory zeroes in on a conspiracy to foment communal troubles. In the case of the Samjhauta Express, purportedly to dampen the spirit of Bhai ' Bhai developing between Hindustan and Pakistan.

The greater majority of the casualties were poor Pakistanis returning home from a visit to India. Going by the theories put forward, would this mean that Islamic fundamentalists were prepared to use their own compatriots as cannon fodder to sabotage the peace process?

One of the survivors claimed that he saw two persons get off the train just before the bomb blasts. The implication: that the persons who planted the bombs got away to save their own skins. This statement has been countered by a railways personnel who claims that it was impossible for anyone to get off safely with the speed at which the train was traveling.

From across the border came a reaction: similar view point in a different context: that perhaps it is the Hindu fundamentalists who also sought to sabotage the peace process or perhaps to stem the Paki influx via the train.

Which ever argument one accepts, can the same be applied to an earlier tragic burning coach?

The S-6 of the Sabarmati Express February 2002 has vitiated the atmospherics in Gujarat, despite all the show casing of expensive development pies-in-the-development-sky by Chief Minister Narendra Modi over five long years, without being able to wash out the Lady Macbethian blood stains from his bloodied hands.
As another anniversary of the tragic burning of the Sabarmati Express and the subsequent Godhra riots rolls around, one stands to ponder.

Within hours of the tragedy, netas were hollering that the ISI and its henchmen had masterminded the arson which took 66 lives in the ill fated coached and thousands in the riots that followed.

One wonders: would the ISI or any of the jehadi outfits named have had the audacity to use as cannon fodder Ram Sewaks returning from Karsewa? Would they have dared? More importantly, could they have actually organized such a daring do?

And if not, then just as the Islamic jehadis purportedly used their own compatriots as cannon fodder to achieve a higher goal, could it have been a similar operation in 2002 for the higher goal of social engineering which has been underway in Gujarat since the BJP swept in almost two decades ago?

Most of those who died in the burning coach were members of a raucous group of kar sewaks who were put into the train without reservations or tickets; many actually displaced ticket holding passengers with reservations, on the basis of plain bullying and dadagiri.

The death toll and casualty lists revealed that most of those who survived were higher rungs of the outfits that organized the trip and most of those who died were poor people from urban slums etc who had been enticed into kar sewa with the promise of payments and future benefits.

Surely the souls of those who died, like the famous Panchal couple must be grinning from ear to ear, looking down at their four nubile daughters who have become VHP heroines, who grace most of their lavish functions; they are ensconced in a well appointed home, each doing high end courses which will propel them into wealthy Yuppiedom with the sage advise from VHP advisors who have invested their quite substantial death benefits.

No Muslim victim of the Godhra riots has had similar good luck, not even the infamous Zahirra Shaikh who was ill-advised and is now suffering in a Mumbai jail for her frequent vaults on the witness stand.

The major beneficiary of the Godhra riots has been the party that won the polls immediately after: the BJP led by Narendra Modi.

Although the toll of the Samjautha Express was higher at 66, sanity held on and no outbreak of violence took place as a 'public reaction' to the incident, as in the case of Godhra.

One wonders: was it mere fatigue from the Hindu extremist lobby which has just tired of shouting itself hoarse over the influx from Bangladesh?

In the earlier incident, while the fire in the coach was put out by about 11 a.m., by noon, the chief minister had flown into Godhra for a dekho and announced the conspiracy angle. By 4 o'clock, violence was well underway and serious massacres took place overnight with specific targeting of Muslim homes and establishments.

Later in the face of outrage, it was said that the violence was the handiwork of 'outside elements', not any locals. One wonders:

Since there is no record of any planeloads of goons landing in Ahmedabad or any other Gujarat airport on that fateful day, which train or how many trucks could have possibly brought in all those 'outside ' marauders who wrecked havoc with the social fabric of Gujarat in that week of bleeding and fiery trauma ?

Ever since, the Gujarat government's attorneys have been somersaulting all over the rooms of the Nanavati-Shah commission, trying to establish a conspiracy theory: that the crowd that allegedly collected near the tracks outside the Godhra station was supposed to have thrown in inflammable material and fire bombs along with stones at the S 6 coach.

An earlier expert railways commission had found this theory untenable. And so has the Jan Morcha arguing the case on behalf of the victims. But the Nanavati commission hearings are still underway five years after the incident. Will the victims have to wait for this exercise to end to avail of the benefits promised?

The day the Samjhauta Express burnt, many in Gujarat waited with bated breath throughout the day. Would the public react with fury as it had done in Gujarat in 2002? Would the government be as helpless in stemming the tide as it had been then? Which government? 


More by :  Kusum Choppra

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