Former high court judge Vishnu Sahai is understood to have indicted government officials more than politicians for the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and four adjoining districts in 2013.
As head of the judicial commission appointed in September 2013 to probe the factors that sparked off one of the worst communal riots in post-independent India, Justice Sahai has finally submitted his voluminous 775-page report to Uttar Pradesh governor Ram Naik.
While Sahai remained tight–lipped about the contents of his report, informed sources confirmed that he had put the blame primarily on government officials for “inept” handling of the situation that went out of hand, leaving 62 dead and hundreds wounded, besides rendering 55,000 men, women and children homeless. It is learnt that the report pointedly indicts two BJP MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, who were earlier also named as key accused by the local police. There is also an oblique reference to a Samajwadi Party leader as one of the persons responsible for inciting the riots.
Justice Sahai, who completed his task in exactly two years, drew his conclusions after a detailed examination of as many as 478 witnesses, of which 101 were police and administration officials. These included the then principal home secretary RM Srivastava, director general of police Devraj Nagar, two Muzaffarnagar district magistrates Surendra Singh and Kaushal Raj Sharma and senior superintendent of police Manju Saini, as well as DMs and SSPs of the remaining four districts where the communal violence spread like wildfire in August-September 2013.
“The report goes into each of the four terms of reference of the inquiry – circumstances that led to the riots, role and responsibility of officials, identification of all those responsible for inciting the riots, and recommendations to prevent recurrence of such riots," said Sahai, who flatly refused to divulge any further detail of the report. “I am bound by the oath of confidentiality that entails every commission of inquiry. Therefore I just cannot give you any bit of my findings”, he insisted. He also declined to give any information on the number of politicians examined by him.
He said, “Since (sic) the report is now in the domain of the government, as I am told that the governor had already forwarded it to the state government."
Asked if he faced any pressure during the course of his probe, he shot back, “I am not the types who can be pressurised by anyone and all along my career as a judge I have not allowed any kind of influence to override my decisions or findings.” When a scribe sought his comment on rumours about his close proximity to the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Justice Sahai retorted, “Let me tell you that I gave a verdict against Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray while I was a judge at (the) Bombay High Court. I gave a judgment against Mayawati while she was in power and the only occasion I delivered an order in favour of Mulayam Singh Yadav was while he was out of power.” He also claimed that it was no mean task “to record (the) statement of 478 witnesses, carry out their cross-examination and then submit a 775-page volume over a span of 24 months.”
Notwithstanding his assertions, his close relations with Mulayam were discussed even when he was appointed as the head of the commission to go into the Muzaffarnagar riots on September 9, 2013. Political circles were agog with conspiracy theories that the report may lack objectivity and be “tailor–made” to suit the ruling Samajwadi Party dispensation.
Meanwhile, even as the former judge claimed he had thrown his doors open to all and sundry to depose before the commission, which had set up a camp office in Muzaffarnagar itself, BJP MLA Sangeet Som told reporters in Ghaziabad on Thursday, “I want to know why the commission of inquiry did not make us part of probe in any way? Did it take our inputs?” Presuming that the report would go against him, he went on to add, “I reject the report."
It may be recalled that clashes between Hindus and Muslims were sparked off by the killing of a Muslim youth Shahnawaz in Kawal village in Muzaffaragar district on August 27, 2013. That was instantly followed by an act of reprisal in which Shahnawaz’s assailants, Sachin and Gaurav, were lynched to death by an angry mob.
Locals believe that if the administration had acted objectively the matter would have ended there and then. However, politically motivated official action provoked rival political leaders of the BJP and Samajwadi Party to stage demonstrations through local level panchayats, where much venom was spewed from either side to incite communal passions.
The rioting spread like wildfire and engulfed not only the neighbouring districts of Meerut, Shamli, Saharanpur and Baghpat, but more alarmingly, also certain rural pockets where communal violence had been unprecedented.