The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Only pats & single rap for cops

Ahmedabad, July 22: Noorjahan was the sole exception, the remaining 129 the rule.

At the end of the first phase of depositions, the one overwhelming statement before the Nanavati Commission is — believe it or not — that police did their duty and did it remarkably well while Gujarat bled and burnt after the Godhra train burnings.

Barring one, all 129 witnesses who have flocked to the panel probing the communal violence have had only good things to say about the law enforcers: that they did not look the other way during last year’s riots and did the best they could to maintain order.

The trend has lasted all of the six days that the first phase of the inquiry has run in 19 districts.

All the witnesses from the Madhavpur police station area who deposed today sang the same tune. Some even decried the suspension of police officers for their “questionable role in handling the riots”.

The statements have been so suspiciously similar and well rehearsed that government counsel Arvind Pandya concedes he is fed up.

“These people who are giving the same evidence do not understand that it does not make any difference if two persons or 100 persons repeat the same thing,” the counsel said.

But the sameness has a decidedly hollow ring to it. So much so that social and rights activists feel the statements are “doctored” and the witnesses have been “tutored” by the police and the state administration.

The activists say the actual riot victims are terrified to come out with the truth before the two-man panel and “expose” the police. The fear is they would be “exposing themselves and making themselves vulnerable”.

“They know no one was there when they were being attacked. And they know there will be no one to protect them if they tell the truth and antagonise the police and the VHP. They are concerned about their safety and security, which is understandable,” a rights activist said.

Or, the actual victims could be cynical about the probe and considering it an “exercise in futility”. It is no secret that both Justices G.T. Nanavati and K.G. Shah are pro-government persons.

When the commission was set up, the minorities and rights organisations had alleged that the Narendra Modi government would use it to turn things on their head.

For the moment, all eyes are set on the second phase of depositions due to begin on July 28.

That round includes Gulbarg and Naroda-Patia where whole families were burnt alive during the riots.

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