| Justice Banerjee
Ahmedabad/ New Delhi, Jan. 17: The panel report that termed the Godhra train blaze an 'accident' has set political as well as official sparks flying in states as distant as Bihar and Gujarat.
Investigative agencies in Gujarat insisted that the fire could not have engulfed the Sabarmati Express compartment the way it did without the use of several litres of petrol.
A special investigation team formed by the Gujarat government stood by the conspiracy theory.
'Our investigation strongly indicates a conspiracy that was hatched at a guest house on February 25, 2002, two days before the train carnage,' the probe team's chief and inspector-general of police Rakesh Asthana told a media conference in Ahmedabad soon after the Justice U.C. Banerjee committee's interim report was made public in Delhi.
He said his team's probe had revealed that 60 litres of petrol were used to set the coach ablaze.
Asthana claimed that his team had found that at least six persons had entered the S-6 coach with three petrol-filled jerry cans.
The officer said the team would continue its probe. So far, 104 of the 131 accused have been arrested and chargesheets have been filed against 92 people.
The state directorate of forensic sciences echoed Asthana. A senior forensic official said approximately '60 litres of petrol' could have been used to torch the coach.
While the Banerjee report was being made public in Delhi, another twist was added to the case in Ahmedabad.
Deposing before the Justice Nanavati Commission, set up by the Gujarat government to probe the Godhra incident, another officer of the special investigation team said 'evidence indicated that the carnage was pre-planned, conspired and had a terrorist link'.
Police officer Noel Parmar said his investigation had revealed 'terrorist links' in the case but refused to divulge the name of the organisation involved.
Laloo vs Nitish
The controversy also put Godhra back on the political landscape in the run-up to the Assembly polls.
Railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, fighting a tough battle to retain power in Bihar, lost no time in confronting the BJP and Janata Dal (United).
The railway minister threatened to initiate legal action against his predecessor and main political rival Nitish Kumar during whose tenure the Godhra incident happened.
The RJD leader, who is seeking to keep his Muslim-Yadav social base intact in this election, came down heavily on the BJP and its chief minister in Gujarat, Narendra Modi. Laloo Prasad charged them with inciting the post-Godhra communal riots in the state by exploiting the train blaze.
Reacting cautiously, the Congress slammed the BJP as well as the Modi government but avoided attacking Nitish.
The BJP and the Dal (U) insisted that the government timed the release of the interim report for the Bihar polls.
Nitish described the report as a 'political stunt' but he sought to clarify that at no point of time when he was railway minister had he expressed any opinion on what or who caused the fire.