GODHRA STARES AT VACUUM 

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By FROM BASANT RAWAT in Godhra
  • Published 27.03.02
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Godhra, March 27 :    Godhra, March 27:  The ghost of the train massacre still haunts Godhra railway station. One month after a mob torched the Sabarmati Express killing 58 kar sevaks, tension is still palpable. The station wears a deserted look, as all Muslim vendors have vanished fearing they might be arrested. The only people around are policemen, some of them posted there to investigate the carnage. Even non-Muslim stall owners close shop early, and after 7 pm, there is virtually no one around. "We go back to our homes before night curfew is clamped," says S.M. Bansal, a vendor. No incident of violence has been reported from the town after March 15, but night curfew remains in force as the area is still tense. People are polarised along communal lines - since February 27, Hindus and Muslims have avoided areas dominated by the other community. Amid the fear of "impending" retaliation, authorities have revoked all 2,000 arms licences in the district. To instil confidence among residents, peace committees have been set up. "We are trying to arrange meetings of Hindus and Muslim by taking them to other localities. But the people are still sceptical," says superintendent of police Raju Bhargav. Organising such peace meetings is proving difficult - there are no Muslim leaders left in the town. With 64 already arrested and many absconding, the minority community has been virtually left leaderless. The charred coach of the ill-fated express lies at the railway yard for the convenience of human rights activists and a host of "fact-finding" teams. Though Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and defence minister George Fernandes blamed Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence for the carnage, police officers handling the probe say they have so far not been able to establish any "terrorist or trans-border link to the Godhra incident". "It is not our problem if we are unable to establish that the attack was premeditated and inspired by a foreign agency during our month-long intense investigation. If politicians feel embarrassed, they should realise that they should not have jumped the gun," said a senior officer. But K.C. Bawa, deputy superintendent of Western Railway, differed. "My investigation does establish that the attack was pre-planned and engineered by the ISI," he said. Bawa has interrogated 64 of the accused, including prime suspects Mohammed Kalota and Haji Bilal, president and standing committee chairman of the Godhra Nagar Palika. Another 33 people are absconding. Investigators, however, are not ruling anything out. They feel that after arresting all those who are absconding they would get significant leads that might substantiate the chief minister and the defence minister's claim.