On the morning of Feb 27, 2002, Coach No. S/6 of Sabarmati Express, returning from Ayodhya with karsevaks and passengers inside, was set on fire by a Muslim mob near Godhra railway station in Gujarat. The passengers were returning after attending a ceremony at the disputed Babri Masjid.
The karsevaks chanted slogans throughout the entire voyage, all the while harassing Muslim passengers. One family was even made to get off the train for refusing to utter “Jai Shri Ram!”. More abuse occurred at the stop in Godhra: a Muslim shopkeeper was also ordered to shout “Jai Shri Ram!” He refused, and was assaulted until the karsevaks.
The train made its scheduled stop at Godhra about four hours late, at 7:43 am. As the train started leaving the platform, someone pulled the emergency brake and the train stopped near the signal point and halted in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. Anywhere from 500 to 2,000 of them, surrounded the coaches occupied by the karsevaks and attacked it with stones and torches. Coach S-6 was set on fire, killing 59 people including 27 women and 10 children were burnt to death, and 48 others were injured.
In 2011, a special court inside Sabarmati Jail convicted 31 people and 63 were acquitted. The death penalty was awarded to 11 convicts. Twenty others were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Aftermath: Riots to Pogrom to Genocide
- Godhra District Collector had spent the day explaining that the incident was not premeditated, Modi imposed his official version of the event that very evening, stating that it was a “pre-planned violent act of terrorism.”
- Modi called police officials at his home and gave them orders not to put down the Hindus who would inevitably react to the Godhra attack: the “Hindu backlash” was not only foreseeable, it was legitimate.
- That very evening, on the government's orders, the bodies were taken to Ahmedabad for a post-mortem and public ceremony.
- The arrival of the bodies at the Ahmedabad station was broadcast on television, causing considerable agitation among the Hindus, all the more so since the bodies were exhibited covered with a sheet.
- The following day, the VHP organized the shutdown of the city (bandh) with the support of the BJP. This mobilization established the conditions for a Hindu offensive in Ahmedabad.
- On the evening of Feb 28, Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, located 30 km from Ahmedabad, was the scene of Hindu-Muslim rioting for the first time in its history. Twenty-six towns in all were subject to curfew. Ahmedabad and Godhra saw the most serious clashes, with 350 and 100 victims respectively in early March, according to official statistics. After these two cities came Mehsana (50 dead ) and Sabarkantha (40 dead).
- On Feb 28, in Ahmedabad, in the Naroda Gaon and Naroda Pattiya areas, an armed hoard of several thousand people attacked Muslim houses and shops, killing 200. Six other neighborhoods in the city were subject to similar attacks on a lesser scale.
- The Naroda Patiya massacre took place on Feb 28, 2002 at Naroda, in Ahmedabad, India. 97 Muslims were killed by a mob of approximately 5,000 people, organised by the Bajrang Dal, and supported by the BJP. The massacre at Naroda lasted over 10 hours, during which the mob looted, stabbed, sexually assaulted, gang-raped and burnt people individually and in groups and was deemed "the largest single case of mass murder" during the 2002 Gujarat riots and accounted for the greatest number of deaths during a single event. The state government stated that the massacre was "a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra train carnage and the state government and ruling party had nothing to do with it". Modi, talking about the violence, said that the "riots resulting from the natural and justified anger of people". Mayaben Kodnani, a BJP legislator is the "kingpin of the violence" was later appointed as a Minister for Women and Child Welfare in Narendra Modi's government. Cell phone records showed that she was in touch with the Chief Minister's Office, the Home Minister as well as top police officials during the massacre. She was sentenced to 28 years imprisonment in 2012.
- The Gulbarg Society massacre took place on Feb 28, 2002, when a Hindu crowd started stone pelting the Gulbarg Society, a Muslim neighbourhood in Chamanpura, Ahmedabad. Most of the houses were burnt, and at least 35 victims, including a former Congress Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jafri, were burnt alive, while 31 others went missing after the incident, later presumed dead, bringing the total deaths to 69. Modi and his administration did nothing to save Mr Jafri and 69 others at the Gulberg Society when rioters attacked them despite his repeated phone calls for help, even to the Chief Minister, but to no avail.
- The next day, on 1 March, mainly rural districts were added to the list of hotspots: Panchmahals, Mehsana, Kheda, Junagadh, Banaskantha, Patan, Anand and Narmada.
- On Mar 2, Bharuch and Rajkot, which had yet to be affected by communal violence, were hit in turn.
- On the Mar 4, riots broke out in Surat.
- The clashes in Gujarat could not have spread so quickly and taken on such proportions unless they had been orchestrated by well-organized actors and the attackers' plan had been prepared prior to the events in Godhra.
- The evening of Feb 27, two of Modi's ministers, Ashok Bhatt and Prabhatsingh Chauhan, along with 50 other Sangh Parivar officials, organized a rally in Lunawad, a village in Panchamahals, of which Gohad is district headquarters, to plan “reprisals.”
- It was a far cry from the spontaneous rioting, Modi later described to excuse the Hindus.
- The lists that the ringleaders had in hand attest the premeditated nature of the assault. These indicate Muslim homes and shops, some of which bore Hindi names, thereby proving that investigation had actually been undertaken beforehand ascertaining the owner's identity. The computer print-out lists had partly been drawn up on the basis of voter registration lists.
- Several senior civil servants admitted to investigators that on Feb 28, the Gujarat Interior Minister, Gordhan Zadafira, and Health Minister Ashok Bhatt directed the advance of the assailants from the “City police control room” of Ahmedabad. At the same time, the Urban Development Minister, I.K. Jadeja, a close associate of Modi, had set up his headquarter in the Gujarat “State police control room” in Gandhinagar. All gave the police forces orders not to intervene.
- The violence involved looting Muslim shops then blowing them up with gas cylinders. These operations show careful planning and indicate official support. It would be impossible to transport that many men (and gas cylinders) with that many trucks without the benefit of state logistic support. Above all, the protected nature of the clashes over days, weeks, and even months can only be explained by active government cooperation.
- The attackers set fire to a few automobiles in the vicinity of police stations to make sure their schemes could be carried out with no fear of punishment.
- The administration was paralyzed. Since their rise to power in Gujarat, Hindu nationalists had penetrated deep into the state apparatus including police. Hence the standard response, they gave to the Muslims who called them to their rescue “We have no order to save you".
- An indication that the Modi wanted to see the clashes last, the army, which was already in the vicinity on Mar 1, -- 12 columns with 600 men were stationed at the time in Ahmedabad and other hotspots in Gujarat was kept aside for few “flag marches.” It was on stand-by under the pretense that no “official” was available to accompany the troop.
- The authorities never took the necessary steps to help the refugees: most of the aid came from Muslim NGOs.
- Over 1,200 villages were affected, in the districts of Panchmahals, Mehsana, Sabarkantaha, Bharuch, Bhavnagar and Vadodara. The army had to be called in on Mar 5. Over 2,500 Muslims from 22 different villages were moved to refugee camps. These villages no longer had a single Muslim.
- There exists correlation between the election calendar and the cycle of riots. Both riots and deaths do tend to cluster in the months before elections, and then drop off sharply in the months after an election is held.
- Modi used Godhra as an opportunity to unleash violence and hoped to capitalize on during early elections. He recommended to the governor S.S. Bhandari, another RSS activist, dissolve the assembly on Jul 19, 2003. He resigned as Chief Minister, while remaining at the helmas care taker CM. These tactics were all the more shocking since the violence had far from subsided everywhere. On Jul 20, the day after the assembly was dissolved, two people were killed and 14 wounded by stone-throwing and police gunfire, in Ahmedabad.
- Vajpayee was blamed for his failure as PM to get rid of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who reportedly shouted back at a Muslim leader on the phone for seeking help after a mob had gathered outside his house. Some hours later, the Muslim leader was lynched. Modi seemed to be the villain who brought a lot of shame to the central government. Vajpayee instructed ‘Modi has to go’ but Modi's mentor LK Advani saved him.
- In such conditions, JM Lyngdoh, Chief Election Commissioner, who visited 12 of the state's districts between July 31 and 4 Aug 4, was reluctant to organise polls, especially since many voters, a vast majority of them Muslims, were still living far from their homes in refugee camps. So Modi and the BJP strove to demonstrate that calm had been restored, leading them first to hurriedly closed refugee camps or lower the number of occupants.
- National BJP leaders Dy PM L.K. Advani joined in the call for early elections. Given the objections of the EC, which preferred President's Rule be declared because the election could not be organized and the BJP brought the case before the Supreme Court which refused to express an opinion, referring to the EC decisions. In early November, the Commission set a date for the elections to begin on Dec 12,2013.