Gujarat riots: Book recalling tensions between Narendra Modi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee submitted to panel
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The chapter, which lauds two IPS officers including Sreekumar, and an IAS officer, for taking on the government, "has relevant information for the commission", Sreekumar said. "Now, it is up to the commission to call Chowdhury for a deposition."
The book, The Insider's View, Memoirs of a Public Servant, by Javid Chowdhury, a Gujarat cadre officer of the 1965 batch, says Modi's government did not want a central team to visit the Shah-e-Alam relief camp in 2002, and the late Ashok Bhatt, then the health minister of Gujarat, had actually threatened to jump from the car if the union health minister insisted on going to the camp.
The book was published last year and widely reviewed. In 2002, Chowdhury was union health secretary, and part of a health ministry team that visited Gujarat on the instructions of the Prime Minister's Office.
Asked if he would be willing to depose before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, Chowdhury said, "What I have stated in the book (on the riots) is anecdotal. I have no evidence. So there is nothing to depose."
Chowdhury has written: "Within a day or so of the breakout of the violence, it had become clear to all that the NDA government was embarassed... The PMO suggested that the union health ministry should intervene at least by way of providing medical relief. However, there was no scope for this, as the state government insisted that everything was back to normal, and no central assistance was required. I learnt that the PM had called the health minister and asked him to devise a modality to intervene without raising the hackles of Narendra Modi."
According to Chowdhury, when he communicated to the PMO that "any attempt on our part without a request from the state government would create a conflict", the PM "desired that the intervention be taken up under the flag of the Indian Red Cross Society".
Chowdhury writes that Vajpayee told the health minister — presumably C P Thakur — to proceed to Ahmedabad immediately, taking Chowdhury along. "The insistence that I accompany the minister was perhaps because I was the seniormost Muslim officer of the central government..."
According to Chowdhury, the programme drawn up by the then Gujarat chief secretary "avoided a visit to the relief camps in the worst-hit areas". The health minister "had received information from the PMO about the dismal living conditions at the camp located at Shah-e-Alam; he was keen on visiting that relief camp", Chowdhury writes. But the Gujarat government "opposed it firmly", and the minister "had to agree... as there was no other way of obtaining cooperation for the uninvited trip".
According to Chowdhury, "plain-clothes men" took the minister away when riot victims tried to raise the issue of their rehabilitation. He narrates a dramatic exchange between the central minister and Gujarat's Ashok Bhatt:
"...My minister had again raised the question of visiting the Shah-e-Alam camp... Ashokbhai went completely berserk. He screamed that my minister doubted his word when he said that the Shah-e-Alam camp was in good order. He was flushed in the face and stammering to the point of incoherence. At one stage, with a manic glint in his eye, he told my minister that if he pressed for going to that particular camp, he would jump out of the moving car in protest!"
During Modi's first visit to Delhi after the riots, the chief minister, Chowdhury writes, "in his usual declamatory style announced how the response of the state machinery had been prompt and effective", and "the PM sat slouched in his seat bearing his trademark pout. He looked distinctly uncomfortable."
The then deputy prime minister L K Advani, who was present, "did not utter a word", Chowdhury says. "He was reported to be suffering from laryngitis — no one clarified whether it was viral or diplomatic!"
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