Who’s afraid of the Commission’s Report?
Ironically, the same government which increased the work of the Commission in mid–1995, chose to scrap it on January 23, 1996 on the ground that "it had taken unduly long time to produce its report and that the report, even if produced, was only likely to open old wounds which had healed". The alliance members were obviously uncomfortable with the adverse impact of the publicity that the day-to-day examination and cross–examination before the Commission was causing them. There followed a volley of protests from the public — prominent citizens of Mumbai staged a dharna to demand its re–instatement, a group of writ petitions challenging the government action were filed in the Mumbai High Court. Simultaneously, the demand for the reinstatement of the Commission was raised both in the state Assembly and the Lok Sabha.
On May 28, 1996, the Commission was reinstated ostensibly on a request from BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee who in the summer of 1996 occupied the Prime Minister’s chair for 13 days. In retrospect, the real reason became apparent through the ruling of the Mumbai High Court within days of the reinstatement. Even though the Commission had already been reinstated, the court, while giving its ruling on a public interest petition, came down heavily on the state government’s decision of January 1996 and issued a directive that the Commission be given further time extensions, if need be, to complete its job.
Five years after its appointment, the Commission finally submitted its report on February 16, 1998, relying on the examination of 502 witnesses and 2,903 exhibits. The conduct of the Maharashtra government for six long months before it was compelled — by judicial intervention and consistent public pressure — to table the report in the state Assembly on August 6 was a study in prevarication. Even before August 6, the ruling alliance in the state already stood publicly exposed for its role in the violence in 1992 and 1993. Chief minister Manohar Joshi, SS ministers and MPs, and the Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray, had been denigrating the yet–to–be–tabled report of the Judge in a crude attempt to justify their reasons for withholding the report from members of the public.
Furore in the state Assembly, questions in the Lok Sabha, public meetings and agitation on the streets of Mumbai, an appeal to Justice Srikrishna by prominent citizens appealing to his judicial conscience to make his report public and two public interest petitions in the Mumbai High Court finally forced the government to table the Commission’s findings before the Maharashtra Assembly on August 6. While tabling the report in the state Assembly, the Chief Minister dubbed the report ""anti-Hindu" and "biased in favour of the minority community".
"Discrimination was also practised in making arrests and while Muslim rioters were arrested in large numbers, the police turned a blind eye to what the Hindu rioters were doing. Some innocent Muslims who went to take shelter at the Bhiwandi Town Police Station were arrested instead of being given shelter and protection….Muslim prisoners were made to stay in the compound of the Taluka Police Station, with the shade of trees for only a few of them, while Hindu prisoners were made to stay on the verandahs. Discrimination was practised in the distribution of food and water between Hindu prisoners and Muslim prisoners."
The chief minister’s official statement in the Assembly and the government’s stance on the Srikrishna Commission report, as apparent from its Memorandum of Action To Be Taken (ATR), are gross evasions that need to be urgently studied and understood. The riots of December 1992–January 1993, under a Congress(I) government, recalled through the evidence led by the Commission, present a sorry tale of a regime that failed abysmally, or chose not to, act against the perpetrators of violence and thereby gave social legitimacy to unlawful acts. It is this callous indifference to the observance of basic principles of the rule of law, consistently flouted by communal parties, that has allowed communal forces to flourish and gain power both in the Centre and in five Indian states today. The poor track record of the Indian police and the judiciary in punishing those guilty of pre–meditated mass crimes makes a public debate even more imperative. We hope that the Srikrishna Commission report initiates a nationwide debate on these substantive issues. The need for publishing the report at this crucial historic juncture is, therefore, apparent.
— Javed Anand