The very fact that our governments and courts regularly set up commissions of inquiry, task forces and special investigation teams itself testifies to the breakdown of governance on an almost routine basis. The fact that these commissions and investigation teams invariably fail to indict the guilty or even tell us the truth suggests something even more disturbing: that more often than not, the violence and lawlessness being probed are the product of players and processes deeply embedded in the system. Those in charge of the ‘fact-finding’ exercise know they cannot be exposed or sanctioned without jeopardising the edifice of a State that rests on pillars of impunity.
So a Justice M.S. Liberhan can take two decades investigating the demolition of the 1992 Babri Masjid only to produce a report of shabby and breathtaking pointlessless. Justice G.T. Nanavati has already spent more than 11 years running his commission of inquiry into the 2002 Gujarat riots and there is no end in sight to his noble exertions. Despite the fact that his terms of reference include probing the role, if any, that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi might have played, the learned judge has decided there is no need to question or cross-examine him before the commission. Several commissions have looked into the 1984 pogrom against the Sikhs—including one by the same Nanavati who willingly took time off the 2002 probe in order to conduct and finish the 1984 one in double-quick time—but the politicians and policemen who allowed over 3,000 innocent people to be massacred are still beyond the reach of the law.
The Fiction of Fact-Finding is the first book-length analysis I have read that has attempted to subject this sinister modus operandi of the Indian State to detailed judicial forensics. Manoj Mitta, a respected journalist with the Times of India, has made ample use of his own legal background to tell a gripping tale of the manner in which the special investigation team (SIT), set up by the Supreme Court and headed by former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan, to probe the worst incidents of the 2002 Gujarat riots, chose the path of least resistance. Of course, the most celebrated—or controversial—of its findings has been the ‘clean chit’ it gave Modi when it concluded that there were no grounds to proceed against the chief minister. But its closure report contains other important findings or omissions that have a bearing on the role of the police and administration.