On the evening of May 27, journalist and writer Rana Ayyub launched her book on the 2002 Gujarat riots at the Habitat Centre, in the heart of New Delhi. That same evening, BJP president Amit Shah was hosting journalists over dinner barely 5 km away at the Ashoka hotel – his third in a series celebrating the Modi government’s two years in power.
Ayyub’s book, called ‘Gujarat Files : Anatomy of a Cover-up,’ directly accuses Shah - Gujarat’s junior home minister at the time of the 2002 riots and who, over the next decade, went on to become the second most powerful man in the state after chief minister Narendra Modi – of allegedly masterminding the Gujarat riots as well as ordering the killing of small-time criminal Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife or live-in partner Kausar Bi and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati.
In fact, Ayyub charges that Modi himself was complicit in the riots that took place across Gujarat, in the wake of the Godhra train attacks on February 27, 2002 in which 59 people were burnt alive. About a 1000 Muslims are said to have been killed in those riots.
The charges are serious. Narendra Modi is now prime minister of India and Amit Shah, his closest aide and advisor, the second most powerful man in the country. The energy and drive both men have displayed in recent years has not only resulted in catapulting Modi to Race Course Road, the prime minister’s official residence in the heart of the capital, but saffronising large parts of India since the BJP has been in power.
But in the week, since Ayyub’s book launch, it is as if a vast cloud of silence has enveloped Delhi’s mainstream media. Except for the Indian Express and Caravan, not one English mainstream newspaper or magazine has taken forward Rana Ayyub’s charges against either Modi or Shah, or reviewed the book, or excerpted it. It is as if Delhi’s noisy and boisterous media fraternity, otherwise always ready to pick a fight with the country’s political classes, has simply turned away.
The Hindu, acknowledged to be a left-of-centre newspaper, is believed not to have published a story because it doesn’t publish “self-published works.” (Ayyub published her own book because several publishers refused to touch it.) The Economic Times sent a reporter, but didn’t use her story, like the Hindustan Times. The Times of India had nothing on the book the next day, or since. Neither India Today nor Outlook, India’s leading magazines, wrote anything about it. Mint has carried a book review already, though.
None of the TV channels picked up the story. But Rajdeep Sardesai, consulting editor at India Today was there to speak at the book's launch, making up for the lack of spine on the part of several of India’s largest media houses.
Only the Indian Express did two stories – first, on the book itself which it took forward by asking each of those that Ayyub has accused in the book to defend him/herself. And another on the spat between Ayyub and her former editor, Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka magazine. Ayyub had accused them both in the book of not allowing her to publish the so-called damning material she had collected on Modi and Shah during her investigation. Caravan hosted the book launch as a Caravan Conversation.
Several journalists privately applaud Rana Ayyub’s courage in writing the book, going undercover for eight months under a false name, Maithili Tyagi, and assuming the alibi of an America-returned film-maker making a film on Gujarat. Several acknowledged that even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to write about the book, because their editors/proprietors wouldn’t allow it.
But journalists also pointed to the book’s weaknesses. Sting journalism is not the best form of journalism – a fact Ayyub acknowledged at the panel discussion that followed the book launch, point out that there was no other way to get the facts of the Gujarat riots on record. Secondly, the author gives no dates as to when the stings or conversations with her subjects take place.
The so-called evidence is substantial or baseless, depending on how you look at it. On Page 58, Rana Ayyub stings Rajan Priyadarshi, a Dalit IPS officer, who tells her that at the behest of Amit Shah, Sohrabuddin Sheikh as well as Tulsiram Prajapati were “bumped off.” On Page 65, she talks about how GC Singhal, another IPS officer accused of killing Ishrat Jahan and three Muslims in cold blood, made a secret recording of a conversation between Amit Shah’s successor, Praful Patel, and several of Modi’s close advisors on this matter.
On page 86, her recorded conversation with Home Secretary Ashok Narayan says that (then the chief minister) Modi never gave instructions on paper. “He had his people and through them the VHP and then through them (it would) trickle down through informal channels to the lower rung police inspector.”
On page 119, Ayyub’s transcript of her secret conversation with G C Raigar, intelligence chief during the 2002 riots, has him admitting to her that he knew about the encounters that killed both Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi and that Amit Shah was “involved.” And on page 172, Maya Kodnani, Gujarat’s minister for women and child development in 2002 and since arrested on the charge of leading the mobs at Naroda Patiya in which 97 people were killed, tells Ayyub that she was made a “scapegoat,” and if the same yardstick was used against Modi that was applied to her, he would have been arrested too.
Interestingly, several news portals took up Ayyub’s story. ‘The Wire’ did an excerpt as well as an interview, while Scroll.in published a book extract as well as a story on how the trolls were getting after the young journalist. Catch News also did a story on how Ayyub’s book was getting several hundred reviews on Amazon, while Jhumpa Lahiri had to be content with only a few – but wait, wasn’t there a catch to that? Seems, several of Ayyub’s reviewers hadn’t bought the book from Amazon in the first place. Newslaundry interviewed Ayyub.
Still, the book isn’t going away. Especially, not in the wake of the special court’s verdict on June 2, on the massacre at Gulberg Society in the heart of Ahmedabad in February 2002, in which a former Rajya Sabha MP belonging to the Congress party, Ehsan Jaffri, was killed by a rampaging mob.
Interestingly, several of the newspapers that blanked out Ayyub’s book have devoted large newspaper space to the coverage of the Gulberg verdict.
Within a week of Rana Ayyub’s book launch, 7200 paperback copies have been sold, as well as 4000 e-books, and 75,000 pages have been read on Kindle. Amazon has just ordered another 15,000 copes, she says.
According to several journalists who spoke off the record, the BJP is simply not responding to any questions on Ayyub’s book. “They are ignoring the book’s accusations, waving away any questions. If they don’t respond, they believe the story will die down on its own,” said one journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Interestingly, BJP leaders quick to talk about their government’s two years in power, are also refusing to respond to the Gulberg verdict. “The people have chosen Narendra Modi, the law will take its course, there is nothing to say,” said one BJP leader.
Jyoti Malhotra is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.