The word began to filter around in the afternoon that Tehelka, whose 2001 hidden-camera expose of Bangaru Laxman introduced the phrase 'sting operation' to India, was about to break The Most Important Story of Our Time. Sabrang sent an email alerting the national media that the target of the operation were senior Sangh Parivar officers in Gujarat. It sounded like a zinger.
It has turned out to be more than a zinger - this is an explosive story. Ashish Khaitan infiltrated the VHP of Gujarat for 6 months, and emerged with video recordings of highly incriminating statements made by key people in the VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena about their roles - and the role of the state apparatus at large - in manufacturing the 2002 massacres.
The Truth About Gujarat 2002: In the Words of the Men Who Did It: Tehelka's Full Story Here
Among the statements made and recorded on camera:
Babu Bajrangi, chief of the Bajrang Dal in 2002, talking about killing a pregnant woman with a sword*, about promising to kill four times the number of Muslims as there were Hindus killed at Godhra, about contacting the State Home Minister Zadaphia after organizing the murder of 91 Muslims and being advised to flee, about being hidden by Modi in a state-owned building for four months.
Anil Patel, the departmental chief of the VHP, talking about burning down 126 Muslim houses, about instructing his cadre to 'Lock the door from outside and burn the Muslims from the inside,’ and about International Gen'l Sec'y Pramod Togadia coordinating the attacks in the district.
Madan Chawal, a local trader who was part of a mob led by VHP leader Atul Vaid, talking about besieging the house of MP Ehsan Jafri, taking the money Jafri offered in exchange for sparing the lives of the people gathered in the house, cutting off Jafri's hands, then his legs, then his genitals, and burning him alive.
This is only a sampler of the recorded incriminations that Khaitan obtained. They appear to be extensive, interconnected and thoroughly damning. But as Shoma Chaudhury, Tehelka's features editor, took pains to point out during the programme, the real exposure is not of the individuals who confessed on camera to participating in the massacres. The real exposure is of the state apparatus of Gujarat - the executive, the police, the judiciary - which is compromised in total. In total.
The dramatic unveiling of this footage shouldnt blind us to the fact that, for anyone who cared to look into it, the evidence for the collaboration of the government and the Sangh organizations in the massacres was always plentiful. It was easily accessible: in the reports of the People's Union of Civil Liberties, in Rakesh Sharma's documentary Final Solution, in Siddharth Vardarajan's book Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, and in any number of news report and scholarly articles looking at the production of communal riots. What the sting operation may accomplish that is new and important is, firstly, to make the charge completely irrefutable, and secondly, and more importantly, to present the charges and the evidence in as public and dramatic and attention-gathering a format as possible.
This may have a single, incredible effect on the discourse surrounding the 2002 massacres: it may finally make it the default understanding about Gujarat that the massacres were organized by the people now in power. It will push the deniers onto the back foot. It will no longer be necessary to say, "allegedly," and "indications that," and "accused of," when discussing that a riot-production system exists, and that it was put into full-scale operation by the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat.
Many questions now arise about what will follow the sting. It seems certain to be an exciting two weeks, between the evening of the broadcast and the Gujarat state legisative elections in two weeks.
Will the people appearing in the videos be charge-sheeted? Are the videos admissible as evidence in court?
How should the Election Commission respond in terms of managing the election?
Will the Supreme Court take suo moto action?
Will the press come under the big tent and make a concerted effort to galvanize action on the basis of the investigation?
Above all, will the electorate of Gujarat - or at least that part of it that is allowed to live and exercise its franchise - acknowledge the brutal reality of what their state has become? Will that knowledge dim their view of the Modi government, or will it shine even brighter in their eyes?