- Lt General Shah served as Deputy Chief of Army Staff before retirement
- He led the army in tackling the 2002 Gujarat riots
- He blamed administrative failure for the delay in army movement
The man who led the army in tackling the 2002 Gujarat riots says at a time the state was engulfed in communal violence, his soldiers lost a crucial day waiting at an airfield for a ride, and supplies. In a new book, retired Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah, a former vice chief of army staff, says after about 3,000 troops landed at an Ahmedabad airfield at 7 am on March 1 - the day after the riots broke out - they waited for transport and other logistical support from the state government, which was delayed.
Speaking to NDTV, retired Lt General Shah said around 300 people could have been saved, had the army not been stalled that day. "We just stayed helplessly in the airfield for almost 34 hours. We could hear gunshots but do nothing."
In his soon-to-be-released memoir, "The Sarkari Mussalman", Lt General Shah or "General Zoom" as he was widely known, shares how he headed to then Chief Minister Narendra Modi's house to ask for help.
Mr Modi was Gujarat chief minister for 13 years until he took over as Prime Minister in 2014.
The former Lt General says he reached the Chief Minister's home at 2 am on March 1 "and to my great relief, found (Defence Minister) George Fernandes there. Both were having a late dinner and invited me to join them. I did, but immediately got down to 'brass tacks'. I had a tourist map of Gujarat and asked for the trouble spots. I also gave a list of immediate requirements to enable the Army columns to fan out to restore law and order. I returned to the air field... By 7 am on 1 March 2002, we had about 3,000 troops landed, but no transport, so they remained at the airfield. These were crucial hours lost. Our road columns reached us on 2 March and so did the requisitioned civil trucks, magistrates, police guides and maps."
Both leaders were "very warm" and showed great relief at seeing him, Lt General Shah told Shekhar Gupta on NDTV's Walk The Talk.
"I said Sahab troops aane wale hain and I am here. I moved back with the assurance that the things will be provided. They ultimately were provided. But on the 2nd (one day later)," the former officer told NDTV.
"It was an administrative failure. The chief secretary who was there or officiating chief secretary should have ensured that the wherewithal to move us into the city and whole Gujarat should have been positioned. But it was not."
Asked whether he thought he would have saved lives if deployed a day earlier, Lt General Shah said: "Of course, it would have saved one day of rioting."
There were 1044 over three days. The former general said "at least 300" would have been saved.
The 70-year-old has described portions of the inquiry report by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT) related to army movement as "a blatant lie" in his book.
The Special Investigating Team said that the army was called on the afternoon of February 28 and since the troops were not stationed in Ahmedabad, they had to be airlifted. "Logistical support for army deployment could only take place at 2.30 pm on March 1," said the report.
The special team also asserted that it showed "no conspiracy" on part of the Chief Minister and his cabinet. In fact, it said, "the CM had shown alacrity in requisitioning the army."
At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the three-day riots that swept through Gujarat after 59 kar sewaks or Hindu volunteers died in a fire on the Sabarmati Express on February 27.
The former Lt General recalled that George Fernandes "said you must ensure fair play. You must make sure that the message goes across that the army has been deployed and whatever your requirement we will make it up. The transport started rolling on 2nd, we deployed."
Asked whether he thought everything that went down that day was deliberate, Lt General Shah said: "Well, I did speak to a lot of people even there was a rift in the police, I mean I was getting different versions of what actually happened. I didn't take it. But I do know what made everybody angry was bringing the bodies of the kar sewaks from Godhra to Ahmedabad. That inflamed passions. I think it was an administrative failure. A decision which should not have been taken. If that had not been done then people would not have been so inflamed. I mean, anybody would get inflamed."
Lt General Shah served as Deputy Chief of Army Staff before retirement. He was also Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University.