By Waled Aadnan:
“I am saddened, but confident I will get justice.”
So said Zakia Jafri after the Special Investigation Team (SIT) presented its report on the Gulberg Society massacre case saying it had found no evidence to prosecute any of the 63 persons, including Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for direct or indirect involvement in the communal riots of 2002.
Sixty nine persons, including former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri were burnt to death or went missing following a mob attack on a building in Ahmedabad with predominantly Muslim inhabitants. Ten years later, the SIT has recommended the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate MS Bhatt on April 10, 2012 to close the case, having found no evidence to justify the filing of an FIR against any of the persons named in Ms. Jafri’s complaint in the Supreme Court.
Abiding by the Supreme Court orders, the report will be made public when a copy of the report and supporting documents filed by the SIT is sent to Ms. Jafri within 30 days. However, it is now for the court to decide whether to accept or reject the SIT report. After all, the SIT ‘clean chit’ isn’t the last word in the case. Most importantly, there is the report of the Supreme Court’s amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran which has seemingly irreconcilable differences with that of the SIT. The differences between the two reports are said to be essentially twofold: that relating to the treatment of the suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s testimony regarding the role of Modi during the riots and secondly, the allegation that the SIT indulged in intimidation and coercion of witnesses to not reveal the truth.
Bhatt, the then Deputy Commissioner of Police in the State Intelligence Bureau stated and provided evidence that he was present in a meeting at Narendra Modi’s residence on February 27, 2002 where the CM allegedly instructed top police officials of the state to allow the Hindus to vent their anger after the Godhra train burning incident. While the SIT report considers Bhatt as an unreliable witness, the report of the amicus curiae takes his evidence into account.
Besides, the two reports differ on another crucial finding, according to Frontline. The SIT has found that M.K. Tandon, then the Joint Commissioner of Police and his deputy PB Gondia did not help the victims in Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patiya even though he knew of the massacres taking place there. The SIT has found evidence that Tandon had false cases registered in other parts of the city (where he claimed he had gone) to justify his absence in Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patiya. Besides, Tandon was in telephonic contact with the accused politicians Jaideep Patel and Mayaben Kodnani, according to previous SIT reports submitted to the Supreme Court. Yet, the SIT cited dubious legal advice to not proceed against Tandon and Gondia. The amicus, on the other hand, had advised criminal prosecution of the two police officers.
Predictably, the SIT report has garnered a lot of publicity. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj tweeted: “No evidence against Narendra Modi” says SIT appointed by Supreme Court. “A big relief for us. Ten years of vilification campaign must stop.” Elsewhere, reacting to the magistrate’s observation on the SIT’s closure report, Ms. Jafri’s co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad has pinned her hopes on Mr. Ramachandran’s report, which had found enough grounds for trying Mr. Modi. “We are still not clear whether Mr. Ramachandran’s report had formed part of the SIT’s report…,” she said.
The two reports will now be at the court’s disposal to weigh and judge. The right to challenge any verdict in a higher court ensures that the case is still up for a long haul and a definitive verdict cannot be expected until the case reaches the Supreme Court. That itself may take years. As such, it is premature to label the SIT report as a clean chit to Modi.
The facts of the case remain complex and the media remains polarised. Predictably plagued by the Breaking-News-syndrome, the media has either autonomously declared Modi to be innocent or claimed a major setback to those seeking his prosecution. However, there is a credible sense that no matter what the law eventually concludes, Modi’s hands will remain bloodied in the eyes of a large section of the Indian milieu forever. As the Tehelka expose of 2007 revealed, the involvement of the BJP and the Sangh in the massacres in Gujarat is an open secret. No amount of contradictory reports can undo this perception.
In that respect, how much of Modi’s legacy is riding on a report of an investigating agency or a verdict of a lower court? And how effective is the media’s tirade either in favour of him as an able administrator or against him as the man who supervised over one of the worst genocides in Indian history? In the long run, Modi has benefitted personally from the riots. It helped establish for him an image of a leader who would go to no extents for the sake of the majority Hindu population. The hardcore saffron support is evidently Modi’s for the taking. The riots have served their purpose for the man and they remain simply as an albatross around his neck. He certainly believes that the hands of the law aren’t long enough to reach him and as far as the Gujarat polls later this year are concerned, or even the 2014 Lok Sabha general elections, the SIT report is the second best thing to have happened to him. The best would have been a gradual disappearance of the riot cases from the public eye. In that respect, the persistent media reports, however exaggerating, serve to keep the fight for justice in the IndianÂ mind space.
The fact that Modi is even being considered as a strong contender for Prime Ministership is a blot on India’s human rights record worse than the wars being waged against fellow Indians in the Red Corridor and in the Northeast. It has to be realised by Modi’s apologists that the punishment for orchestrated murder of hundreds of Indian citizens cannot be anything other than incarceration. Subsequent evidence of strong leadership is no reason to forgive the crimes of 2002. In that respect, the continued obsession of the media with him is not only justified, but highly commendable.