By Abhishek Jha:
The run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw Modi’s public image metamorphose from that of a tainted chief minister accused of deliberate inaction during riots to the man who could salvage India from all its problems, deliver and develop. It would be unthinkable now to be reminded that this man, who is an instant favourite with industrialists, had once been questioned and mistrusted by them due to the riots. Since then, however, he worked hard to bring the metamorphosis to fruition. The Tata Nano plant set up at Sanand, the hiring of the lobbying firm APCO Worldwide for strengthening brand Gujarat, the Vibrant Gujarat summits were all part of the project. It also helped that the SIT submitted that it did not find enough evidence to proceed against him, which was immediately dubbed ‘a clean chit’ and cleared the path to the final throne.
But the hot seat hasn’t been as comfortable and empowering as Modi would wish. One last thorn persists and those who feel that justice remains undelivered in the 2002 carnage have put all their weight behind that last thorn, namely Zakia Jafri. To bury the ghosts of 2002 and to emerge spotless, Modi needs to delegitimise that force. To that end, the work has been relentless. The probe initiated against Teesta Setalvad regarding exhumation of corpses of riot victims, who as a member of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) is assisting Zakia Jafri in her case, is a case in point. In 2012, the Supreme Court bench had said the following about it: “This is a hundred percent spurious case to victimise the petitioner (Setalvad)” and that “this type of case does no credit to the state of Gujarat in any way.”
A year earlier, in 2011, Sanjiv Bhatt, an IPS officer who had submitted before the SIT that Modi had asked his administration to “let Hindus vent their anger“, was suspended for dereliction of duty and insubordination. He had failed to report at his post as the principal of the Police Training College, Junagadh, because he was “to appear in the various court cases and [before] the G.T.Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial commission“. In the same year he was arrested within 48 hours after he filed another affidavit claiming that Modi and Amit Shah had asked him to destroy documentary evidence regarding the murder of Haren Pandya. Interestingly, Pandya, a minister during Modi’s chief minster-ship, had testified undercover before the Krishna Iyer tribunal in 2002 that Modi had wanted Hindus to vent their anger after the Sabarmati Express was set on fire.
On July 14 this year, just a few weeks before the hearing on Zakia Jafri’s revision plea was to begin, CBI raided Setalvad’s office and residence citing FCRA violations even when demands for a thorough probe in Vyapam case were being raised with great frenzy. The CBI went so far as to demand custodial interrogation of Setalvad and her husband. Bombay HC, however, denied CBI the custody saying that it did not “find any threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state or a threat to its security or economic interest” if the couple remained free and even granted them anticipatory bail. “A citizen may conduct social activities and may have a different point of view, which may not be liked by the government. However, in a democratic state, a citizen may have his or her point of view,” Justice Mridula Bhatkar said last week. Soon after the suspended IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, was sacked.
The Union Home Ministry termination order, following a recommendation from the Gujarat government, signed on 13th August had 11 charges against Bhatt similar to the ones that had led to his suspension. Bhatt tweeted after he learnt of his termination: “Finally removed from service today after serving 27 years in the Indian Police Service. Once again eligible for employment. 🙂 Any takers?” His son’s letter praising him for his courage has gone viral. Setalvad is cheered every time she comes clean before the courts. Both Setalvad and Bhatt do have the sympathy of a large group of people in the country. It is not unique to those who stand against Modi. Durga Shakti Nagpal, the IAS officer who took on the sand mafia in UP, got a lot of support when she was suspended. A lot of people look up to such officers as honest people fighting a corrupt and powerful system. Their everyday struggles against this system makes them identify with them.
Of course, whenever such action takes place, the state argues that it is in accordance with guidelines, statues, laws, procedure, etc. One would also like to believe that that is true. However, few people who have held the high office of the Prime Minister have invested as much energy in building their public image as Mr. Modi has. So, in the rare case that the charges being filed against these people are false, are spurious, wouldn’t it hurt his public image? Maybe in the enthusiasm of defending the country against anti-national people, of freeing the country of people who do not follow procedure and orders, a case or two might have been exaggerated. He should understand that this is a mistake. Every charge that emerges to be “hundred percent spurious” is likely to weigh against him if the courts give a green signal to a fresh investigation after hearing Jafri’s plea. In the public eye, it has already begun to tarnish him again and maybe the industrialists will start to groan again. A little humility can save him that.