The conviction of 24 of 66 accused in the Gulbarg Society massacre case — by a special SIT court in Ahmedabad — is a significant step towards justice for the families of the 69 people killed by a mob 14 years ago. And while the verdict has been hailed as a victory in some quarters and criticised as being insufficient in others, one of the most consequential details of Special Court Judge PB Desai's judgment is the dropping of the conspiracy charge (Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code) against all of the accused.
The court observed that there was no evidence of criminal conspiracy in the case.
Why is this significant?
While questions might be raised on the quality of police investigation that have led to the acquittal of more than half the accused, this also indicates that the events of 28 February, 2002 were a spontaneous display of violence. This means, even those who have been convicted, have not been convicted for criminal conspiracy.
Let's examine the definition of criminal conspiracy as per Section 120A:
When two or more persons agree to do, or cause to be done
(1) an illegal act, or
(2) an act which is not illegal by illegal means, such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy: Provided that no agreement except an agreement to commit an offence shall amount to a criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance thereof.
What this means is that whether the 'illegal act' in question was the aim of the agreement between the two or more persons (to which the section alludes) or just incidental to the act is inconsequential.
The import of dropping Section 120B is enormous because it effectively means that one of the worst targeted mob-killing during the post-Godhra carnage should now be seen merely as a spontaneous incident of rage and mayhem, not a planned attack executed with political, police and administrative collusion. In other words, what it means is that even if the attack was planned and executed, there is absolutely no evidence to show that.
Considering that the Gulbarg Society massacre — in which 69 people, including Ehsan Jafri, a sitting member of Parliament, were lynched and burnt — hit international headlines for being one of the glaring examples of the failure and collusion of the state government headed by Narendra Modi, the verdict is bound to raise political temperatures again. The fact that even the sitting BJP corporator Bipin Patel has been acquitted will be used by the party to claim that the riots were just that: Riots.
It is with this point that the BJP is bound to go to town because two of its leaders — Modi and Amit Shah, who were heading the state administration then and had to face an immense amount of political and legal heat — are now the two most important persons at the national level. Modi was grilled for nine long hours by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by R Raghavan, the first time a serving chief minister was questioned in a riots case.
For now, the next part of this case to keep an eye on is the quantum of punishment for the convicts, which will be announced on Monday.
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2016 15:04 PM