Modi survives another scare; SC opts out of direct intervention
The apex court appears to have reposed faith in the SIT and declines to act directly against Narendra Modi in the Ehsan Jafri case
The Supreme Court order directing the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to submit its final report in the Ehsan Jafri case to a lower court will come as a huge relief to Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
This means the court more or less has reposed faith in the SIT it had itself set up, and does not want to be seen as intervening directly in a case when a lower court is already looking at the case.
Any adverse verdict based on a report by amicus curae (friend of the court) Raju Ramachandran, who was asked by the apex court to look into the SIT’s report and also conduct his own investigation on it, would have dented the political capital of Modi and the BJP.
The BJP has been on the offensive against the UPA government over corruption charges, and a setback in the Modi case would have put it entirely on the backfoot. The Congress, which was expecting the Supreme Court to upset Modi's apple-cart, will now have to brace for further attacks from the BJP.
The Jafri case relates to an attack on Gulbarg Society, a Muslim neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, on 28 February 2002, in the riots that followed the Godhra train fire.
Ehsan Jafri and at least 35 others were burnt alive when the houses were set on fire; more than 30 others were missing and presumed dead. Jafri’s wife Zakia had sought a direction from the Supreme Court that Modi’s alleged role – as the head of a state government that had allegedly been derelict in its duty to protect the people and then destroyed records of police conversations on that day – should be investigated.
Zakia Jafri’s petition named Modi and 61 other officials, including police officers and senior bureaucrats of the state government, and alleged that the accused conspired to render the police and security forces inactive in order to allow the mob violence to continue.
In February this year, the SIT, headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief RK Raghavan, had submitted to the Supreme Court a 600-page report on the Gulbarg case. Although there was much in the report to embarrass the state government, it concluded that the evidence in the case was not strong enough to prosecute Modi.
In the course of the investigation, the SIT also interrogated Modi himself for several hours in two sessions, but found nothing to directly tie him to the attack.
Earlier this year, Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt filed an affidavit claiming that he had attended a meeting called by Narendra Modi on 27 February 2002 – the day of the Godhra train fire – where the police were asked not to intervene in the riots to protect minority community members who were targets of attack.
The Supreme Court, however, did not take the affidavit on record at that point.
The Jafri case is seen by both civil society activists led by Teesta Setalvad and political parties are the key to Modi’s political survival, especially in the context of Sanjiv Bhatt’s subsequent affidavit.
Given the high stakes involved, both sides have been making allegations and counter allegations about trying to subvert justice. While Setalvad’s Citizens for Justice and Peace has been claiming that Modi’s government was using every trick in the book to pressure witnesses to change their testimonies, she herself has been pulled up by the Supreme Court for trying to influence the SIT.
Last January, the Supreme Court pulled up Setalvad for sending communications addressed to the SIT to the UN Human Rights Commission.
Now, with Monday's Supreme Court order, the trial court will now consider Jafri's widow, Zakia's plea to implicate Modi for allegedly aiding the post-Godhra rioters which resulted in her husband's killing.
The three-judge bench comprising Justices DK Jain, P Sathasivam and Aftab Alam passed its verdict on amicus curae Raju Ramachandran’s report on whether the SIT headed by RK Raghavan was right to overlook the role of Modi in the Jafri case this morning.
If the court, after considering Ramachandran’s report, had found against Modi, or recommended a prosecution of him and other officials, it could completely overturn Gujarat and national politics.
Any adverse finding would have meant Modi would have been subject to further probe and possible questioning by law-enforcement officers. If the verdict had been stringent, pressure will be mounted for his resignation.
However, the Court appears to have reposed its faith in Raghavan’s original SIT report, and the BJP will claim it as a victory – and carry on as usual.
The Congress, which has invested huge political capital in targeting Modi, will now have to work harder to unseat Modi, who is seen as a potential PM if the BJP or NDA come to power.
The SIT report noted, among other things, that the state government’s response to the attacks on Muslims in Gulbarga society and Naroda Patiya was inadequate, and that Modi had sought to downplay the gravity of the crime by suggesting that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
More seriously, the SIT report concluded the government had destroyed wireless records of police conversations on the day of the attack on the Gulbarga Society. The report also criticised the role of bureaucrats and Cabinet ministers.
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