Speculation was rife during the last few days whether Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would appear before the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team on Saturday to answer questions on the post-Godhra communal riots in the State in 2002. Many even wondered whether he would approach the Supreme Court to postpone the questioning until the court decided on a petition filed by the former BJP member of the State Assembly, Kalu Maliwad, challenging the SIT's jurisdiction to summon any of the 63 persons, including Mr. Modi.
It was on the basis of the June, 2006 petition by Zakia Jaffrey, wife of the slain former Congress Lok Sabha member, Ehsan Jaffrey, that the apex court asked the SIT to “look into” the matter. Mr. Modi was called by the SIT to answer its questions. The SIT earlier summoned the then Minister of State for Home, Gordhan Jhadaphia, the then general secretary of the State BJP and former Minister, Nalin Bhatt, as well as several police officers who were on duty in the riot-affected areas and others. Mr. Modi, however, is perhaps the first Chief Minister to be summoned as an “accused” by a police investigation team functioning under the direct supervision of the apex court.
Till Saturday morning, the venue of the questioning was not clear and it was believed that for security reasons the SIT officer would be requested to reach the Chief Minister's official residence here or at any of the government circuit houses in Gandhinagar or Ahmedabad for the session. Such speculation ended only after a large posse of security personnel along with a dog squad reached the old Secretariat complex, where the SIT office is located, to de-sanitise the area, giving a clear indication that Mr. Modi will be arriving at the SIT office to answer questions. Sources in the Chief Minister's office said that only around 10.45 a.m. Mr. Modi communicated to his staff that he would be going to the SIT office by noon.
Though Mr. Modi claimed that what he received from the SIT was only a “letter” and not a summons, Pradesh Congress president Siddhartha Patel said Mr. Modi's appearance before the SIT had “exposed” his “blatant lies” that he was not “summoned” by the SIT for questioning. He said Mr. Modi was the first Chief Minister in the 50-year history of the State to be “accused” for “failing to protect the lives and property of the people. “It is a blot on the clean slate of Gujarat,” he said.
Teesta Setalvad, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Citizens for Justice and Peace, which has played a key role in re-opening the riot cases and appointment of the SIT by the apex court, said Saturday was a “historic day when a sitting Chief Minister was questioned on serious allegations of mass murder and criminal conspiracy.” She said the CJP believed that there was enough evidence against Mr. Modi to register an FIR against him and said she hoped that “it will be the next step” of the SIT.
Ms. Jaffrey, who is in Surat, said she was “very happy” that Mr. Modi had responded to the SIT summons. She regretted that it had taken eight long years for the investigation to take the present shape but hoped that since it had come “this far, some justice will be done to the riot victims.”
She expressed confidence that with Mr. Modi's appearance before the SIT, her lawyers would now be able to take the issue to the logical conclusion and ensure justice to the victims.