Supreme Court's verdict lobs the issue back to same agencies in which NGOs expressed lack of confidence

Efforts to implicate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 communal riots — which was launched by Zakia Jafri, widow of the former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was among those killed in the Gulberg Society massacre of June 2006 — have come back to square one.

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a Mumbai-based voluntary organisation, which stood by the riot victims in various courts of law in their quest for justice, and some other non-governmental organisations helped Ms. Jafri take the fight right up to the Supreme Court in a bid to find Mr. Modi and 63 other political leaders, senior bureaucrats and police officers guilty in the cases of riots, especially the Gulberg Society massacre.

The Supreme Court's verdict, however, lobs the issue back to the same agencies — in which CJP and other organisations had expressed lack of confidence — the trial courts in Gujarat and the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by the former CBI director, R.K. Raghavan.

It was at CJP's insistence that the Supreme Court ordered that the trial of the Best Bakery case of Vadodara be held outside the State. Soon after this order, Ms. Jafri, with the help of CJP general secretary Teesta Setalvad, wrote to the then Director-General of Police, A.K. Bhargava, on June 8, 2006, accusing Mr. Modi and 63 others of “conspiracy” against Muslims and demanding that the police on its own file an First Information Report against them in the 2002 riots.

The demand was turned down. On May 1, 2007, Ms. Jafri moved the Gujarat High Court for a directive to the DGP. But the court dismissed the petition on November 2 the same year, pointing out that the petitioners should move the trial court. Instead, Ms. Jafri and CJP moved the Supreme Court against the High Court's order.

On April 27, 2009, the Supreme Court, which was monitoring the progress of the investigation by SIT headed by Mr. Raghavan into nine of the massacres, asked SIT to additionally “look into” Ms. Jafri's complaint and submit its report at the earliest.

The SIT, which had almost completed the investigation into the Gulberg Society massacre by then and was about to commit the case to the trial court, began a fresh investigation, again questioning some of the witnesses, including some key political leaders and police officers. On March 27, 2010, SIT, for the first time, summoned Mr. Modi himself and grilled him for more than eight hours.

The SIT also questioned several of the officers and political leaders named in Ms. Jafri's complaint and submitted its report to the Supreme Court on May 14, 2010. The court gave a copy of the report to the then amicus curiae, Prashant Bhushan. But after the BJP raised questions about his “impartiality,” Mr. Bhushan resigned, and the court appointed Raju Ramachandran amicus curiae on October 26, 2010.

After Mr. Ramachandran noted some “flaws” in the SIT report, the court directed SIT on March 15, 2011 to further probe the matter. The SIT submitted a fresh report on April 25, especially in the light of the controversial IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court, accusing Mr. Modi of having “directed” the police, at a meeting, to “allow the Hindus to vent their anger on Muslims” in the aftermath of the Godhra train fire.

In its report, SIT informed the court that there was no evidence for Mr. Bhatt having been present at the meeting. Other officers who attended the meeting denied that Mr. Modi had issued any such instruction. The Supreme Court gave the report to Mr. Ramachandran on May 5, giving him a free hand to question the witnesses afresh if he found any inconsistency in the report.

In June, Mr. Ramachandran visited Gujarat and had a long session with Mr. Bhatt. He also talked to other witnesses, including some police officers. On July 25, he submitted his report, after which the Division Bench passed the order on Monday.

The trials in most of the nine cases, including the Gulberg Society massacre case, being held at different special courts, have reached the concluding stages. A couple of cases, including the Deepda Darwaja case of Visnagar in Mehsana district and Ode in Anand district, have been bogged down by controversies over the prosecution lawyers. But almost all cases are expected to be completed in the next few months, unless new evidence turns up to give a twist to the trials.