Consider this for the volatility of present times in Gujarat. On Wednesday, the Gujarat High Court lit into the Narendra Modi government, accusing it of “inaction and negligence” resulting in the destruction of over 500 Muslim places of worship during the 2002 post-Godhra pogrom. Rejecting the State government's portrayal of the violence as a “general reaction” to the February 27, 2002 Sabarmati Express carnage, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J.B. Pardiwala ordered compensation to be paid for the defilement and destruction, noting that in the absence of police intelligence and “appropriate” preventive action, “anarchy” had reigned “unabated” in Gujarat. Twenty-four hours after the sledgehammer indictment came news of a different kind: Mr. Modi had been cleared of the charge of abetting the 2002 violence in a final report filed to the magisterial court by the Special Investigation Team probing Zakia Jafri's omnibus complaint against the Chief Minister and 61 others. Of course, with the SIT's report locked in the secret vaults of the magisterial court and amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran taking a contrarian view in the same case, it is clear that the last word on the question of criminality will not be said for some time.
Yet none of this could stop sections of the BJP from exulting over Mr. Modi's “victory” or his imminent promotion to Prime Minister of India. Mr. Modi himself tweeted: “The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves…” Similar misplaced celebrations had marked the Supreme Court's September 12, 2011 order, directing the trial court to hear Ms Jafri's complaint. Mr. Modi had then tweeted, “God is great”, blithely obfuscating the truth that the apex court had in fact fast-tracked proceedings in the case. The Chief Minister's camp followers will do well to show some restraint, not least because his administration has come in for repeated censure by courts in the past year. The SIT's conclusions and reasoning will be publicly known and debated, including in these columns, once the magistrate concerned makes all relevant documents available to the petitioners. The court's own decision on the matter — whether to accept or reject the closure report – will doubtless be litigated by one side or the other. But whatever the final view taken by the courts on his individual legal culpability for the tragedy of Gujarat, Mr. Modi should know this much. The fact that he remained — at best — a mute spectator to the killing of hundreds of innocent citizens and did nothing to ensure justice for the victims afterwards is a moral and political badge of dishonour that will ensure the higher office his supporters seek for him remains out of reach.