The Special Investigation Team tasked by the Supreme Court of India to enquire into the communal violence that shook Gujarat eight years ago has summoned Chief Minister Narendra Modi to appear before it for questioning on March 21. The summons is pursuant to a petition filed in the court by Zakia Jaffrey, widow of the former Congress Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jaffrey, who was one of the 69 persons killed at the Gulberg housing society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002. Ms Jaffrey, and her co-petitioner, Citizens for Justice and Peace, have accused 62 senior Ministers, political leaders and activists, police officers and bureaucrats, including Mr. Modi, of conspiring to unleash large-scale violence against the Muslims of Gujarat. This followed the Godhra incident in which 59 passengers, all but one of them Hindu, perished following a mob attack on the Sabarmati Express. Ms Jaffrey first tried to file a complaint with the police in Ahmedabad, which refused to accept it. She then moved the Gujarat High Court without success. As a last resort, she appealed to the Supreme Court.
If the truth about Gujarat is ever to emerge, the SIT must be allowed to conduct its investigations without fear or favour. It must be free from the pressure of the establishment as well as activists, some of whom have levelled baseless and even over-the-top charges against it. Mr. Modi and the Gujarat government have always denied that there was any method in the madness that convulsed their State in 2002. But the failure to ensure proper investigation of the shocking crimes committed under their watch suggests a pattern of behaviour that needs thorough probing. A diligent investigation would look at the phone records of the Chief Minister and his closest associates to try and get a fix on the persons they remained in touch with during those days. Already, the SIT has established a prima facie case against one of his senior Ministers, Maya Kodnani, as well as various leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Since it is reasonable to assume that a man of Mr. Modi's intelligence and authority must have been aware of what his political associates were doing then, the SIT needs to establish why he never saw fit to get the police to act against them or the others against whom cases are now being filed. Was the de facto legal protection that was provided to rioters and their ringleaders the product of oversight, indifference, callousness, or complicity? This is a question the people of Gujarat, and the whole of India, want an answer for, however challenging the task and however long it takes.