The story so far: The Supreme Court dismissed the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of late Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, challenging the clean chit given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat and 63 other senior officials of the State for their alleged role in the 2002 communal riots. The apex court in its 452-page verdict rubbished allegations of a “larger conspiracy” in the Gulberg Housing Society case in which Ehsan Jafri was among those killed. The massacre took place shortly after the Godhra train tragedy which had claimed the lives of 59 kar sevaks on February 27, 2002.
What was the apex court’s verdict?
The three-judge Bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar held that the inaction of “some officials of one section of the State administration” cannot be the basis to infer a pre-planned criminal conspiracy by the State government, and found no fault in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) report. “There is no material worth the name to even create a suspicion indicative of the meeting of the minds of all concerned at some level; and in particular, the bureaucrats, politicians, public prosecutors or the members of the state political establishment — for hatching a larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level to cause and precipitate mass violence against the minority community across the State,” the judgment said. The court further upheld the report of the SIT, stating, “No fault can be found with the approach of the SIT in submitting final report dated 8.2.2012”. It held “the final report backed by firm logic, expositing analytical mind and dealing with all aspects objectively”.
“The SIT has not found any conspiracy, linking separate and disparate acts of arson and looting or outrageous claims made in sting operations or individual utterances/publications of purported hate speech.” The Bench upheld the decision of the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate to accept the closure of the SIT — which was itself appointed by the Supreme Court in 2008 — rejecting the protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri.
What were the criticisms of the Supreme Court?
The court came down heavily on two State officers, Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar and former Home Minister of Gujarat Haren Pandya, stating, “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create a sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge. The falsity of their claims had been fully exposed by the SIT after a thorough investigation.”
The court held that the officers were not part of the meeting to decide the future course of action when the violence had broken out on Feb 27, 2002. Mr. Bhatt, it may be recalled, had told the Supreme Court that on the night of Feb 27, 2002, Mr. Modi had asked the police brass to let the Hindus vent their anger. Likewise, Mr. Sreekumar had in his deposition before the Nanavati-Shah commission pointed to a dubious role by the administration during the violence.
Such officials need to be in the dock for “keeping pot boiling” the court said, pointing out, “Intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious strategem adopted. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with the law.”
Incidentally, the SIT headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan had submitted a closure report almost a decade ago. Back in 2012, it gave a clean chit to Mr. Modi and 63 others, finding no prosecutable evidence against them. The Metropolitan Magistrate accepted the report following which Zakia Jafri went to Gujarat High Court. In October 2017, the State High Court dismissed her petition. In September 2018, Ms. Jafri knocked the doors of the Supreme Court and filed a protest petition against acceptance of the SIT report. In December last year, the apex court reserved its judgment.
What happened in Gulberg Society?
As tensions were on a high in Ahmedabad after the Godhra tragedy, around 90 local residents had gathered at the Gulberg residence of Ehsan Jafri, hoping for safety at the former Parliamentarian's place from the mob on the rampage. Mr. Jafri, apprehending violence, called many officers and leaders for help. In the absence of any practical aid, Mr. Jafri had lost hope. Around 9.30 in the morning, the first attack took place. The police assured help but soon a mob laid siege to Gulberg Society. Gas cylinders were hurled inside the premises from outside and kerosene cans were lobbed from the road. The house was set on fire. Mr. Jafri stepped out, pleading with the mob for the life of the people inside the house. He was then dragged to the road, mutilated and then killed. His body was not recovered. Sixty-nine people were killed, as claimed by local residents; officially 39 casualties were reported.
Further, as an eyewitness recalled in Rakesh Sharma’s National award-winning documentary Final Solution based on the Gujarat violence, “The police removed the names of the main culprits of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal from the FIR. We were offered money to take the case back, not to recognise the culprits.”
What has been the aftermath of the verdict?
Within hours of the Supreme Court judgment, human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, said to be behind Ms. Jafri’s prolonged legal battle, was detained by the police. Mr. Sreekumar was also arrested. Mr. Bhatt is already under custody.