Zakia Jafri, widow of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri killed in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, on Wednesday made her final submission in an Ahmedabad court in her protest petition challenging a Special Investigation Team (SIT) giving clean chit to Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the riots.
Ms. Jafri, supported by Citizens for Justice and Peace, asserted through her counsel Mihir Desai that right from the mobilising of Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Bajrang Dal cadres days ahead of the February 27, 2002, Godhra train attack through months later, the State government was involved in a conspiracy to target Muslims in the State.
In her final written submission before Judge B.J. Ganatra of Ahmedabad Metropolitan Court 11, Ms. Jafri made a frontal attack on the Chief Minister, who also holds the Home portfolio, with a 15-point charge sheet alleging that the SIT had a mountain of credible evidence to prosecute Mr. Modi but it simply glossed over it.
The Supreme Court had asked the Special Investigation Team to look into Ms. Jafri’s Criminal Complaint against the Chief Minister and 59 others, including several senior police and government officials. Originally tasked to investigate nine major massacre cases, the SIT was also asked later to inquire this criminal complaint holding Mr. Modi responsible for targeted attacks on the minority community.
The SIT’s reports in 2010 concluded that many allegations were found to be correct but still the material was not adequate to prosecute any of the 60 accused. On the other hand, the apex court’s amicus curiae and senior lawyer, Raju Ramachandran, who is examining the same evidence collected by the SIT, categorically stated that this was enough to prosecute Mr. Modi and others.
Following these two contradictory assessments, the Supreme Court remanded the case to a lower court directing the SIT to file its final report, but also ordered that the complainants had the legal right to move a protest petition and access all investigation papers if the Team files a closure report. The report giving a clean chit to the accused was filed on February 8, 2012, but it took over a year for Citizens for Justice and Peace and Ms. Jafri to get the SIT’s investigation papers. Finally, the protest petition was filed on April 15 this year.
During arguments between June 24 and August 29, Ms. Jafri’s advocates brought out many government documents, depositions by officials in various forums, including the SIT, and other papers to accuse the Chief Minister of conspiring to spread anti-Muslim riots outside Godhra in 2002.
The final submission by Ms. Jafri alleges that a conspiracy to target Muslims in the State had started days before the Godhra train attack. It accuses Mr. Modi of “wilfully ignoring messages by the State Intelligence department” between February 7, 2002, and February 25, 2002, “about the violent repercussions of the Mahayajna called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad before the Godhra incident on February 27, 2002.”
It pointed out that despite being the Chief Minister as well as the Cabinet Minister for Home, he “deliberately” did not initiate precautionary measures mandatory under Standard Operational Procedure. Ms. Jafri alleged that Mr. Modi ignored even specific intelligence messages stating that “batches of 2,800 and 1,900 kar sevaks had left for Faizabad-Ayodhya and had been behaving provocatively and aggressively against minorities on the way.”
Ms. Jafri alleged in her submission that the Chief Minister deliberately concealed “knowledge of the provocative, anti-Muslim sloganeering by kar sevaks at the Godhra station when the Sabarmati Express reached five hours late on 27.2.2002, which information had been sent to him directly by DM/Collector Jayanti Ravi and wilfully failing to take stern action and allowing violent incidents to escalate after the train left Godhra by about 1.15 p.m. especially at Vadodara station where a Muslim was attacked and killed and at Anand where the train stopped hereafter ensuring that the State allowed a hate-filled and threatening atmosphere against Muslims build right up to Ahmedabad where the train finally reached around 4 p.m. and where bloodthirsty slogans were being shouted. FIRs in 19 brutal incidents against Muslims were recorded on 27.2.2002 in Ahmedabad itself. Curfew was not imposed despite these incidents resulting in deaths breaking out.”
Citing phone call records and other official evidence, Ms. Jafri’s lawyers pointed out that the day the Godhra train attack happened, instead of appealing for calm and peace the Chief Minister called up Vishwa Hindu Parishad general secretary Jaideep Patel to go to Godhra and later ordered the bodies of the victims to be taken to Ahmedabad under the guidance of the VHP leader though he had no official locus standi to do this. The bodies were later paraded to provoke communal tensions, the counsel pointed out.
And the same night, Mr. Modi held a meeting of officials at his residence where he allegedly asked them to let Hindus vent out their anger. The government machinery went by his word and then followed harrowing massacres with the police being a mute witness, they alleged, adding that this proved that State complicity in the violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 started much before the Godhra train attack and triggered across the State under the Chief Minister’s nose thereafter.