An exoneration: On clean chit to Modi


The clean chit to Modi is unsurprising, but the riots can’t be described as spontaneous

Commissions of Inquiry are often seen as tools to manage public perception about lapses on the part of the state whenever an untoward incident takes place. Their reports are rarely submitted on time, many are not made public, and few stray from the ‘clean chit’ route mapped out for them by the regimes that appointed them. Often, the findings are made public so late as to make little difference. The G.T. Nanavati-A.H. Mehta Commission, constituted to probe the horrific burning of the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra in 2002, and the deadly communal carnage that followed, fits this profile of a judicial commission to a tee. Its exoneration of Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, should come as no surprise. Mr. Modi had already been absolved by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. A judicial magistrate had accepted the team’s report. There were allegations that Mr. Modi had instructed the police to “allow Hindus to vent their anger” and that he had placed two Ministers in the police control room, but except for some oral testimony, there was no material evidence to back them. The Supreme Court did not accept the views of amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran that there was prima facie material to proceed against Mr. Modi for “promoting enmity between different groups” and “imputations prejudicial to national integration”. Since then, Mr. Modi has led his party to victory in two general elections. The issue was never about direct involvement or instigation, but rather about culpable inaction, and his moral and political failure to take responsibility for the lawlessness that consumed the lives of over a thousand people and the mayhem unleashed by perceived supporters of the ruling party under his watch.

It would have been unrealistic to expect that the probe would unearth any new evidence to establish a conspiracy at the highest level of the State government. However, what is somewhat disconcerting is that the panel says there was no orchestrated violence anywhere, and that no organisation or party was involved. This flies in the face of convictions obtained in trial courts against political functionaries, including former BJP Minister Maya Kodnani. Its only major finding on administrative failure pertains to Joint Commissioner of Police M.K. Tandon, under whose jurisdiction 177 people were killed in incidents at Gulbarg Society, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam. He is indicted for failing to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Otherwise, the report sails with the official explanation that the riots were wholly spontaneous, and that the police did their best to contain it. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the panel dismisses the testimony of three IPS officers on police complicity or inaction, as false, and questions the work of NGOs working for the victims.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 1:03:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/an-exoneration/article30289378.ece

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