Legal relief for Mr. Modi

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:24 pm IST

Published - December 28, 2013 12:41 am IST

The Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate’s finding that there is no evidence to prosecute Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in a case relating to the communal riots in 2002 may not be the last word in the legal domain, but is surely of great import for the political fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate. The order is significant for what it did not say: a finding that there was some prosecutable evidence that Mr. Modi had told senior police officers to “allow Hindus to vent their anger” would have created a political storm in the run-up to the election and cast a shadow on his candidature. In the event, Magistrate B.J. Ganatra rejected as unreliable the affidavits of Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar, two police officers who spoke out against him. The matter is far from over, as activists, and survivors of the massacre, are certain to take it up in a higher court. When Zakia Jafri, whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was one of the 69 people killed in the Gulberg Society massacre in Ahmedabad, took up the fight to ensure justice to the victims of the post-Godhra carnage, it was seen as an opportunity to ensure accountability at the highest level in the State government. At issue was whether it could be established that Mr. Modi gave such a controversial instruction to police officers and that to ensure that it was carried out, he placed two Ministers in the police control room.

The Special Investigation Team did not find enough evidence to back this theory. Ms. Jafri’s persistence and the chance she got to rebut the SIT’s findings kept the issue alive. Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who was appointed amicus curiae, disagreed with the probe team’s report and argued that there was prima facie material to proceed against Mr. Modi for “promoting enmity between different groups” and making “imputations prejudicial to national integration”. The Magistrate has upheld the SIT’s report and rejected theories of a “larger conspiracy” by Mr. Modi and others. In an intriguing display of grief a decade after the violence, Mr. Modi has claimed that he was “shaken to the core” by the riots. For those still sceptical about the relevance of the judicial clean chit in the face of the enormity of such state-condoned violence, this would be a much-delayed response to capture the moral high ground, now that the legal issues are behind him. Beyond the legal issues, however, questions over Mr. Modi’s moral and political accountability still remain. The symbolism of Ms. Jafri’s plight — the impression that the Gujarat riot victims are fighting an unequal battle to enforce accountability — is something that political India will find it difficult to ignore.

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