The Last Nine Years...
It was through journalists that Zakiya Jafri, 75, heard about the September 12 Supreme Court order on her petition seeking an FIR against 62 persons, including chief minister Narendra Modi, in the Gulberg Society killings during the 2002 Gujarat carnage. Seated in her son Tanvir’s house in Surat, where a power cut had cut off her access to television, she got to know about the order when TV reporters sought her reaction on it. They told her that Modi had been granted “a reprieve, a clean chit”, making her worst expectations come true. As Modi tweeted “God is great” and the BJP exulted in “victory”, inundating the media with soundbites, Jafri’s perception only gained strength.
It was only in the next couple of hours, as she spoke with Tanvir, who was in the court with her lawyers and co-petitioners, that her reaction went from dismay and disappointment to quiet satisfaction and triumph. “I understand that we are now finally on the path of justice. I am okay with the order,” she told Tanvir. He, on his part, later told Outlook: “The channels first said Modi got a ‘clean chit’, then the BJP said the same. How is it a ‘clean chit’ when Modi has to appear before the magistrate’s court in Gujarat? Even my mother now understands this.”
The graph of reactions showed by Zakiya, widow of then Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in their house in Gulberg Society along with 68 others in February 2002, is not unique to her. It more or less represents the mood among other victims of that carnage, as well as citizens not directly affected but nevertheless interested to see how the apex court would deal with the issue.
Somewhere along the way, as Jafri and co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad’s Citizens for Peace and Justice (CJP) took the petition from the then DGP (Gujarat) to the Gujarat High Court and finally approached the SC beginning 2006, the issue had morphed from seeking an FIR against the suspects into total legal censure of Modi. It all boiled down to one simplistic formulation: would the SC put Modi in the dock? A bench comprising Justices D.K. Jain, P. Sathasivam and Aftab Alam refrained from passing such an order; it directed the trial court in Gujarat to take a decision on Jafri’s complaint, and told the SC-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to submit its final report to the trial court, suggesting that it “obtain from the amicus curiae copies of his report” submitted to the SC.
In effect, it meant that, let alone filing an FIR, the Supreme Court stated that the investigation had been completed, an independent assessment made by the amicus curiae and, as per law, the trial court was the appropriate forum in law to decide the case. Modi and others would now appear in the trial court, and the complainants would have the right to be heard before any name is dropped. “It’s indeed a good order,” says Tanvir, an assistant general manager with an engineering company.
Through the din, the Congress soldiered on, maintaining that the SC order “was no clean chit”. Ace lawyer and party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi refuted the BJP claim that Modi had been exonerated in the case. Though it was the correct legal position, the Congress seemed to have lost the battle of perceptions. Every legal point was given a liberal political spin. For example, the SC order stated that it would not monitor the case now as the SIT had completed all investigation, but the BJP took this to imply that the matter was not so serious any more.
Seizing the moment, Modi wrote an open letter to his “six crore Gujarati brothers and sisters” declaring that he would fast for three days beginning September 17, his birthday, “for peace”. Not to be outdone in the tried-and-tested Gandhian tactic, state Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela too announced his intention to fast on the same days. The political battle received a boost from another open letter, this one from suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who had testified against Modi before the SIT and later filed an affidavit in the SC about the crucial February 27, 2002, meeting where Modi had reportedly asked the administration to go easy to allow “Hindus to vent their anger”. Invoking Goebbels and Gujarati poetry, Bhatt termed the SC order “a very cleverly-worded order that takes the perpetrators and facilitators of the 2002 carnage a few leaps closer to their day of reckoning”.
The SC order appears to put the onus on the SIT, chaired by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan. But what is causing disquiet among the petitioners and the anti-Modi brigade is the SIT’s earlier observation that there was no “prosecutable evidence” against Modi. As Setalvad said, “We are five steps ahead of what we asked for, but are disappointed that the SIT remains the agency. Raghavan’s conclusions are a problem, but we now have the locus to argue them in the trial court.” The SIT had submitted its report, but the SC had asked the amicus curiae to independently review it.
In this context, Modi’s legal—and political—future depends on amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran’s observations and conclusions in his report (see interview). “As I understand it, Modi stands an accused now in the sessions court and we will be consulted before his name can be dropped from the case,” says Tanvir Jafri. “If there was any other kind of SC order, it might have had terrible repercussions and the whole country may have come to a standstill.” All eyes are now on the trial court.
Apropos Back to Deuce (Sep 26), why have a fast for sadbhavana if Modi & Co claim Gujarat has seen unprecedented peace, harmony and economic growth in the last 10 years? Do you go for treatment when you are not sick? If conscience indeed has struck belatedly, they should come out and say so rather than indulge in more drama to fool themselves and others.
Gilbert D’Souza, Bangalore
Narendra Modi’s optimism is a shame to Indian democracy.
Ayoung Konyak, Kohima
Grand preparations, five-tier security arrangement, parking space for 2,000 cars, lights, streamers and decor worth Rs 50 lakh—was it that a fast or a feast that Modi put up?
Shafaque Alam, New Delhi
Just wondering.... Why did Zakia Jafri have to wait till 2006 to ask for action against Modi? Does she have proof, or is it a matter of faith that she wants Modi booked?
Rohit Bhalla, Delhi
The entire police establishment was taking a walk in the park during the 2002 riots, why blame just Modi? He wasn’t a police officer, nor a civil servant. He has been elected to give directions to the administration, not to be the executing arm himself.
Aditya Mookerjee, Belgaum
The supreme court directing trial court to proceed with Trial, is a huge victory for modi. Because, the petetion it handled SPECIFICALLY asked for MODI BEING MADE AN ACCUSED.
In response the court has left it to the Trial court to decide. And decisions can only be made based on evidence. Which simply does not exist for MODI to be tried.
However...on what basis did ZAKIYA JAFRI make the allegations? Is it that because she felt Modi is guilty? Or did she have any proof?
Willingly OR Unwillingly she has become a tool at the Hands of the brain trust running the justice for victims charade.
Its an extremely sophisticated strategy, but the intention of all this petetioning is to 1.sabotage the godhra trial and 2. delay the prosecution of post godhra riots, so that the Bogey of justice denied can be used.
They failed on 1. but they will keep trying at high court and supreme court...now they have failed on 2. too..
>>Now it is true that the trial court can still make Modi an accused.
The trial court can't do it suo motto, only on the basis of investigations by the investigating agency - in this case the SIT. SIT has already given its view about Modi and the AC's report will not go separately to the trial court. It can only be a part of the SIT report if the SIT so chooses. Teesta made all kinds of allegations against the SIT and the Gujarat courts which were effectively turned down by the SC. SC DID NOT pass any adverse comments against the SIT's functioning like it did regularly against the shoddy CBI investigations in 2G. Hence this is an effective vindication of Modi.
Teesta’s claim that the SC verdict means a charge sheet against Modi is just comical.
>> The wife filed an appeal in the High court to include Modi as an accused. The High court refused.
The Supreme Court does not issue FIR's or indict people. It studied the SIT report and amicus curiae's review and asked the trial court to proceed, adding that the complainants would have the right to be heard before any name is dropped.
Having finally studied the issue, let me answer a few questions in the article.
"Do Modi and BJP really have reason to celebrate the Supreme Court order?"
Yes. The wife filed an appeal in the High court to include Modi as an accused. The High court refused. The case went to the Supreme court. SC formed the SIT and the SIT after its investigation, said there is no evidence to include Modi. The new Amicus Curiae,. submitted a note to SC with his comments on the SIT report. SC asked the SIT to reexamine the case based on AC's notes. SIT submitted its report again and the AC has submitted his report again. While we do not know the final contents, one can presume that had there been sufficient evidence in the SIT report or the AC report, it would not have simply asked the trial court to continue the case.
Now it is true that the trial court can still make Modi an accused. But the chances are remote. It has to have a compelling reason to over rule the SIT report which the SC has accepted.
"n this context, Modi’s legal—and political—future depends on amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran’s observations and conclusions in his report (see interview)."
No it does not. It depends on whether the trial magistrate thinks the AC report is valid. Ramachandran is not the deciding authority here.
" “As I understand it, Modi stands an accused now in the sessions court and we will be consulted before his name can be dropped from the case,” "
The understanding is wrong. Modi can be made an accused but right now he is in the clear.
Narendra Modi's optimism is a shame to Indian democracy.
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