Way back then, KPS Gill had said, in a Walk the Talk programme, to Shekhar Gupta, "The only time I’ve slept badly in my life was in Gujarat. Just hearing the descriptions. Never before, never after". Leaving aside what pressure there may have been from politicians, he had wondered about the role of the police:
Look at Ahmedabad. If you look at the Gujarat riots, you’ll find that 90 per cent of the damage was caused by 8 or 9 incidents in all, and they happened within a small time span. What was difficult for everyone to swallow was what happened in Naroda Patia and the Housing society. You can understand complicity and kow-towing to the powers off and on. You can understand that for one hour, even two hours. But when it goes on for the whole day... The police is there but there is no response.
The mobs were coming like Chinese waves.
They were coming in waves and the people who were affected were constantly ringing up and there was no adequate response. All this cannot just be explained by political pressure. At some point of time you have to stand up and say enough is enough.
In this case the police officers?
Entirely the police officers. The law authorises them to shoot, not the political leaders. You can order an inquiry later on, but that’s a different matter. The police officer has to realise he’s not just an officer but also a human being with a conscience.
And now Shiv Visvanathan raises the question again, in the Asian Age:
But when, on April 27, the SIT opened the file on 41 new cases, something new was signalled. A pandora’s box of question marks exploded to encompass police officers, IAS officers including chief secretaries, and even a few ministers. It was an electrifying moment. A new set of expectations has been created. The demands for justice as procedure, as ritual, as performance and as meaning has reached a new high.
Mr Raghavan is not merely a person. He is now a persona. His new role demands an immaculate performance as the circle of suspicion tightens around an elite bunch of officers. Tacitly and explicitly, he has to define what duty is. Is one loyal to a chief minister or the Constitution? Is duty clerical adherence to procedures or following one’s conscience? Is silence punishable? Is a request for transfer an adequate form of dissent? Is duty doing things right or doing the right things?
This drama does not belong to Gujarat alone. It is a truth commission of a different sort, asking why officers meekly follow unjust orders. In a psychological sense, we will have to face the idea that obedience is not enough. Following the psychologist Stanley Mulgram’s questions, one then asks why people obey indiscriminately and what differentiates the ethics of duty from the ethics of obedience.
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of speculation and commentary on whether or not the Supreme Court should have passed these sensitive orders during the elections: Prashant Bhushan argues that it was the right decision:
“Why should the Court wait? There are serious allegations in the complaint, and the Gujarat Government’s counsel too did not oppose hearing of the petition on the ground of elections. In fact, Mr Mukul Rohatgi, senior counsel for the Gujarat Government, readily accepted the Court’s order.”
On the other hand, noted lawyer Rajiv Dhavan disagrees:
For those who want justice in Gujarat after seven years, was this the only way to make it happen? Legally improper, but designed to control Modi’s government with its interference and failures. Is the malady just in Gujarat? Or is this political and communal disease spread widely in the BJP states? Is the Supreme Court telling the BJP states not to communalise criminal justice? Will this stretch to other states and other situations? Continuous supervision may not work.
So much will depend on which bench will replace Justice Pasayat’s.
It would have been easier to transfer the matter to another state whose prosecutors and High Court would have taken over. Now a new message is out. Its limits will emerge in the future.
The Supreme Court must not only strive to be correct but also wise.
Creating electoral events does not augur wisdom. Nor does a hasty solution inspire confidence.