When Narendra Modi visited the office of the SIT (Special Investigation Team) in Gandhinagar on March 27, 2010, it was exactly 11 months after the Supreme Court had directed it to “look into” a criminal complaint. Modi’s visit in response to an SIT summons was a milestone in accountability—at least in potential. It was the first time any chief minister was being questioned by an investigating agency for his alleged complicity in communal violence. The summons were on the complaint by Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who had been killed in the first of the post-Godhra massacres in 2002.
Jafri’s complaint, which had been referred to it by the Supreme Court on April 27, 2009, tested the SIT’s independence and integrity more than any of the nine cases that had been originally assigned to it a year earlier. Jafri’s complaint called upon it to probe allegations against 63 influential persons, including Modi himself. The complaint named Modi as Accused No. 1 for the alleged conspiracy behind the carnage that had taken place in 14 of Gujarat’s 25 districts. A Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat, authorised the SIT not only to “look into” Jafri’s complaint but also to “take steps as required in law”. The legal steps that needed to be taken immediately were self-evident. The SIT was required to examine whether the information contained in Jafri’s complaint amounted to, as Section 154 CrPC put it, “the commission of a cognizable offence”. If so, the SIT would be obliged, under the same provision, to register a first information report (FIR), which is a statutory prelude to an actual investigation.