Gujarat and Modi: Is Gandhi’s state failing him?

An independent investigating team has said it cannot find evidence to support a complaint that Gujarat’s chief minister was complicit in the riots there 10 years ago. Some believe this legitimises Narendra Modi, and makes him a viable candidate for prime minister. The reasoning is that it will make the BJP’s allies less wary of damage to them if they support his candidature. Most of the BJP’s allies, excluding the Shiv Sena and and the Sikhs-only Akali Dal, are secular in the way that we use the word in India. That is to say, they are inclusive and solicit votes from Muslims. Perhaps this judgment will make them feel less insecure about selling Modi to their constituency.

Others don’t think the judgement changes Modi’s image that much among people who believe he could have prevented much of the violence in his state. Both sides have a case but actually the evidence is not on display yet. We must wait for the Special Investigation Team to make public the material it has gathered, which led it to conclude that Modi could not be charged. A magistrate in Gujarat has asked that this be handed over to the petitioner who filed the complaint. This petitioner is Zakia Jafri, wife of the politician Ehsan Jafri. He was killed by a huge Hindu mob in his house in Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Society neighbourhood on 28 February, 2002, the day after the Godhra massacre.

The Jafri family spent hours on the telephone pleading for help as the mob gathered, but the government could not be moved to coming to their aid. Ehsan Jafri was a former member of Parliament and was able to reach the city’s police commissioner and the state’s ministers on the telephone. They promised help but it did not arrive. Zakia Jafri’s complaint says that a curfew was deliberately not imposed in Ahmedabad despite warnings of violence. It will be interesting to see what the investigation report says about this.

Another aspect of the complaint, which is long and sweeping, deals with the conflict between serving senior police officers and the government. Some of it makes for disturbing reading. Many brave Hindu police officers took initiative to prevent violence by ensuring law and order, often asking their troops to open fire on Hindu mobs. Some of them have been transferred to distant posts or are being prosecuted. One is Satish Verma, an IPS officer who was shifted to a training position after he ordered the arrest of BJP MLA Shankarlal Chaudhry for his role in the murder of two Muslim boys.

Another IPS officer, Rahul Sharma, took the initiative to order Gujarat’s mobile phone firms to give him the records of ministers’ movements. These phone records indicate the movements of BJP leaders and locates them in neigbhourhoods during episodes of violence. Sharma is now being prosecuted by the Gujarat government for doing his job. It isn’t easy to dismiss these instances as the fantasies of Modi-haters, and it will be revealing to know if the SIT has looked at this aspect.

Meanwhile, two cases in the last six months have ended with convictions for Hindus. In the latest instance 23 men have been found guilty and sentenced, 18 of them to life and five for seven years. The Hindu newspaper noted that most of these men were from the peasant Patel community. In November 31 men were convicted for the murder of 33 Muslims by a mob. All 31 were Patels. It is this community that has kept the BJP in power, and four out of Gujarat’s nine cabinet ministers are Patels. Gujarat remains a divided society. Zakia Jafri’s complaint makes some incidental points which show how vicious the division is between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat. The state’s assembly did not condole the death of Jafri, who as a former MP should have been given this honour. Such pettiness does not behoove the state which produced leaders like Gandhi, Jinnah and Patel. Given the extremely shoddy gathering of evidence and prosecution, it is no longer possible that Gujarat will give justice to the Muslims it treated in such inhuman fashion. But the state and its people must make some pubic admission of their failures, if not their crimes. A close study and publication of the evidence of the SIT against Modi by Gujarati media will be a good opportunity to do this, and perhaps set the past to rest.

Also see:  Why Modi may never be able to leverage SIT ‘clean chit’ The legal runaround over the 2002 Gujarat riots continues, with no immediate end in sight. On Tuesday, barely minutes after a court in Ahmedabad made public the Special Investigation Team’s finding that it found no prosecutable evidence against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the Gulberg Society killings, the petitioner, Zakia Jafri, said she would “fight it out”. Social activist Teesta Setalvad, who has been taking up the riots cases, too pledged to “fight to the finish”. The search for justice for the riot victims is thus at risk of going into an infinite loop. For one thing, the Gulberg Society killings case has already been to the Supreme Court and back. The SIT had been appointed by the Supreme Court in 2009 to investigate Zakia Jafri’s complaint; in September 2011, when the SIT submitted its interim report, the Supreme Court had left it to the local court to decide whether Modi and the other accused should be prosecuted, but ruled that the case cannot be closed without hearing Zakia Jafri. The final word on the SIT recommendation for closure of the case against Modi must await another round of hearings, beginning 10 May. There is much riding on this case. The petition by Zakia Jafri and Setalvad relates not just to the killing of Congress MP Ehsan Jafri and others in the Gulberg Society massacre. In a larger sense, it targets Modi and the other accused for the violence in nine districts of Gujarat in the days following the Godhra train carnage of 27 February 2002. If Modi were ever convicted in this case, he will be seen as the chief patron of the riots...

And also: SC slap on Modi police for false mass graves case
The Supreme Court’s order of April 13, Friday, to the Gujarat police to stop the malicious prosecution launched against me and others over the unearthing of mass graves will have a huge impact on the fight for justice for the victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim violence. Despite all the cynicism of the last ten years over delays and setbacks in the many cases of the 2002 killings, it is only the judicial struggle that has put the brakes on the Gujarat government in not just its witch-hunt against the victims but its calculated attempt to subvert justice and ensure that the perpetrators are not punished. The present case, in which several Muslim natives of a Gujarat village and I have been accused of illegally exhuming mass graves of some of the Muslims killed in the 2002 violence, is a classic case of trying to intimidate the victims by turning them into the accused instead of securing them justice, as the Supreme Court judges observed...

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