Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell - Manoj Mitta on how the SIT let off Modi / Interview: ‘Crucial Evidence Has Fallen Through The Cracks’

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.

The Gulberg Case

  • Gulberg Society, a middle-class Muslim colony located in Chamanpura, a Hindu-dominated locality in eastern Ahmedabad, is attacked on February 28, 2002, a day after coaches of the Sabarmati Express are set afire near the Godhra railway station.
  • Ehsan Jafri, 73, a former Congress MP who lived in the Society, made numerous SOS calls to police officers and various Congress leaders. Police claimed the mob went out of
    control when Jafri opened fire. He was one of the 69 people killed. Most houses in the
    neighbourhood were burnt.
  • In 2006, Jafri’s widow Zakia sought to register another FIR against Narendra Modi and 62 other top police and administrative officials alleging they had aided, abetted and conspired for the riots.
  • In 2008, the Supreme Court appointed a four-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan to conduct investigation in these cases.
  • In September 2011, the SC refused to pass an order on Modi’s role in the Gulberg Society case and directed concerned magistrate of Ahmedabad to decide the case; SIT submits its report in February 2012.
  • In Dec 2013, court rejects Zakia’s petition against SIT’s closure report giving Modi a clean chit in the 2002 riot cases.

The SIT did conduct a probe into Jafri’s complaint but it was done without fulfilling the precondition of registering an FIR. The elaborate probe, stretching over 12 months and recording the statements of 163 witnesses, took place under the guise of a “preliminary enquiry”. Then, even after the conclusion of the so-called preliminary enquiry, the SIT was disinclined to register any FIR on Jafri’s complaint. In its May 12, 2010 “enquiry report”, the SIT asked the Supreme Court if it could instead conduct “further investigation” in the existing case of Gulberg Society, where Jafri was a witness. 

The SIT’s proposal flew in the face of Jafri’s complaint, which had sought a broad-based probe into the conduct of the Modi government, encompassing all the carnage cases, rather than a narrowly-focused further investigation in any particular case. Besides, the period covered by Jafri’s complaint was an extended one as it referred to, for instance, the Supreme Court’s indictment of the Modi regime in 2004 in the Best Bakery and Bilkis Bano cases.

Despite the mismatch between the restricted scope of the Gulberg Society case and the wide ambit of Jafri’s complaint, a Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice D.K. Jain, gave the go-ahead to the SIT’s proposal. This could be because the permission for further investigation sought by the SIT was only into allegations against a junior minister, Gordhan Zadafia, and two police officers, M.K. Tandon and P.B. Gondia. Later on, though, the Supreme Court extended the purview of the further investigation to the alleged complicity of Modi himself. This long-drawn-out but unusual exercise culminated on February 8, 2012 in a “final report” to a magisterial court in Ahmedabad exonerating Modi and the rest of the accused persons of any of the criminal culpability alleged by Jafri’s complaint... read more:

From a close reading of the fact-finding material, the book establishes that critical pieces of evidence have fallen through the cracks, especially in the context of Zakia Jafri’s complaint accusing Modi of conspiracy in the post Godhra violence. Rather than linking the dots, the SIT betrayed a tendency to regard issues in isolation and downplay their significance. The Supreme Court allowed the SIT to ride roughshod over the reservations expressed by amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran. Worse, a lot of the fiction arose from the failure of the monitoring to look beyond the frame set by the SIT. .. Given that the SIT clean chit paved the way for Modi’s elevation as a prime ministerial candidate, it is all the more necessary to check the rigour in the process. 

The SIT investigation of Modi’s role has been largely limited to determining whether at a closed door meeting, he had directed police officers to allow Hindu rioters to give vent to their anger. The SIT glossed over aspects where the evidence was far more verifiable or irrefutable. From the details disclosed in the same SIT report, my book points out the incongruity of Modi’s claim about the very first post Godhra massacre in which former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri had been killed. Even as he had been apparently immersed in preventing attacks on Muslims, Modi was somehow unaware of the Gulberg Society massacre in Ahmedabad for as long as five hours. And this was despite the evidence of high-level police communications during the prolonged siege preceding the massacre. The SIT neither questioned Modi’s claim of ignorance nor examined the glaring contradiction between the rhetoric and the reality of his administration’s response. Similarly, in the context of the Godhra incident, the SIT betrayed a bias in distancing Modi from a shocking piece of evidence: the illegal letter handing over the custody of 54 bodies to a VHP leader, in the face of the Bandh called by that organization in an incendiary environment. <>

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‘(the counter revolution)… tried many forms and devices, but soon learned that it could come to power only with the help of the state machine and never against it... in the centre of the counter revolution stood the judiciary.’ Franz Neumann

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