Narendra Modi - Still Under Fire
Narendra Modi - Still Under Fire
Although the road ahead is a long one, the Supreme Court ruling in the Zakiya Jaffri and CJP case is certainly no victory for Narendra Modi
Fear and the farce

Even for a party that pays mere lip service to constitutional principles, it was a moment of great shame.  A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India directs the Special Investigation Team (SIT) – specially appointed by the court to reinvestigate the major cases of carnage in Gujarat in 2002 – to also investigate the role of chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 others, including top BJP politicians, VHP bigwigs, civil servants and police officers, in the genocidal killings and then to file a charge sheet (also called a final report) against the 62 accused before a trial court in Gujarat.

The apex court’s order was the culmination of a protracted process initiated in mid-2006 by Zakiya Ahsan Jaffri, wife of former Congress MP Ahsan Jaffri who was killed in gruesome fashion along with 68 others at Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad, on February 28, 2002. Ms Jaffri’s 119-page complaint backed by 2,000 pages of supporting evidence accused Modi and 61 others of several serious offences, including conspiracy to commit mass murder. When the Gujarat police refused to lodge an FIR (first information report), Ms Jaffri, supported by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), filed a writ petition in the Gujarat high court seeking judicial directions for registration of an FIR. After the high court dismissed the petition in November 2007, Ms Jaffri and CJP appealed to the Supreme Court.

The apex court did more than order the registration of an FIR. It asked the SIT to look into the Zakiya Jaffri-CJP complaint. As the petitioners repeatedly drew the court’s attention to the apparent cover-up by the SIT, the court asked the amicus curiae in the matter, Raju Ramachandran, to independently examine the evidence collected by the SIT and submit his report to the court. On September 12, 2011 the Supreme Court of India instructed the SIT that it may now place a final report of its own findings and inferences along with the material collected by it and the amicus curiae’s report before a trial court in Gujarat.

We will know in the near future whether the SIT in its report/charge sheet implicates any or all of the 62 persons accused in the complaint or whether it absolves them by choosing to file a ‘closure’ report. The judicial magistrate will then examine the SIT’s recommendations and other material placed before it and decide whether or not the case has merit and whether any or all of those accused should be charged. However, it is clear from the Supreme Court’s order that if the SIT does indeed file a closure report, the magistrate will, before reaching a final decision, have to make available to the complainants – Ms Jaffri and CJP – all the material placed before the court. Should the magistrate decide not to take cognisance of the offences, or to absolve one or more of the accused, he/she must first provide the complainants with an opportunity to be heard. And if the complainants are in any way dissatisfied with the trial court’s final ruling, they have the right to challenge the verdict in the Gujarat high court and thereafter, if need be, in the Supreme Court.

Whether Modi and the 61 others are guilty of conspiracy to commit mass murder, and other serious offences, will finally be decided only through the due process of law, by the trial court and thereafter, if the magistrate takes cognisance of the case, by the court already hearing the Gulberg Society case or else, if the complainants choose to appeal the court’s decision, by the Gujarat high court and the Supreme Court. In other words, there is a long legal battle ahead before Modi and others are held “guilty” or “not guilty” in a court of law.

But a few things can be stated with certainty. India has a shameful record when it comes to justice for the victims of recurrent state-condoned, state-sponsored pogroms against its religious minorities: Muslims, Sikhs, Christians. The perpetrators and the masterminds of the mass killings are never punished; nor are the police and other administrative officers who are guilty of partisan conduct and gross dereliction of duty. It is thanks to the dogged determination of hundreds of victims of the 2002 genocide and CJP, which has stood firmly behind them against an extremely vindictive and hostile state machinery, that this prevailing culture of impunity has been seriously challenged. Never before have the masterminds of mass murder, complicit police officers, bureaucrats or politicians from the ruling party (let alone an entire busload of them at one go) been so close to getting their just deserts.

For some years before this case, CJP’s battle for justice in Gujarat had notched up historic milestones. Its petition before the Supreme Court in 2003 in the Best Bakery case, for example, resulted in the first ever order for the transfer of a communal violence case to another state – from Gujarat to Maharashtra. All those who had been acquitted by a trial court in Vadodara (whose acquittal was upheld by the Gujarat high court) were subsequently retried and held guilty and given stringent punishment. CJP’s legal interventions brought into national and judicial focus issues such as witness protection, the need for impartial public prosecutors and the right of witnesses to be represented by their own lawyers in court.

Now the Supreme Court directive of September 12 has sent out the message that the hitherto prevailing culture of impunity can no longer be taken for granted. To its utter shame, instead of introspection at this moment of reckoning, the BJP and the sangh parivar are shamelessly feigning victory, lending their weight to Modi’s farce of a fast for ‘communal harmony’ and remaining silent as the increasingly desperate chief minister targets activists and police officers such as RB Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt who adhere to their constitutional obligations.


Archived from Communalism Combat, Sept.-October 2011 Year 18    No.160, Editorial