An independent investigating team has said it cannot find evidence to support a complaint that Gujarat’s chief minister was complicit in the riots that took place in the state 10 years ago.
Some believe that this legitimises Narendra Modi, and makes him a viable candidate for the prime minister’s slot. The reasoning is that it will make the BJP’s allies less wary of the damage that it may cause them if they support his candidature. Most of the BJP’s allies, excluding the Shiv Sena 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 judgment 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 the evidence is not on display yet.
We must wait for the Special Investigation Team (SIT) 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 the report be handed over to the petitioner who filed the complaint. This petitioner is Zakia Jafri, wife of politician Ehsan Jafri, who was killed by a huge Hindu mob in his house in Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Society neighbourhood on February 28, 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 was not moved into 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 states 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 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 the 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 locate 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 imprisonment and five for seven years. The Hindu noted that most of these men were from the peasant Patel community. In November, 31 men were convicted of the murder of 33 Muslims. 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 Ehsan Jafri, who as a former MP should have been given this honour.
Such pettiness does not behove the state which produced the likes of Gandhi, Jinnah and Vallabhai 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 that the SIT has against Modi by Gujarati media will be a good opportunity to do this, and perhaps set the past to rest.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.
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