Narendra Modi is Gujarat’s longest serving and most successful chief minister. He is renowned for having turned the Indian state around with visionary economic policies. Alternatively, he is also referred to as the ‘butcher of Gujarat’. Under his watch, following the alleged fire bombing of the train carrying Hindu pilgrims, in 2002, at Godhra, he implicitly oversaw the alleged massacre of over 2,000 Muslims, while the state machinery looked on in deliberate inaction.
On April 10, 2012 — ten years after the communal massacre in Gujarat — the Supreme Court of India absolved Modi from any culpability and wrongdoing, based on the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) report that found no evidence linking him with the orgy of killing that took place over three days in 2002. The SIT report surprised a lot of people but there are many more in India who seem overjoyed over Modi’s acquittal.
Now consider Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Jammatud Dawa — a seminary and a charity — who has been under incessant Indian focus ever since the Mumbai attacks. He is alleged to have founded the now-banned Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT), which is considered to have masterminded the Mumbai attacks in which 167 people were killed. Saeed rejects allegations of any linkage with the Mumbai carnage and is willing to appear in any court to defend himself. He has been incarcerated twice under charges of possible culpability in the attacks, and both times he was released because of lack of evidence.
The contradictions in the quality of charges that were brought against Modi and Saeed, and the investigative and legal treatment that their cases received, underlines the conflict within the larger construct of how the law deals with such issues. There is inherent dissonance in Anglo-Saxon law when the moral aspects of an issue may simply not withstand the test of legal relevance. Undoubtedly, laws support moral aspects of societal living and emerge out of a moral context, but once formed they become etched statutes that are blind to any other consideration. When evidence to support an indictment is either insufficient or deficient, the law attains a ruthlessness that does not consider morality. Legalese trumps morality in judicial treatment.
The above precept almost defines why hackles are raised when people like Modi and Saeed are absolved of all crimes. One needs to firmly establish if indeed Saeed still has any linkages with the LeT, considering that the outfit only exists in fragmented groups, most of which are now ensconced in Fata and aligned with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan against the Pakistani state, and whether an earlier connection, even if that is as founder of the LeT, can stand legal scrutiny. India’s gripe of insufficient action taken by Pakistan against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, and especially on the assumed linkage of Saeed to the incident, is rooted in this inherent conflict within law that unfortunately, relegates morality to the legality of a case. That is why evidence that can link Saeed directly to the Mumbai attack is so important. What may only be circumstantial and not direct evidence, unfortunately, may strengthen a moral basis for an action but falls seriously short as legal evidence.
Terrorism is a primordial reality that bites both Pakistan and India in equal measure. While there is no doubt about Pakistan being immersed in it neck-deep, India has its own set of terrorism challenges. Rather than work towards developing joint mechanisms to fight an evil that has transnational linkages, India’s definition of its terrorism concerns with Pakistan begin and end with Saeed. One individual holds to ransom a process that can be the key to a safe future for both our peoples. Caught in a legal labyrinth, what may be morally right, doesn’t stand the test of legal scrutiny. It is this mismatch between the moral and the legal that divide the respective positions of both countries and disables their cooperative existence.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.
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