Do Modi and BJP really have reason to celebrate the Supreme Court order?
The Last Nine Years...
February 28, 2002: Mobs attack Gulberg Society. Former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri is charred to death, 68 others are also killed
June 8, 2006: Ehsan Jafri's widow, Zakiya, seeks FIR against Narendra Modi & 61 others
May 1, 2007: Zakiya moves the Gujarat High Court after the police don't entertain her complaint. The court dismisses her plea on Nov 2.
Apr 27, 2009: The Supreme Court asks an SIT to look into the complaint
May 14, 2010: SIT submits its report with Prashant Bhushan as amicus curiae
Oct 26, 2010: Bhushan quits. New amicus Raju Ramachandran finds flaws in SIT report. In Mar 2011, SIT is asked to probe case again.
Apr 25, 2011: SIT submits final report to SC
May 5, 2011: SC gives report to amicus curiae
Sep 12, 2011: SC directs trial court in Gujarat to take up the case.
It was through journalists that
Zakiya Jafri, 75, heard about the September 12 Supreme Court order on
her petition seeking an FIR against 62 persons, including chief minister
Narendra Modi, in the Gulberg Society killings during the 2002 Gujarat
carnage. Seated in her son Tanvir’s house in Surat, where a power cut
had cut off her access to television, she got to know about the order
when TV reporters sought her reaction on it. They told her that Modi had
been granted “a reprieve, a clean chit”, making her worst expectations
come true. As Modi tweeted “God is great” and the BJP exulted in
“victory”, inundating the media with soundbites, Jafri’s perception only
It was only in the next couple of hours, as she spoke with Tanvir,
who was in the court with her lawyers and co-petitioners, that her
reaction went from dismay and disappointment to quiet satisfaction and
triumph. “I understand that we are now finally on the path of justice. I
am okay with the order,” she told Tanvir. He, on his part, later told Outlook:
“The channels first said Modi got a ‘clean chit’, then the BJP said the
same. How is it a ‘clean chit’ when Modi has to appear before the
magistrate’s court in Gujarat? Even my mother now understands this.”
The graph of reactions showed by Zakiya, widow of then Congress MP
Ehsan Jafri who was killed in their house in Gulberg Society along with
68 others in February 2002, is not unique to her. It more or less
represents the mood among other victims of that carnage, as well as
citizens not directly affected but nevertheless interested to see how
the apex court would deal with the issue.
Somewhere along the way, as Jafri and co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad’s
Citizens for Peace and Justice (CJP) took the petition from the then
DGP (Gujarat) to the Gujarat High Court and finally approached the SC
beginning 2006, the issue had morphed from seeking an FIR against the
suspects into total legal censure of Modi. It all boiled down to one
simplistic formulation: would the SC put Modi in the dock? A bench
comprising Justices D.K. Jain, P. Sathasivam and Aftab Alam refrained
from passing such an order; it directed the trial court in Gujarat to
take a decision on Jafri’s complaint, and told the SC-appointed Special
Investigation Team (SIT) to submit its final report to the trial court,
suggesting that it “obtain from the amicus curiae copies of his report”
submitted to the SC.
In effect, it meant that, let alone filing an FIR, the Supreme Court
stated that the investigation had been completed, an independent
assessment made by the amicus curiae and, as per law, the trial court
was the appropriate forum in law to decide the case. Modi and others
would now appear in the trial court, and the complainants would have the
right to be heard before any name is dropped. “It’s indeed a good
order,” says Tanvir, an assistant general manager with an engineering
“We are five steps ahead of what we asked for, but dismayed that SIT is the agency,” says Teesta Setalvad.
the absence of direct strictures against Modi allowed the CM and the
BJP to interpret that the SC order was in their favour. Veteran leader
L.K. Advani said the order was “a big relief” to the BJP, leader of the
Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said “we stand
vindicated...we had always said the allegations against Modi are totally
false”, while his Lok Sabha counterpart Sushma Swaraj exulted that
“Narendrabhai had passed the agnipariksha”. In Gandhinagar, Modi himself
expressed relief even as his acolytes took on “the pseudo-secular
activists” for unfairly targeting him for direct and indirect
culpability. This chimera of a victory allowed the party to again bring
up his candidature for the prime minister’s chair in 2014; it
undoubtedly boosted Modi’s chances in the state polls next year.
Through the din, the Congress soldiered on, maintaining that the SC
order “was no clean chit”. Ace lawyer and party spokesperson Abhishek
Singhvi refuted the BJP claim that Modi had been exonerated in the case.
Though it was the correct legal position, the Congress seemed to have
lost the battle of perceptions. Every legal point was given a liberal
political spin. For example, the SC order stated that it would not
monitor the case now as the SIT had completed all investigation, but the
BJP took this to imply that the matter was not so serious any more.
Seizing the moment, Modi wrote an open letter to his “six crore
Gujarati brothers and sisters” declaring that he would fast for three
days beginning September 17, his birthday, “for peace”. Not to be
outdone in the tried-and-tested Gandhian tactic, state Congress leader
Shankersinh Vaghela too announced his intention to fast on the same
days. The political battle received a boost from another open letter,
this one from suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who had testified
against Modi before the SIT and later filed an affidavit in the SC about
the crucial February 27, 2002, meeting where Modi had reportedly asked
the administration to go easy to allow “Hindus to vent their anger”.
Invoking Goebbels and Gujarati poetry, Bhatt termed the SC order “a very
cleverly-worded order that takes the perpetrators and facilitators of
the 2002 carnage a few leaps closer to their day of reckoning”.
The SC order appears to put the onus on the SIT, chaired by former
CBI director R.K. Raghavan. But what is causing disquiet among the
petitioners and the anti-Modi brigade is the SIT’s earlier observation
that there was no “prosecutable evidence” against Modi. As Setalvad
said, “We are five steps ahead of what we asked for, but are
disappointed that the SIT remains the agency. Raghavan’s conclusions are
a problem, but we now have the locus to argue them in the trial court.”
The SIT had submitted its report, but the SC had asked the amicus
curiae to independently review it.
In this context, Modi’s legal—and political—future depends on amicus
curiae Raju Ramachandran’s observations and conclusions in his report
(see interview). “As I understand it, Modi stands an accused now in the
sessions court and we will be consulted before his name can be dropped
from the case,” says Tanvir Jafri. “If there was any other kind of SC
order, it might have had terrible repercussions and the whole country
may have come to a standstill.” All eyes are now on the trial court.