By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Spelling political embarrassment for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the ongoing elections to Lok Sabha (Lower House) of the Parliament, the Supreme Court has directed a probe into role of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and more than 50 others in the 2002 Gujarat-carnage targeting Muslims. The bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and A.K. Ganguly ordered the probe by Special Investigation Team (SIT), a panel headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director R.K. Raghavan to look into involvement of Modi, a minister in the state cabinet, three legislators in the Gujarat assembly, three activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and several bureaucrats and police officers. â€œSIT will inquire into the complaint made by the petitioner and file its report within three months,â€ the bench said.
The apex court ordered the probe in response to a plea filed by Zakia, wife of Congress legislator Iqbal Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the riots, and social activist Teesta Setalvad. â€œWe hereby direct the special probe team to look into all allegations, particularly in the killing of an MP (Member of Parliament),â€ the bench said. The bench has also asked SIT to look into allegation that Modi government did not allow an FIR to be registered into Jafriâ€™s killing.
Despite being a member of the sixth Lok Sabha, an active trade unionist and a key Congress leader in Gujarat, Jafri and his family members were not provided with needed security when communal fire engulfed the state. On February 28, 2002, when the mob of thousands of Hindu extremists attacked the Gulbarg society, where Jafri lived, despite his making repeated calls to senior officials and police, nobody came to help. Jafri was killed along with 19 of his relatives, while his wife survived.
In the plea, Zakia has accused Modi and 62 others for encouraging and helping the persons involved in the Gujarat carnage. Though Modiâ€™s role and that of his associates belonging to the saffron brigade has been a well-known fact, the hard reality is that the judicial hammer so far has not turned against him. It is because of his role in the Gujarat-carnage, viewed as severe violations of religious freedom, Modi was refused visa to visit United States in 2005.
The Gujarat-carnage played a crucial role in helping return of Congress to head the United Progressive Alliance coalition government in 2004. The Congress leaders are certainly not unconscious of the fact that in 2004 elections, anti-incumbency factor played a crucial role in pushing the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) out of power. The Congress is hopeful that Gujarat-issue will prompt the voters to support it in the present elections. Not surprisingly, while addressing an election rally in Gujarat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly criticized NDA for the 2002-carnage. â€œOnly NDA can give you politics of division. Gujarat is the state of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked for communal harmony throughout his life,â€ he said. â€œThose parties who fan communalism are insulting Mahatma Gandhi and Gujarat. During the NDA regime, due to few people, whatever happened in 2002 was against the historic tradition of your state. Politics of hate and division cannot take us forward. There is no other way than secularism for this country,â€ Singh said (April 26).
The apex courtâ€™s directive putting Modi under the scanner has certainly provided Congress with more ammunition to fire at BJP. Welcoming it, Congress spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily said: â€œModi will have to step down for justice to be done.â€ â€œWe are happy, it is one such case which has opened the eyes of the judiciary. The manner in which justice has been delayed is a matter of concern, and our judiciary will have to reckon that,â€ he said. To questions on why had Congress not done enough for the carnage victims and why had it not demanded Modiâ€™s dismissal earlier, Moily replied: â€œWe have a very limited role in this context since law and order is a state subject.â€ On Modi being BJPâ€™s future candidate for the prime ministerâ€™s position, he said: â€œModi doesnâ€™t deserve to be the chief minister, let alone the prime minister.â€
On its part, the BJP has blamed the Congress for deliberately raising 2002-riots during the election season. â€œIt has become a convention during the last 10 years to raise the issue of Gujarat riots in and outside the court, particularly during the elections,â€ BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said. He also claimed: â€œThe SIT appointed by the Supreme Court had submitted 10 reports, including on the Gulbarg Society (riots), and not a single one mentions Modi. Not even a whisper.â€
Downplaying the apex courtâ€™s directive as a â€œroutineâ€ procedure, Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said: â€œThe SIT has already given its report on the Gulbarg society massacre. Now the court has directed it to have a relook at it and see that nothing is left out. It seems to be a normal procedure.â€ On Congress demanding Modiâ€™s resignation, Vyas said: â€œThe Congress has no moral right or authority to demand resignation of Chief Minister Modi.â€