By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is in news again, but not for the reasons he or his party associates appreciate. Eight years after Gujarat-carnage, in which of thousands of Muslims in the state were killed and/or injured, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has summoned Modi. Created by Supreme Court in March 2008 to probe into 2002-Gujarat riots, the SIT has summoned Modi to appear before it on March 21. Modi, if he appears before the SIT, is expected to face questions over the murder of Congress legislator Ehsan Jaffrey. He and more than 50 other Muslims were killed by extremist Hindu rioters in Gulbarg Society, a residential complex in Ahmedabad (February 28, 2002). Modi and at least 60 others have been blamed and criticized for not doing enough to check the communal violence and protect the stateâ€™s Muslim citizens.
â€œYes, we have summoned Mr. Modi,â€ R.K. Raghavan, SIT head said. â€œOn 21 March, we will ask him a few questions. Then we will send a report to the Supreme Court,â€ he said.
The Supreme Court is taking action on a petition filed by Jaffreyâ€™s widow, Zakia. In her petition, she named Modi and 62 others, alleging that they conspired to â€œlet Hindus vent their angerâ€ after the Godhra-incident. The Godhra-incident refers to fire on Sabarmati Express, in which around 60 Hindus died. While fireâ€™s cause was said to be an accident, extremist Hindu groups alleged that it was started by Muslim protestors because of which they reacted leading to Gujarat-carnage, with Hindu rioters targeting Muslims.
Following Zakiaâ€™s petition, the Supreme Court directed SIT to probe the alleged role of persons she had named as responsible for the riots, including Modi and 62 others. Though it is not clear, whether summoning of Modi will lead to any judicial action against him or not, according to Zakia: â€œI have not slept properly ever since the incident. Now, he (Modi) will also have sleepless nights.â€ â€œI hope justice will be given to us. It has been a long journey. I am very happy that Modi has been summoned,â€ she said.
Elaborating on the petition filed against Modi, Zakiaâ€™s son Tanveer Jaffrey said: â€œThis is a step to file an FIR (First Information Report) against Modi. Until an FIR is filed you cannot say where the investigation will lead to.â€ Tanveer is hopeful, that â€œthis will open up other cases too.â€
â€œThe summoning should have happened long ago as the chief minister of Gujarat and his government presided over the worst â€˜pogramâ€™ against minorities in independent India,â€ Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari said in New Delhi. The Congress felt that it would be appropriate for Modi to resign as chief minister.
The Congress in Gujarat has not yet too made too much noise about Modi facing summons. Justifying the cautious stand taken by his party, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Arjun Modhvadiya said: â€œThe SIT must have strong evidence to issue a summon. We hope that the team carries out further investigations in right earnest and bring him to justice.â€ Modhvadiya, former leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, also voiced demand for Modiâ€™s resignation inside and outside the House. Modi should tender his resignation on â€œmoral grounds,â€ he said as the summons were based on Supreme Courtâ€™s directives and on the basis of evidence collected by SIT.
Dismissing Congress demand for Modiâ€™s resignation, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: â€œThe summons to Modi by SIT are a part of the legal process which shall be dealt with as per the process of law.â€
The BJP is considering legal options to save Modi from facing a tough legal battle. â€œWhat our strategy is something that we donâ€™t want to discuss on camera. But it takes long term planning in such cases,â€ Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said. The Congress was â€œday dreaming,â€ by thinking that Modi would resign following the summons, Vyas said. â€œThe party may wish for anything but there is no reason for Mr. Modi to quit,â€ he said.
Survivors of Gujarat-carnage are fairly pessimistic on whether summoning of Modi would spell any major development in speeding action against the rioters. â€œWhat we are going to witness on March 21 is a high-voltage drama when the chief minister appears before the SIT to respond to allegations leveled against him by various witnesses. That is it. It is going to be an eyewash,â€ according to Mukhat Ahmad, a riot victim-turned-rights activist.
Dismissing the summons as a â€œhype,â€ a senior officer said: â€œWhat can deposition achieve? The SIT is not in a position to interrogate, grill anyone or Modi. Can it force him or anyone to say something that one chooses to hide? So what will this achieve except create a hype?â€ Asserting that Zakiaâ€™s petition cannot force legal action against Modi, analysts said: â€œThere is no direct evidence against Modi.â€ A chief minister cannot be held as directly responsible as, they said: â€œThere are no constitutional or legal liabilities on the CM or the political head of the state in a riot-like situation. The direct-action duty lies on the police head and local officers of the disturbed area.â€
Nevertheless, all are waiting for March 21. Will Modi face the summons? If he does, what will be developments? Or will he seek a change in the date, citing some prior engagement, and thus evade the March 21 summons!