The little comfort that the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi could have drawn from a clean chit in the Gulbarg society massacre case relating to the 2002 Gujarat riots has been offset by the Centre’s decision to institute a commission of inquiry to probe the surveillance of a young woman allegedly at his behest. The magistrate court concurred with the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) findings that there was no “satisfactory” evidence to put Modi on trial for official inaction that led to the death of 69 people when a mob surrounded the Muslim locality and set it on fire. Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was burnt alive, will now have to take her contention — that Modi was aware of the buildup outside the society and allegedly influenced the police inaction — to the Sessions court. The twist in the case came when two IPS officers, RB Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt, took positions against Modi and filed affidavits supporting Zakia’s claims.
Zakia’s tenacious fight for justice and Modi’s steadfast silence on the riots despite his rising national profile represent two facets of the 2002 Gujarat riots discourse. There are sizeable sections of society holding out against Modi’s charms despite the sweeping anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress party. Many among his detractors — in the political class and civil society — have reiterated that an apology from Modi for the riots is his best chance to prove his secular credentials. Not surprisingly, despite Sadbhavana fasts and pro-business and good-governance agendas, Modi’s reputation as a polarising figure has stuck. In his blog, Modi has now written about his disturbed state of mind following the riots and his belief that the future of any society lies in harmony. But the attempt to weave into the narrative, the devastation wrought by the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the attacks on him by activists pursuing the riots cases, raises questions about why a simple apology for command responsibility is still not forthcoming.
For Zakia, the verdict has dashed hopes kindled by amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran’s report to the Supreme Court, disagreeing with the SIT’s clean chit to Modi and its suspicions on Sanjiv Bhatt’s motives. Ramachandran had said that a prima facie case was made out against Modi and that Bhatt’s allegations could be tested in court after summoning Modi.
Modi’s attempt to play the victim card in his latest blog coincides with the Congress turning the heat on him by a judicial inquiry into the “snoop-gate” scandal. The Gujarat government had instituted its own inquiry, but after Gulail.com published new tapes showing the woman was stalked in Bangalore too, the Centre has got its chance to jump in. The BJP has termed the inquiry a violation of the federal structure of the Constitution under which law and order is a state subject.
But the latest revelation that the Karnataka police was also roped in to intercept the woman’s phones, points to the pervasiveness of illegal surveillance. The widening of the probe to include the illegal access of Arun Jaitley’s call detail records was meant to temper the BJP’s resistance.
Both these cases relate to the misuse of surveillance technology by the police force. They highlight the importance of judicial sanction before police can undertake the surveillance of suspect individuals. An opportunity to rein in agencies and officials who violate the privacy and individual liberty of citizens has finally presented itself.