Whoever said 13 is an unlucky number? For Narendra Modi, the 13th year of this century has been the luckiest. From being anointed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate to winning a majority in three state assembly elections, and now, the metro court upholding SIT’s report exonerating him from all direct and even indirect allegations of the 2002 riot cases – Modi has got it all. If he has another wish, he should make it before the year-end.
By far, the court’s verdict is the most significant achievement, even a step beyond his anointment as PM candidate and election victories. The metro court’s verdict, which can and will be challenged eventually by petitioner Zakia Jafri, impacts the very foundation of Modi’s identity.
Legally speaking, this is not the end, but politically, this verdict is pretty much the thrust Modi needs to stride into 2014.
For perspective, the Congress’s core agenda against Modi is to paint him a non-secular, anti-Muslim divisive Hindutva leader. Despite avowals of Sadbhavana, the BJP’s biggest challenge in 2014 elections is to penetrate Muslim vote banks. Whether this ‘clean chit’ will help or not remains to be seen.
The primary apprehension of the western world, especially the US, against Modi was the criminal charge against him personally for ‘giving the administration a free hand to avenge the deaths of kar sevaks’. He was named in Zakia’s complaint in Gulbarg massacre case and also accused of failing as head of the state when communal violence broke out. The court had not only categorically exonerated him from personally conspiring the riots but had also stated that his machinery responded suitably to the ‘spontaneous’ violence.
The European Union’s cold shoulder has turned measurably warm in the last year and had it not been for the Devyani Khobragade episode, Modi would have received the first official US Congressional delegation earlier this month – a clear thaw in US’s attitude towards Modi. What one has often heard in several off-the-record conversations is now coming to the fore – ‘how do allegations of wrongdoing hold up against Modi if no Indian court of law finds him guilty? Every accused is innocent until proven guilty’.
Never the ones to miss the opportunity, his advisors have struck again to keep the headlines buzzing with an emotional blog expressing ‘pain and anguish’. Within hours of the SIT’s first report submission in September 2011, Modi had announced ‘Sadbhavana fasts’ where Muslims were seen at the venue for the first time in hordes.
All in all; this is good news for Modi and there are no two ways about it. In the fake encounter cases (Sohrabuddin, Ishrat, Tulsiram and Sadiq Jamal), Modi is not a direct accused. The closest a taint comes on him is through his deputy Amit Shah and the state machinery – though Modi has always held the cabinet berth of home department; Amit Shah, Prafful Patel and now Rajnikant Patel are minister of state, home. The Congress has much regret blaming him for Sohrabuddin’s encounter in a ‘maut ka saudagar’ comment in 2007 and is unlikely to venture there anytime soon.
As for Zakia and activist Teesta Setalvad, this is just another chapter. Legal eagles claim despite being referred by the Supreme Court, the metro court’s verdict can be challenged in higher courts.
On Thursday evening, Zakia vowed to move court again in a month. One may also not forget amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran’s report appointed by Supreme Court. He had differed with the SIT report on many counts and in fact recommended that action can be taken against Modi under sections 153A and 153B which refer to promoting enmity between religious groups and making assertions against national interest. Ramachandran noted that Sanjiv Bhatt’s allegations may have some basis and should be probed.
If one reads the fine print, the jury may still be out on ‘larger conspiracy’ in the post-Godhra violence. There is inherent contradiction in the court’s verdict that cites the SIT report as claiming no case of conspiracy was found against Modi and the state machinery. Arguing the protest petition in the case, the SIT lawyer at one point admitted in court that SIT was not directed by SC to probe the ‘larger conspiracy’.
And then there is also the Nanavati-Shah Commission report, hopefully expected before the Lok Sabha elections. The interim report gave a clean chit to the state administration, but the final report is awaited.
As much of this is in the fine print, for now, the taint on India’s strongest Opposition leader is paling for sure.