Over to trial court

Published : Oct 07, 2011 00:00 IST

Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the Gulberg Society massacre during the 2002 riots in Gujarat. - PTI

Zakia Jafri, wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the Gulberg Society massacre during the 2002 riots in Gujarat. - PTI

Gujarat: The Supreme Court orders Zakia Jafri's case against Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be heard in the trial court in Gujarat.

JUST as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was beginning to feel the heat in the cases against him in the 2002 communal riots that left close to 1,200 people dead in the State, he got a reprieve in a case in which he was accused of manoeuvring the pogrom. On September 12, hearing a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, wife of the former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the riots, the Supreme Court chose not to pass orders on the allegations of Modi's complicity in the riots and instead said the case would be heard in a trial court in Ahmedabad.

Ehsan Jafri was one of the 70 victims of the Gulberg Housing Society massacre on February 28, 2002. Since then Zakia Jafri and the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) have been waging a relentless battle to bring the guilty to book.

Reactions were mixed on the apex court's ruling. God is great, Modi posted on Twitter as soon as the announcement was made. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said this essentially was a clean chit to its much-maligned Chief Minister.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj dramatically declared on Twitter that Narendrabhai has passed agnipariksha [trial by fire] today. Satyameva jayate [Truth alone triumphs]. After several years, truth emerged victorious today.

Zakia Jafri and the CJP, however, do not see the ruling as a setback. They had filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court demanding that Modi be charge-sheeted for his role in the riots. The Supreme Court ruling, they believe, is a positive step in nailing the key perpetrators of the most horrific communal violence in recent years.

While the apex court did not issue directions to register a first information report (FIR) against Modi and others, as was demanded by the petitioners, it did rule that the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) submit before the Ahmedabad trial court its final report either a charge sheet or a closure report. The Bench categorically stated that if the SIT chose to file a closure report, the trial court had to hear Zakia Jafri's plea before taking a decision on it.

Additionally, the Supreme Court ordered the SIT, headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation Director R.K. Raghavan, to submit its report, along with the entire material collected by it during the course of the probe into Zakia Jafri's complaint against Modi and others, to the trial court in Ahmedabad.

The Supreme Court also directed the trial court to examine the report of the amicus curiae, Raju Ramachandran, in the case. The SIT had earlier claimed that there was no evidence to prosecute Modi. However, it is learnt that Ramachandran had reviewed the reports and allegedly differed with it on several points.

It is five steps forward, said Teesta Setalvad, an activist who has been leading the case for the CJP. In fact in some ways it is more than an FIR can do because the court has directed the SIT to submit all the material dealing with this case. She said the court had asked for everything from the complaint, from evidence documents to contrary reports, to be given to the trial court. This will definitely strengthen our case, she added.

This is part of the judicial process and we welcome and respect the Supreme Court's directive. It has not by any length given Modi a clean chit. They are just following the correct procedures, said Teesta Setalvad. Of course, we couldn't expect the Supreme Court to make a major decision, but this is as good. The reason why it is a victory for us and not for Modi or [the] BJP is that it has gone past the FIR stage, she said.

Initially, Zakia Jafri said she was disappointed, but later in the day she said she was satisfied and would continue the battle. In an interview to Frontline earlier this year, the feisty 70-year-old said: I am hopeful we will get justice, however long it takes.

About the battle she has carried on for eight years, Zakia Jafri said, Yes. It has been a long time. But when I heard Modi had been summoned, I said, Insaf ho jayega' [Justice will happen]. Someone like Modi cannot be accused of such a major crime without adequate evidence. We have persevered at collecting every relevant detail to implicate him. One day it will pay off. If he admits to his guilt, that itself would be a punishment for someone like him.

In 2006, Zakia Jafri petitioned the court alleging that Modi and 61 others, including politicians, policemen and bureaucrats, had colluded to ensure that those attacked by the rampaging mobs during the 2002 riots did not receive help. In several interviews to Frontline over the years, Zakia Jafri has spoken about the fateful day when she, her family and neighbours were attacked by a mob, which she believes was instigated by some key politicians to target their society and husband.

Zakia Jafri, along with other witnesses, has testified in court that Ehsan Jafri repeatedly called Modi when they were under attack. He called several senior bureaucrats and policemen, but nobody helped them. Eventually, the mob broke into his house and set him on fire in front of his entire family. Zakia Jafri said she wanted Modi to be made an accused, along with other powerful people, alleging that there was overwhelming evidence of the direct involvement of the Gujarat government led by Modi in the post-Godhra violence.

She accused Modi of abdicating his duty as the constitutionally elected head of the State government to protect the right to life of all its citizens regardless of their caste, community and gender and becoming the architect of the criminal conspiracy to subvert rule of law to unleash unlawful and illegal practices during the mass carnage and thereafter protecting the accused who played a direct as well as indirect role and abetted commission of the crime.

The Gujarat High Court rejected her plea in 2007 for the registration of an FIR against Modi. Following an SLP, in 2009, the Supreme Court directed the SIT to look into the complaint of Zakia Jafri.

Later, the SIT summoned Modi for questioning. This was the first time in the country's history that a Chief Minister was questioned in a case of communal violence.

According to a lawyer involved in the case, although it would seem that this is a never-ending legal wrangle, there is a silver lining in that the courts are not dismissing complaints such as Zakia Jafri's. Moreover, the Supreme Court has brought Modi back to the centre stage and not in a very good light. He tries to distance himself from the communal riots in order to further his political career, but decisions such as these do not let him, says the lawyer.

What happens next will be watched closely. Lawyers say that if the SIT files a charge sheet against those named in Zakia Jafri's complaint, the magistrate's court will have to look into it and that the process can take years. If the SIT files a closure report, the court has to hear her before coming to a conclusion. In such a situation, the court has to provide Zakia Jafri copies of the statements of witnesses and the probe report. Most importantly, the magistrate's court can either accept the closure report or order another probe.

Lawyers and activists believe that the amicus curiae's report will tilt the scales. The report will be submitted to the court soon. Whatever happens will ensure justice is served, said Teesta Setalvad.

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