In what will be a shot in the arm for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as he heads into elections this year, a court here has noted that a Special Investigation Team's final report in the 2002 Gujarat-riots-related Gulberg Society massacre case has found no evidence against any of the 62 accused; that list includes Mr Modi.
Riot victim Zakia Jafri has accused Mr Modi and 61 other senior government functionaries of being conspirators in the Gujarat riots. The court's observation today is the first official confirmation that the SIT report finds no proof against the Gujarat CM.
The court has observed that since the SIT has filed a closure report, Zakia Jafri, the main complainant, in keeping with Supreme Court orders, must be given the report and supporting documents filed by the SIT. That it said would happen within 30 days, that is by May 10. When that happens, the report will become public. The court will also now decide whether to accept the SIT report or not.
Ms Jafri's case relates to the killing by a riotous mob of 69 people, among them her husband and former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri, on February 28, 2002 at the Gulberg Housing Society in Ahmedabad where the Jafris lived. Ms Jafri has alleged that Mr Modi and several senior ministers and officials did nothing to prevent the killings. She has claimed that when the mob attacked the housing complex, her husband made frantic calls to the police and even to the Chief Minister's office, for help but to no avail. For many years now, Ms Jafri has taken her legal battle against the Chief Minister and others from court to court.
Today, reacting to the magistrate's observation on the SIT's closure report, Ms Jafri, 73, said, "I am saddened, but confident I will get justice." Her co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad said that a long legal battle still lay ahead.
"I do not think we have disregarded any testimony. This is a panel appointed by the highest court of the land. We have made an inquiry and we have placed our report. We are answerable to the highest court in the land." probe panel chief RK Raghavan told NDTV.
"It is unfair to come to any conclusion until complainants see report," he added.
The petitioners now pin their hopes on the independent findings in the case of amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran, who has reportedly contradicted the SIT to contend that there is evidence enough to prosecute Mr Modi under some sections of the law. Ms Setalvad said she hoped that the amicus' report was part of the documents submitted by the SIT in court.
Mr Ramachandran, who had been asked by the Supreme Court for his independent assessment of the material on record in the case, today said he did expect his report to be part of the annexures of the SIT report and as such a copy of that too would then be given to Zakia Jafri.
The amicus curiae refused comment on what his findings were, saying, "You'll know if it differed from SIT when it comes out...If the SIT has found no evidence against the accused, the complainant in law has a right to file a protest petition in court not to accept the closure report. The court will then consider that protest petition, apply its mind and then decide whether to close the report or not."
SIT Chief Raghavan on NDTV admitted to differences with Mr Ramachandran. "I concede for the first time to an operative difference with Raju Ramachandran. I also agree to differences with second court appointed panel on testimony of Sanjiv Bhatt. Ours is not the final word; the court has to judge our report."
Mr Modi faces accusations of conspiracy not just from Ms Jafri, but also from two senior police officers of that time. One, Sanjiv Bhatt, has claimed before court that he was part of two crucial law and order meetings in which the Chief Minister ordered the police to go slow on rioters when communal rioting began after 59 passengers, mostly kar sevaks
returning from Ayodhya, were killed in the Godhra train burning incident of February 28, 2002. A former Gujarat Director General of Police RB Sreekumar too reportedly made such a claim before an inquiry commission. Over a 1000 Muslims were killed across Gujarat in the post-Godhra communal riots.
Mr Modi's party, the BJP said it welcomed the confirmation that the SIT, which it pointed out had been set up by the Supreme Court and not the Gujarat government, had found no evidence against the Gujarat CM.
BJP's Sushma Swaraj tweeted: "No evidence against Narendra Modi' says SIT appointed by Supreme Court. A big relief for us. Ten years of vilification campaign must stop."
Party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "Riots are unfortunate and guilty should be punished. But riots can't be a bogey to tar the image of Mr Modi...Reports say no prosecutable evidence, if true we are satisfied."