Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate allegations of Narendra Modi's complicity in the Gujarat riots, has said that there appear to be enough grounds for offences to be made out against the chief minister. Mr Ramachandran's report, submitted to the Supreme Court in February this year, says that "the offences which can be made out against Shri Modi, at this prima facie stage" include "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and acts prejudicial to (the) maintenance of harmony." (Read Ramachandran's entire report here).
Mr Ramachandran's findings differ from those of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) that was asked to determine whether Mr Modi should be tried for his alleged role in the riots. The team ruled there was no "prosecutable evidence" against the chief minister in a report submitted to a Gujarat court in April. The SIT and Mr Ramachandran were both asked to study Mr Modi's role on the basis of a case filed by Zakia Jafri. Her husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was set on fire during the riots. Mrs Jafri has said that Mr Modi was among 63 people who colluded to prevent assistance to those being attacked in the riots.
Mr Ramachandran says that more attention should be paid to the claims of suspended police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, whose comments against the chief minister were dismissed by the SIT. Mr Bhatt claims that on February 27, 2002, hours after 58 passengers were set on fire in a train near the Godhra station, Mr Modi held a meeting at his residence with senior police officers and told them that Hindus should be allowed to "vent their anger."
The SIT felt Mr Bhatt's allegations are without merit because other officers at the meeting said that he was not at that session, and because he shared this information nine years after the riots took place. However, Mr Ramachandran says, "There is no documentary material of any nature whatsoever which can establish that Shri Bhatt was not present in the meeting on 27.02.2002." He says that in the absence of minutes of this meeting, "it is the word of Shri Bhatt against the word of other officers, senior to him."
Mr Ramachandran says, "The law and order meeting in question was called by the Chief Minister at about 11:00 pm. It seems quite natural for an officer from the Intelligence to be called... The phone call records do not contradict the statement given by Shri Bhatt to the SIT."
The senior advocate records, "I disagree with the conclusion of the SIT that Shri Bhatt should be disbelieved at this stage itself. On the other hand, I am of the view that Shri Bhatt needs to be put through the test of cross-examination, as do the others who deny his presence. Mr Ramachandran does offer a health warning about the suspended police officer saying his behavior has "not been that of a detached police officer who is content with giving his version. I am left with no doubt that he is actively 'strategizing', and is in touch with those who would benefit or gain mileage from his testimony. But these factors, in my view, cannot be grounds for ignoring his statement at this stage."
Mr Ramachandran says records establish that two senior ministers were placed in police control rooms on February 28, as the riots swelled. He says that though the SIT has found that they did not interfere with the police's functioning, "There is the possibility that the very presence of these two ministers had a dampening effect on the senior police officials." He underscores, "While there is no direct material to show how and when the message of the Chief Minister was conveyed to the two ministers, the very presence of political personalities unconnected with the Home Portfolio at the Police Control Rooms is circumstantial evidence of the Chief Minister directing, requesting or allowing them to be present."
Standing by Mr Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party said the law is guided by due process and not the opinion of an amicus curiae (who assists the court) or any lawyer.
"There is no provision under Code of Criminal Procedure or the Evidence Act for the opinion of a lawyer or an amicus curiae. Investigation is exclusively a police function and not a lawyer's function. Police is trained for investigations but a lawyer is not," senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said.