New Delhi: In what will be a shot in the arm for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as he heads into elections this year, a court in Ahmedabad has noted that a Special Investigation Team's (SIT) 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.
RK Raghavan, who headed the SIT that scrutinised the Gujarat riots, says, "I am ready for my report to be scrutinised by anyone." Riot victim Zakia Jafri has alleged that Mr Modi and other ministers, politicians, and policemen colluded to prevent assistance to Gulberg Society, one of the worst-affected areas during the communal riots.
Mr Raghavan speaks to NDTV's Barkha Dutt.
NDTV: What did you and your team base this conclusion on?
RK Raghavan: The point is the Court as, the Magistrate's Court, has ordered that we handover all documents to the complainant and the complainant will have a look at it first and then take appropriate action. That stage will be reached in the next 30 days. The point is I think it's inappropriate to comment on what exactly the rational is for coming to a certain conclusion, until the complainant has seen our reports. It will be most inappropriate, possibly it will be contempt of court for me to say what all has gone into our report.
NDTV: Sir that's fair enough that you say that you will not go into the details of your findings till your report is actually out in the public domain, and that will happen when this report of yours is handed over, a closure report as it were, to the Jafri family on the 10th of May. But what the Court has gone on record with is this one major point, and that major point, as you know now, the Court has gone on record to say that your panel found no evidence against the 58 people, including Narender Modi. It also includes other prominent people of Gujarat like the former speaker Ashok Bhatt, former DGP PC Pandey, the former state minister IK Jateja. This is the Court on record saying that your panel found no prosecutable evidence. You are aware that your finding will be subject to great scrutiny. People like Teesta have already expressed disappointment with it. So are you prepared with the controversy that will follow your conclusion Sir?
RK Raghavan: Absolutely, absolutely. When we put down something in writing we say it with the greatest sense of responsibility. You must remember that we were appointed by the highest court of the land, we are accountable to the highest court of the land, and when we put down something in writing it is on the basis of the evidence that we have collected, and on the legal opinion we were able to obtain there on. So yes, we are prepared to face what follows.
NDTV: Mr Raghavan, what would you say to the disappointed family of Ehsan Jafri today? After all it is a well-documented by journalists at that time that he made calls for help, that help never came, as a mob burnt down the society that he lived in and many, many others in that terrible tragedy. What would you say to their families today?
RK Raghavan: As I always maintain that our heart goes out to Mrs Jafri and the whole family. I have met them on several occasions and I still remember on the very first instance she came to meet me, along with her son. I expressed my sincerest condolences and I made it very clear that we would do our best to obtain the best possible evidence, to bring out the to the rest of the world the all the facts relevant that go the incidence. So I would still say that my sincerest sympathies go to the family. And you must remember that we have placed all facts before the Supreme Court and local Magistrate's Court, and the Magistrate's Court is giving an opportunity to the whole family to access our report and relevant documents. And then they still have a opportunity, more than opportunity to contest what we have done. In all our sincerity, in humility, we would like to say that at the end of this process, when the Magistrate's Court ultimately comes with a conclusion, we will bow down to it. So we have no sense of elation or disappointment. We have done our duty to the best of our abilities. We could still be wrong, but it's ultimately for the Magistrate's Court to come to a conclusion, and we will facilitate the producing of our report to the family. We will give them all possible assistance, not only in the Court, but as soon as they get the reports. If they come to seek a clarification we are prepared to sit down with them and explain what it's all about
NDTV: Now Mr Raghavan you of course say that you will bow your head to the Court, whatever the Court eventually concludes, and you were of course appointed, your team is appointed by the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court also appointed another senior lawyer, Raju Ramachandran, and his conclusions were quite different from your panel's report, and the one big difference was over the testimony of police officer Sanjiv Bhatt. Now you concluded that his testimony cannot be treated as reliable, where as Raju Ramachandran has argued that his testimony, which argued against Narender Modi's role in these riots, should have been paid a heed to. So how do you explain this contradiction in two different bodies, both appointed by the Supreme Court?
RK Raghavan: First of all you must concede that you cannot question or doubt the integrity of either of us in arriving at a certain conclusion. Yes there have been certain differences in perception between me and Raju Ramachandran, and these again are all on paper. These are contestable, and whether the matter again goes back to the Magistrate's Court. He can take a view there is nothing for us to hide, everything is out in cold print, and I would like to see for the first time now that the Court has given a certain order, that we should share our reports with the complainant. Yes in a major part Raju Ramachandran has agreed with us, but in respect to one operative part he has disagreed with us. Definitely he is a good friend of mine, I bow down to his perception and I have chosen to differ with him and the matter will go back to the Magistrate's Court. Let him take a decision and thereafter further processes follows.
NDTV: Mr. Raghavan, this is the first time you have spoken openly acknowledging the operative difference between your finding and Raju Ramachandran's finding, which as I said, essentially differs on the testimony of police officer Sanjiv Bhatt. And from that Raju Ramachandran concluded that Narender Modi needed to be cross-examined as it were. You differed, why was that Sir?
RK Raghavan: I don't think I differed. We had examined every one of the persons mentioned in the report, that's about all. I don't want to go into the integrity of what we did or what we did not do. That again is subjected to judicial review, and if we took a particular course of action in examining somebody or not examining somebody, it is on the bases of our own judgment, our own perception of what needs to be done. At any point of time again, this can be questioned by the Magistrate before he passes his orders.
NDTV: Dr Raghavan, one of the other controversies that followed your panel was the testimony made by the citizen's fact finding commission, in which Justice Suresh, a retired Bombay High Court Judge, alleged that Haren Pandiya, who was the former Home Minister of Gujarat, had made a testimony to their fact finding committee that was neglected or omitted by your panel. That is what Justice Suresh actually went on record to say and he also quoted Justice PB Sawant. In that context would you like to set the record straight on this, because these allegations have come from judges, from well-respected judges?
RK Raghavan: I have no problem. It will be wrong on the part of anybody to say that we ignored Mr. Pandiya's testimony. We examined it carefully and we came to a certain conclusion, which is available on paper in our report. It will be totally incorrect to say that we neglected or avoided taking a view on that.
NDTV: But Justice Suresh said that the tribunal had an audio recording of the Haren Pandiya statement, which spoke about some statements, attributed to Narender Modi, where he allegedly told the police to look the other way. And Justice Suresh says, this testimony was disregarded by your panel. If you could set the record straight on this Sir?
RK Raghavan: I do not think we have disregarded any testimony, whatever the honourable former Judges told us we have brought it on record, and it will be wrong to say anything other than that.
NDTV: Dr Ragavan, what people want to know is what it means when your panel concludes that there is no evidence? Does it mean that there were remisses by the administration that are morally, for example, questionable but not, but not legally prosecutable? Would you see a difference between those two?
RK Raghavan: You should remember this is a panel appointed by the highest court in the land. We were asked to take over investigation, further investigation of 9 cases which had already been registered, and in addition to these 10 cases this petition of Zakia Jafri was referred to us for disposal. According to law then we took the position that we will make an enquiry, did a preliminary enquiry, reported on it to the Supreme Court. The Honourable Court gave further reactions that we all know, and are based on facts. I do not want to say that we have reached the finality of the whole matter. What we have done is place all facts before the Supreme Court, and then on that direction before the Magistrate. And it is with the Magistrate to take a position as to whether there is anything more that has to be done. As he likely said, as per the direction of the Supreme Court, he had to give these documents to the complainant, and then for them to react. My understanding is that the Magistrate has agreed with our conclusion and this is the direction of the Supreme Court to the Magistrate, that if he agrees with our closure report, he should take any further action only after giving an opportunity to the complainant, and that the lady should be given all the documents. That is what has happened. Nothing to feel excited about. I do not think we have reached any finality to the whole issue. We now, we will strictly obey the Magistrate's order that we should give all relevant records to the complainant within 30 days, and thereafter things will take their own course, depending on what perception the complainant has on the whole matter
NDTV: So you're saying Dr Raghavan that the final word doesn't depend on your panel, the final word belongs to the Court, is that what you're saying?
RK Raghavan: Not at all. In our wildest dreams we never imagined that we were going to be the last word. That understanding, that perception has given us a greater sense of responsibility and accountability. I know, I knew it from the first moment, that every word of mine, spoken or written, will be scrutinized by the highest court of land. And with that consciousness at the back of our mind I have instructed my officers to analyse every piece of evidence, and bring it on record, so that we are never accused of keeping anything away from the complainant or from the Court. I can only, with the greatest conviction possible, greatest consciousness on my part, that we have got every piece of evidence to the surface, we are answerable, we are accountable and we bow down to the Court if they ask us to do something more. So we are waiting, we are satisfied with the kind of work we have done. And we will wait for further processes.
NDTV: Dr Raghavan your panel did however recommend disciplinary proceedings against two senior police officials, which means that even in your conclusions the administration could have done much more than it did. Others have argued that there should not be disciplinary proceedings; it should be criminal proceedings, so how do you see this distinction?
RK Raghavan: Where we have ordered or recommended disciplinary action the meaning was, there is no evidence to criminally prosecute them. We came to the conclusion as far as these officers, that there was no evidence to proceed against them in a court of law, and the best that we could do was to refer the matter to the State Government to take action against some departmentally, and that's how all this came about.
NDTV: One last question, like Teesta Setalvad, who said that they will expose how your panel has not done its job, how do you react to this criticism?
RK Raghavan: See the point, we are a democracy. Everybody has a right to say anything against a panel that has been appointed by the Supreme Court. I wish they bring a certain sense of responsibility in making allegations against us saying that we did not do our job; they must remember that the Judiciary is watching us. The Judiciary will oversee, analyse everything that we did, which they have already done, and we are further open to judicial view on what we have done. We'll wait for the Judiciary to pronounce its final view on how well we have done our job.
NDTV: I must ask you a last question Dr Raghavan which is, that if your panel found no evidence against the accused in the Gulbarga Society, as listed by Zakia Jafri, the question then remains wide open on who killed Ehsan Jafri and others in Gulbarga Society, because the mob was there? But you found that none of the people listed by them is accused or responsible. So I mean the fact is that there was a massacre that took place at Gulbarga Society
RK Raghavan: That is subject of another case, which is before one of the trial courts. It is in the process of finding out the facts and the truth. I shall not comment on a trial, which is now going on in one of the courts.