Three out of nine cases in which verdicts have been pronounced in 10 years may not seem like much. But in the case of the painfully long judicial proceedings following the 2002 riots in Gujarat, each step of the way towards securing justice for the victims has been very hard fought and fraught
with obstacles. The latest in which 23 people have been charged with murder, attempt to murder and for the first time ever criminal conspiracy in the Ode carnage will bring us that much closer to some form of closure for the victims, many of whom have been in a judicial limbo for years. Earlier, the Godhra and Sardarpura cases were effectively prosecuted, despite attempts by vested interests to subvert the law.
In the last decade, the Gujarat administration, led by chief minister Narendra Modi, has made strenuous efforts to reinvent its image. And, in many areas, very successfully. The latest Special Investigation Team's (SIT) clean-chit to Mr Modi in the Ehsan Jafri case is definitely a shot in the arm for him. Today, Gujarat is seen as a model state in terms of development and attracting investment. Mr Modi is hailed as the architect of a new Gujarat focused solely on economic achievement. He is seen as something of a single-window clearance point not just for business but also in stamping out corruption. These are all laudable, but the shadow of the riots and his government's alleged complicity in the scale of the carnage still tend to negate the many strides forward that the state has taken. It would be in Mr Modi's enlightened self-interest to see that no obstacle is placed in the course of investigations into the remaining cases from anyone in his administration. This issue has been raised by many NGOs and all of them cannot be dismissed as being motivated by a desire to hurt Mr Modi's image. Apart from justice from the courts, the state has not done nearly enough to rehabilitate the victims of those fateful riots. Many have not been able to return to their homes or indeed restart their livelihoods. They still live in fear as some of their attackers are free.
While the courts may take their own time in delivering justice to the victims, the state government could do a lot more to integrate them into the mainstream and dispel their fears. An economically booming state like Gujarat should be able to find some source of livelihood for those who have lost everything. Mr Modi may have done well to hold his sadbhavna fasts. But, he has yet to make even a symbolic gesture to the minority community that would go some way towards soothing hurt sentiments. On the contrary, Mr Modi has not expressed regret over what happened on his watch. There is much to gain from the healing touch all around. It would give victims the reassurance that their sentiments are valued, and it would be an ideal brand building exercise for Mr Modi. In other words, small gestures could mean big dividends in the still polarised state.