In a huge relief to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi ahead of the general elections due in May, a court on Thursday upheld a Special Investigation Team (SIT)’s clean chit to him in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots.
The court ruling came after hearing on the protest petition of Zakia Jafri whose husband and former parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri was among the 69 people massacred by a mob in Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad.
Ehsan’s frantic phone calls for help to the police and politicians were ignored, according to Zakia who was witness to the killings.
The SIT, appointed by the Supreme Court in 2008 to determine whether Modi should be tried for his alleged role in the riots, said in its report in 2012 no prosecutable evidence was found against the Gujarat CM. Timeline: Zakia Jafri vs Modi in 2002 Gujarat riots case
Zakia had challenged the SIT report, but the magisterial court on Thursday said the evidence presented by Zakia's lawyers is not substantiated.
The court also upheld the SIT's view that suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt's affidavit did not constitute evidence against the accused named in the complaint.
In April 2011, Bhatt, who was a senior police officer in 2002, had said Modi told him and other cops to allow Hindus in the state to exact revenge for the killing of 59 kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express near Godhra, an event which triggered the riots.
In her protest petition, Zakia had mentioned Bhatt's affidavit in support of her allegation that Modi was complicit in the massacre.
Ministers interfered with police functioning during the riots, she alleged.
In its 400-page judgment, the court, however, upheld the SIT's stand on the amicus curiae Raju Ramchandran's report, saying it needs to be trashed.
Ramchandran had recommended Modi’s prosecution on the ground that his speeches during the 2002 riots promoted enmity between the two communities.
The slain MP’s widow said she has not lost the will to “fight for justice” and will move the Gujarat high court. Jafri family mulls legal options, BJP accuses Cong of 'falsehood'
Her lawyer Mihir Desai was asked if the Gujarat chief minister should feel relieved. "Mr Modi can feel easy for the next 20 days but not longer," he replied.
“Truth alone triumphs,” Modi tweeted after the verdict. Though he has toned down Hindutva rhetoric after being made the saffron party’s campaign head, Modi been finding it difficult to shake off allegations that he did not act decisively to prevent the 2002 riots.
"Truth by nature is self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear," Modi tweeted, borrowing the words of Mahatma Gandhi.
According to state government records, of more than 1,200 people killed in the riots, nearly 950 were Muslims.
Reacting to the verdict, Bhatt said, “I think justice hasn’t been delivered to the families who suffered in 2002 riots”.
The SIT chief, RK Raghavan, told a news channel: “If SC had not backed me to the hilt during the probe, I would have crumbled under tremendous pressure.”
“We had to do extremely hard work under extremely adverse circumstances,” he said.
SIT lawyer RS Jamuar said no criminal case now can be initiated against Modi and 62 other accused. He said the SIT impartiality has been established.
The BJP welcomed the court order, saying it was a victory for "truth". "Truth has prevailed. The conspiracy and falsehood to implicate Shri Narendra Modi in an offence stands exposed," tweeted senior party leader Arun Jaitley.
"The Congress party and its sponsored NGOs are unable to fight Narendra Modi politically. They used falsehood in court against him but failed," said Jaitley.