The charges made by a senior police officer against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi are dead serious. According to Sanjeev Bhatt, who was posted as the deputy commissioner of police (DCP) in the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, in a meeting on February 27, 2002, called immediately after the Sabarmati Express carnage, Mr Modi had told a gathering of police officers to be “indifferent” to rioters who were ‘reacting’ against the deaths of karsevaks near Godhra junction. In his affidavit to the Supreme Court, Mr Bhatt also made the even more damning comment about the chief minister stating that the post-Godhra situation “warranted that the Muslims be taught a lesson to ensure that such incidents do nor recur ever again”. The former DCP added that the special investigation team (SIT) set up by the apex court in 2008 to reinvestigate into the 2002 Gujarat riots — and Mr Modi’s alleged involvement in them — was conducting a ‘cover-up’ operation. Someone from within the statutory system pointing fingers with specific charges at the Modi government is not a fuzzy, liberal outburst. It is a matter suggesting something far more reliable in the courts of law.
The BJP has reacted by stating that there is nothing new in Mr Bhatt’s affidavit. In this, Mr Modi’s defenders aren’t wrong. That Mr Modi was somehow involved in the massacre of Gujarat’s citizens and had then proceeded to make life difficult for investigators has been a point of bitter dispute between detractors of the BJP and its supporters for nine years and counting. But the charge of the SIT having threatened a key witness — Mr Bhatt’s colleague at the SIB — to the investigations into the murder of Congress MP Ehsaan Jaffrey by a mob “with arrest and other dire consequences”, points to a drastic but more confirmable malaise. In February this year, the Gujarat government issued a show-cause notice against Rahul Sharma, a senior IPS officer, for sharing telephone records with inquiry panels. So yes, the charges of obfuscation aren’t new.
But Mr Bhatt’s accusations should provide investigators new evidence, new leads, new witnesses. There is no reason why we should take a police officer’s word about being present in a chief ministerial meeting at face value. But there is no reason why we should take the word of the Gujarat government and Mr Bhatt’s former boss that he wasn’t there at face value either. With Mr Bhatt citing witnesses in the affidavit likely to come before the Supreme Court on April 27, one of these versions can be found to be true. The Gujarat riots may have receded in the public and political horizon over the last nine years. But if there is someone who brings new evidence that props up old charges, that may be helpful for the Supreme Court to confirm — or deny — what has been swirling around in the public domain since February 2002.