The hysteria that normally accompanies any move to bring about political accountability has been refreshingly absent following the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) summons to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to depose before it. This is the first time ever that the CM of any state has been asked to appear before an SIT. The SIT step is in response to charges against Mr Modi and his administration by Zakia Jaffrey whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffrey was murdered in the Gulberg housing society during the cataclysmic riots of 2002. Mr Modi has signalled his compliance and the new BJP President Nitin Gadkari has taken the stand that the law must take its course.
The law has indeed taken a tortuous course in the Gujarat case with various rulings indicting the administration being overturned by lower courts. Now that the action has moved to the Supreme Court, we are hopefully moving closer to a conclusion. The SIT seems intent on completing its task in a professional manner, heeding neither pressure from the establishment nor from activists who have been at loggerheads ever since those fateful events took place. In all the mudslinging, we have still not fixed accountability for the violence in which over 1,500 people died. That there was complicity, at least from sections of Mr Modi’s administration, is established. The SIT has made it clear that it has prima facie cases against then minister Maya Kodnani and various VHP leaders. It has also left no one in doubt that the events were not a spontaneous reaction after the Godhra train arson, but very much ordered to a pattern.
Mr Modi is in a difficult situation. If he professes ignorance of the reasons for and perpetrators of the violence, his administration could be held accountable for negligence. However, given the maturity with which the situation has been handled so far, it must be hoped that the SIT hearings will give Mr Modi a platform to answer many questions which are still hanging in the air. The 2002 riots proved to be one of the most divisive and painful in independent India and threatened the very secular ethos of the country. So, unlike the investigations into past riots, it becomes imperative that the issue is resolved in order that both Gujarat and India can move forward. Mr Modi has crafted the economic success story of Gujarat. Today everyone wants a stake in the growth of the state. Mr Modi has eventual ambitions for a greater role at the Centre. In this context, it makes sense to wipe the slate clean and bring a closure to a painful chapter in our history.