Still stuck in purgatory | india | Hindustan Times
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Still stuck in purgatory

Legally, Narendra Modi may have got a breather. Politically, he remains in quarantine

india Updated: Sep 12, 2011 23:48 IST

It is advantage Modi but deuce for the BJP. The Supreme Court lobbed the ball over the net into an Ahmedabad trial court after refusing to pass any order on the role of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the fateful anti-Muslim riots of 2002. This was in response to a petition by Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed by a mob in Naroda Patiya. The court has directed that the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which had looked into Mr Modi's role and not come up with any evidence to prosecute him, submit its final report to the trial court. The fact that the amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran who had looked into the SIT report too did not find any wrongdoing on the part of Mr Modi is being seen as a vindication of the controversial chief minister's role in what were arguably the worst communal riots in post-independence India.

It is indeed a breather for Mr Modi. The trial court could order an investigation based on the SIT report that has recorded a few adverse remarks about Mr Modi in its original report. But that is quite some way off. The apex court's verdict has brought no closure either to Mr Modi or to the victims of the violence. This political purgatory has far-reaching implications both for Mr Modi and the BJP. Mr Modi has tried unceasingly to reinvent himself as a development messiah and has projected his state as an investment magnet in the years after the riots. He has succeeded remarkably well at both. But, with no conclusion on the issue of the riots, his chances of leading the BJP nationally in the next general elections are as remote as ever. He does not have national acceptability - never mind an international one. Nor does he enjoy the kind of respect that NDA leaders like Nitish Kumar or Naveen Patnaik do. For the BJP, suffering from a severe bankruptcy of talent at the top, this is an enormous setback.

With his charisma and track record in governance, Mr Modi should have been a natural prime ministerial candidate. He is the darling of the RSS, the backbone of the BJP. Yet, his party dare not project Mr Modi for fear of alienating not just the Muslims but large sections of Hindus as well. Many feel that a way out for Mr Modi would be to ask for a probe himself. But, we have seen that such self-deprecation is not his strong point.

A weak-kneed leadership does not have the courage to ask him to do so. This should have been the moment when the deuce should have been broken. But with the game beginning all over again in the trial court, the last set is a long way from ending in this marathon match.