In these days of increasing extra-judicial proceedings, attempts to make, break or repair reputations outside the courts of law have become almost standard operating procedure. Take Narendra Modi’s three-day ‘Sadbhavna’ hunger-strike.
Mr Modi may have not sought to draw any direct link between his public fasting and the Supreme Court’s decision to let a sessions court take up the case involving his alleged role in the murder of Congressman Ehsan Jafri in the post-Godhra riots in February 2002.
But the timing of the act makes it obvious that the gesture hasn’t materialised out of thin air.
Almost a decade since the Gujarat chief minister’s name became entwined with the post-Godhra riots, Mr Modi’s attempt to prove his innocence has met with mixed results.
Coupled with Gujarat’s economic and developmental success story as well as the literal vote of confidence that two successive assembly elections have provided, the charges of complicity in the 2002 riots against Mr Modi have became skeletons in a cupboard shifted to the attic.
But at the same time, with a judicial closure still pending and with enough voices still reminding everyone that an extremely uncomfortable ‘anomaly’ had indeed taken place under Mr Modi’s nose for which judgement is still awaited, the 2002 riots remain a strong background radiation in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Without a judicial closure, Mr Modi’s attempts to keep the ‘good bits’ and exorcise the ‘bad bits’ will be as successful as trying to separate the ‘upstairs’ and the ‘downstairs’ from a flight of stairs.
Mr Modi’s show of making amends without actually uttering an apology (and thereby admitting to complicity or neglect) is a political one.
But this ‘extra-judicial’ route can be — and is being — used by victims of the 2002 riots and those who represent them. If Mr Modi has been able to mobilise Gujarat’s people (and most visibly, members of Gujarat’s Muslim community) to provide him with an unofficial stamp of approval, then even the handful of people, including some victims of the 2002 violence, who were detained before they could protest against the CM’s ‘fast for harmony’, have once again been counted.
And the presence of two prominent accused in the Gulberga Society killings at the ‘Sadbhavna fast’ venue certainly makes it hard to swallow Mr Modi’s latest ‘reach-out’ programme.
With justice seeking out more time to make a judgement, those attempting to clear Mr Modi’s name as well as those attempting to pin him down for good will continue the sideshow that will be the politics revolving around the Gujarat CM.
For every display of political support (such as the one provided by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa), there will be political opposition (such as the one provided by Bihar chief minister and fellow NDA leader Nitish Kumar).
And it is this sideshow — away from the justice much more sought by the victims of Gujarat 2002 than that sought by Mr Modi and his supporters — that will tantalisingly keep the BJP leader in the foreground for reasons that he prefers as well as reasons that he doesn’t prefer at all.