In a decision that brings the 2002 Gujarat riots back on to the political centrestage, the Supreme Court on Monday gave Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi some relief, but no clean chit yet, in the Gulberg Housing Society massacre case that left 69 people dead, including Congress MP Ahesan Jaffri.
The apex court chose not to pass any orders on the allegations of Modi's complicity in the 2002 post-Godhra riots and, instead, put the ball in a magistrate’s court in Ahmedabad to decide on his fate.
The bench directed the SC-appointed special investigation team to submit before the Ahmedabad trial court its final report – either a chargesheet or a closure report.
The bench categorically said if the SIT chooses to file a closure report, the trial court has to hear Jaffri’s wife Zakia Nasim Ahesan’s plea before taking a decision on it. The trial court could even order further investigation into the case.
The court did not issue any direction to register an FIR against Modi and others as sought by Zakia. As of now, Modi has not been named as an accused in the case.
The three-judge bench also ended the SC’s monitoring of the Gulberg Society massacre case in which Zakia wanted Modi and 62 others to be probed and tried.
The bench ordered the SIT headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan to submit its report, along with entire material collected by it during the course of probe into Zakia’s complaint against Modi and others to the Ahmedabad court dealing with the case. Jayanto's cartoon: Modi and god
Zakia moved SC in November 2007 after the Gujarat High Court rejected her plea to register an FIR against Modi and 62 others in the case.
The SC had asked the SIT on April 27, 2009 to “look into” Zakia’s complaint. Earlier, she had filed a criminal complaint June 8, 2006 before the state police that refused to register an FIR.
The SC order triggered political reactions with the BJP claiming that Modi has been exonerated and Congress insisting that it was not a clean chit.
“There was no evidence of involvement of Modi in the riots,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley said. Law minster Salman Khurshid said, “The decision was in no way a clean chit to Modi.”
Activist Teesta Setalvad, who supported Zakia’s appeal before SC, said, the court has not exonerated Modi. “The reason why it is a victory for us and not for Modi or BJP is that it has gone past the FIR stage,” she said.
Modi himself tweeted: “God is great”.
This direction is likely to lead to another round of litigation, providing Zakia another opportunity to make Modi a party in the case - though this could take years. The CM would then have to personally defend himself against the allegations.
Before accepting or rejecting SIT's closure report, the trial court would make available to Zakia copies of the statement of witnesses and documents related to investigation.
The SC said it would be open to the SIT obtaining from amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran copies of his reports submitted to the SC.
Ramachandran had assisted the court in the matter and said to have raised objections to SIT's first report which reportedly found no prosecutable evidence against Modi.
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan said though SC followed the letter of the law through its order, it backed off from taking a decision.
"SC should have decided the correctness of SIT's report. If the court had to pass the buck, it shouldn't have called for the amicus' independent assessment of SIT's second report," Bhushan said.
Verdict victory for Modi: BJP | No clean chit to Modi: Cong | Case timeline | Huge step forward: Setalvad | Jafri's son reacts