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Friday, April 16, 2021

Gujarat court’s clean-chit to Modi in 2002 riots: Is it fair? Issue explained in 7 points

This is a major breather for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After the Nanavati-Mehta Commission gave clean chit to Modi over the 2002 Gujarat Riot case, now a civil court from the PM’s native state has given similar judgment on Saturday.

The background

We all are aware of the terrifying Gujarat Riots in which 1044 people died and thousands others were injured. But this is official figures, the real numbers could be even bigger. Then Gujarat CM Modi was slammed by a series of both national and international media for allegedly stoking the violence fire and not taking enough steps to curb it. The accusations of supporting the far-right groups over the minorities were also levelled against him. However, in a miraculous turn of events in Indian politics, that very man assumed office as India’s PM with landslide majority, not only once but for two consecutive terms. In this article, we shall discuss the Gujarat court’s latest judgment vis-a-vis charges against Modi in the 2002 riots.

Gujarat court clean-chit to Modi in 2002 riots: Is it fair? Issue explained in 7 points

1. What has the court done?

A civil court in Gujarat’s Prantij on Saturday dropped Modi’s name from three suits seeking damages for three British nationals killed during the 2002 riots, when he was the state’s chief minister. Modi had filed an application to strike off his name as he was not a “necessary or property party” in the case, and Principal Civil Judge Suresh Kumar Kaludan Gadhavi accepted the arguments put forth by the PM’s lawyer.

“A bare reading of the plaint makes it further evident that bald allegations are made against defendant No.1 (Modi) and none of the averments indicates malice on the part of defendant No.1, which resulted in the incident in question,” the court order said as per a report.

2. What was the lawsuit against PM all about?

The suits, filed in 2004 by British nationals Shirin Dawood, Shamima Dawood and Imran Salim Dawood, who lost their relatives in the 2002 riots in Gujarat, were consolidated in 2017. Apart from Modi, 11 others, including then-state home minister Gordhan Zadaphia, were named in the suit, claiming Rs 20 crore as damages. According to a report, the victims were killed by a mob on the National Highway 8 on 28 February 2002 when they were returning from Rajasthan to Gujarat. Imran Salim Dawood, then 18, had travelled to India with his UK-based uncles.

3. What did the court say?

Not only the court dropped Modi’s name, but also commented that the original plaintiffs were “attempting to drag the case” and levelled “only general, nonspecific and vague” allegations against Modi. The court brushed aside all charges against Modi.

“There is not a single averment showing presence of defendant No.1 at the scene of offence at the relevant time, or his direct or indirect involvement in the alleged act, or any specific role from which reasonable ground for malice or intentional acts or omissions can be found, entitling the plaintiff to claim any legal right or relief against defendant No.1 in his personal or official capacity in the suit,” the judge observed, reports ThePrint.

Though the plaintiffs lost their kin in the riots, the judge said the allegations against the PM were “reckless and without any basis”, and opined the averments in the complaints were made “cleverly to connect” Modi to the riots and seek compensation from him.

4. What did the plaintiffs say?

According to the plaintiffs’ argument, Modi as the head of the state at the time of riots was “constitutionally, statutorily and personally liable for being in complete command of the state machinery”. The plaintiffs alleged that the state had ignored Intelligence Bureau inputs regarding the movement of kar sevaks, and Modi did not oppose the call for bandh given by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, and deliberately did not act against newspapers for fanning communal passions. Such omission on the CM’s part led to the increasing violence against the Muslim community, the plaintiffs argued. But the court dismissed these assertions stating “lack of reasonable grounds”.

5. Plaintiffs’ lawyers were allegedly targeted

The plaintiffs also alleged that their lawyers were being targeted by the state government through the CBI, and they were finding it difficult to secure services of other advocates. Because of this, Imran Dawood submitted an affidavit directly to the court.

6. But what about these reports…

The first counter attack

According to a BBC report, a senior police officer’s sworn statement to the Supreme Court alleges that Gujarat CM Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state. Bhatt said he attended a meeting at which Modi allegedly to have stated that the Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger. Bhatt was a senior police officer in the Gujarat intelligence bureau in 2002.

In his statement, he said that his position allowed him to come across large amounts of information and intelligence both before and during the violence, including the actions of senior administrative officials. Bhatt also alleged that, in a meeting in the night before the riots, Modi told officials that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson following an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The then Gujarat government responded to the allegations by saying they have already testified before a special panel investigating the riots and will wait for the court’s verdict.

The second counter attack

As per the Gujarat riots’s history, the vast majority of those who died were Muslim. Mobs of men dragged women and young girls out of their homes and raped them. Tehelka in 2007 recorded boasts from some of the far-right Hindu leaders. Babu Bajrangi, one such leader, boasted of how he slit open the womb of a pregnant woman. In a report, The Guardian said, “When BJP supporters try to dismiss the pogrom of 2002 as ancient and contested history, what they are trying to erase is that epic, shameful violence.”

7. Modi boasted of ‘Gujarat model’ after riots, but did it help?

According to economists, the so-called Gujarati development model, there isn’t one. Gujarat has enjoyed growth but very little development. Under Modi, it has lagged behind the other major states in terms of tackling infant mortality, reducing poverty and increasing literacy. In 2006, there were even more undernourished children in Gujarat than in 1993, which Modi has claimed is because middle-class girls are “beauty-conscious”, says a report.

It is true that big businesses back Modi, but that is because he gives them so much. CAG reports point out that “his administration has sold off public land dirt cheap to industrialists, provided companies with energy at below-market prices and given them loans at an interest rate of 0.1%. They in return have provided him with sponsorship and rides in their private jets”, says the BBC analysis. Atul Sood, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has written: “The governance model of Gujarat is all about aggressive implementation of development on behalf of the big private investor. It is a model that works for the rich and against the poor.”

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