Interim relief

Though the clean chit purportedly given by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the case of  the murder of Congress MP  Ehsan Jafri and others in the Gulberg Society attack during the 2002 riots may have come as a relief to Modi, it will not lessen the gravity of the severe strictures passed by the state high court on the conduct of the government during the riots.

The final SIT report was submitted to a local court in Ahmedabad as directed by the Supreme Court, and the court is yet to take a view of it. There was criticism of the first SIT report which had absolved Modi, and the Supreme Court had got it reviewed by an amicus curiae. The final report will have to be accepted or rejected by the trial court on the basis of further evidence which may be produced before it.

The relief therefore is temporary and unreal and will have to await the conclusion of the judicial process to be vindicated. But the high court’s criticism of the government is real and  badly exposes it. The court has observed that the government failed to anticipate the riots and allowed anarchy to rule unabated in the state for days after they broke out.

This amounts to saying that it did not do anything to prevent the riots from taking place and to stop them and bring them under control. It is the duty of any government to protect the lives and property of citizens, irrespective of political or other considerations. It is known that the Modi government had failed in this responsibility and the court has now endorsed this.

The court’s order to the government to restore the religious structures destroyed during the riots and to pay compensation for the damage or reimburse the cost or repair flows from this perception of failure. Hundreds of places of worship were damaged during the riots and the government should have taken the initiative to rebuild them as part of a healing process.

Unfortunately such a healing process has not happened in Gujarat, in spite of the sadbhavana yatras held by Modi. He has not in fact expressed any remorse for the riots. Most of those who fled their homes in the wake of the riots have not returned. There will not be any closure in Gujarat till all the demons from the past are confronted.

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