By B. Raman
It is said that the lack of evidence regarding a crime does not mean that a crime was not committed. The conclusion of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team headed by Shri R. K. Raghavan, former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, accepted by a court in Gujarat on April 10,2012, that there is no prosecutable evidence against Shri Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, and some others in connection with what has come to be known as the Gulbarg Society massacre does not mean that the allegations relating to the massacre have been discounted in toto.
There were two categories of allegations relating to the massacre. The first was about participation in the massacre. As pointed out by Shri Raghavan in his excellent interview by Barkha Dutt of NDTV last night, the trial against persons being prosecuted for participation is still on. Since the matter is sub judice, one cannot comment on their likely culpability.
The second category of allegations related to wittingly or unwittingly facilitating the massacre by failing to use the Police to prevent the massacre. Certain human rights activists and an Indian Police Service officer of Gujarat cadre have been alleging that there were wilful acts of commission and omission by the Gujarat administration headed by Shri Modi which facilitated the massacre.
Under the law, wilfully failing to act to prevent a crime is itself a crime. It was alleged by these activists that Shri Modi and others accused of inaction wilfully refrained from acting in time to prevent the massacre despite their knowing that a massacre was being committed.
The SIT’s conclusion does not mean that there were no acts of commission and omission by the Modi Government. It only means that they were not wilful and no offence under the common law has been committed by them. Do they have any accountability for administrative negligence not amounting to a crime that came in the way of preventing the massacre? That is a question which will be debated endlessly without definitive answers being found.
Shri Modi thus stands exonerated legally. There is no point in continuing with a witch-hunt against him as sought to be done by his detractors.
Shri Modi’s exoneration in the eyes of the law does not necessarily mean that he stands exonerated in the eyes of large sections of the people of this country who have been critical of his handling of the anti-Muslim riots. Shri Modi has not been honourably exonerated in their eyes. A legal exoneration does not mean a vindication of Shri Modi’s honour in sofar as the Gujarat massacres are concerned.
What next? Does the legal exoneration strengthen his position politically in the State and in the nation? Yes, it definitely strengthens his position in the State and increases the chances of his Government being returned to power in the State elections later this year.
Does the legal exoneration strengthen his credentials as a national level leader deserving to be the Prime Minister of this country one day? His followers strongly believe that the road is now clear for his emerging as a national level leader capable of leading this country.
This question will be decided in the months to come not just by his die-hard supporters, but many others who still have question marks in their minds over his ethical credentials to be the Prime Minister of this country. His administrative acumen and competence stand proved in Gujarat. But there will continue to be a debate on his ethical calibre. The question of ethical calibre is decided not by SITS or courts. It is decided—sometimes objectively, sometimes subjectively— in the minds of the people. There is no evidence as yet that his opponents and critics as well as many others with a troubled conscience are prepared to exonerate him in their minds. This will come in the way of his chances as a future Prime Minister of India.