Wednesday, September 14, 2011

2002 Riots: Just Wait for the Trial



The Supreme Court is not a trial court and Monday's decision is the logical next step after the completion of investigation

Much in life is interpretation. This alas is true of the action of the Supreme Court on Monday ending its involvement with the high-profile case involving Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, for which the investigation was being conducted under the court's direction. Since the investigation by the Special Investigation Team has been concluded, the court quite appropriately directed that the responsibility of trial must devolve on the magistrate's court in Ahmedabad.

The Supreme Court is not a trial court and Monday's decision is the logical next step after the completion of investigation. And yet the BJP behaves as if it had won the Derby. The most sober assessment has come from the party's legal eagle, Arun Jaitley, who said under media questioning that the Supreme Court's action did not amount to giving Mr Modi a “clean chit“. Nevertheless, his party publicly projects the episode as a victory. The Gujarat leader himself has as a victory. The Gujarat leader himself has been quoted as saying “God is great,“ as though he has walked through fire. In con Zakia trast, the deceased Congress MP's widow Jafri, who filed the case against the chief minister and 62 others for instigating post-Godhra communal violence in the state, in the course of which her husband and 69 others were murdered in cold blood, is deeply disappointed. She had perhaps thought she would get “justice“ from the country's highest court in the sense that Mr Modi would be proclaimed guilty.

The hard fact is that the trial is yet to open.

The Supreme Court had taken charge of the investigation because the Gujarat police was deemed to have become unreliable. Without a trial, the court could have neither held the chief minister guilty nor acquitted him. So then what explains the BJP's euphoria? It is possible that high-pitched exclamations of presumed victory are meant to hustle the Ahmedabad magistrate on whom a great burden has been cast. After all, when the state was being rocked by communal violence, its judicial structure too came under a cloud, and the Best Bakery case trial had to be shifted to Mumbai.

When the trial in the Zakia case begins, the presiding magistrate will be required to take note of the SIT report and the report of the Supreme Court's amicus curiae. The Supreme Court appointed an amicus curiae when aspersions were cast on certain aspects of the SIT's functioning, who then concluded that the SIT's conclusions were at variance with some of its own findings during investigations. The real state of play will become known when the magistrate frames the charges based on the two reports. Until then, politics should take a back seat.


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