Saturday, November 24, 2012

Naroda Patia massacre verdict dents Narendra Modi's PM hopes

TNN | Aug 30, 2012, 01.54AM IST
NEW DELHI: The conviction of his former minister Maya Kodnani has brought the Gujarat riot trial at the Narendra Modi government's doorstep, undercutting the CM's effort to project a "secular" image as a prop for his prime ministerial aspirations.

Modi made Kodnani a minister after his landslide win in 2002 elections in defiance of rampant allegations of her involvement in the Naroda-Patia massacre earlier that year. Kodnani was retained as minister and remained part of the ministerial team till the SIT chargesheet forced her to resign.

Given the background, the verdict of the trial court re-ignited memories of the post-Godhra anti-Muslim violence of 2002 and the attendant accusation of the state government's failure, setting back his effort to de-emphasize what is seen by many as the defining feature of his reign with a "let-us-move-on" message. It threatens to take away from the relief Modi received when SIT concluded there is insufficient evidence to prosecute him for involvement in communal riots.

BJP on Wednesday challenged the argument that Kodnani's conviction is a confirmation of the charge of the Modi regime's complicity in riots, saying she was not a minister when the communal violence broke out. The reasoning is right only in the technical sense.

Politically speaking, it is not going to wash with those who in any case consider Modi to be a radioactive material because of the riots. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has made an early commitment from the BJP not to project Modi for PM a pre-condition for continuing in the NDA.

The verdict can only strengthen Kumar's arguments, nullifying any hope that Modi's third straight win in assembly polls and a growing anti-Congress mood may allow BJP to persist with ambivalence on the leadership question.

BJP was conspicuously low key in response to the verdict with the otherwise vocal spokespersons trying to argue that the development was part of an ongoing legal process.

"We don't want to politicize the judicial process... this is the first court, it is a judicial process, it will go on," said party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.

He further said the riot-convict had resigned immediately after the chargesheet was filed, unlike as happens in Congress. Asked whether her involvement in the riots shows complicity of the Gujarat government, he said, "I don't think so".

Javadekar, however, kept referring to the 1984 riots in Delhi and the recent lower Assam violence as both happened during Congress regimes in respective states. He did so while mentioning the Gujarat riots that happened under Modi's chief ministership to say that "any riot or killing should be condemned and the guilty should be punished."

"Whether is anti-Sikh riots of 1984, or the Maharashtra, Assam or Gujarat riots, it is unfortunate and a blot on the face of the nation. Any level of condemnation for any riot is insufficient. We have always criticized the Godhra incident and Gujarat riots, that is our stand," Javadekar said.

Another party leader Tarun Vijay said that the party respected the judicial process. "We have full trust in the judicial system of the country. Challenging court decisions on road is the nature of Congress, not BJP," Vijay said.