It is an ugly sight when the veneer is stripped off a would-be icon and the straw exposed. Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, is not looking pretty. The Supreme Court has put a sudden stop to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “glorify Modi” programme — at least for the time being — by the sharpest rebuke ever administered to a chief minister. It is not usual for the highest court in the land to tell a chief minister that if he cannot protect the weak, punish the guilty and perform raj dharma, his government should go. But then, Mr Modi is not engaged in very usual things. The hideousness of the Gujarat carnage, the focussed violence against the minority community, the brazen lies about rehabilitation of the victims, were just the beginning of a long and shameless story of relentless discrimination. The recent amendment to the criminal procedure code by the Gujarat government, by which police need not produce people they have picked up before a magistrate at all, just show them on video, has been widely seen as one more trick to keep young people from the minority community in custody without charging them. This amendment accompanied a vague official statement by the state that “youths” in the state were training to attack political leaders.
The revelations that accompanied the Best Bakery massacre case gain their significance from this background. All the accused were let off in the lower court because a large number of witnesses turned hostile. The appeal to the Supreme Court to conduct this, the Godhra case and a few associated cases outside of Gujarat came from the national human rights commission, together with an appeal against the Best Bakery acquittals from Ms Zahira Sheikh, the witness who ultimately blew the lid off the Best Bakery trial. The Supreme Court’s rebuke to the state government was a direct result of an appeal against the acquittals it had made in haste, perhaps to blunt the edge of the NHRC’s petition. This appeal was so framed as to strike the court as “eyewash”. By this one word the court has conveyed the state government’s disrespect towards the justice system and public intelligence, as well as its blatant disregard of all norms of governance and secular conduct. In one of the strongest indictments against the Gujarat government, the Supreme Court has expressed its loss of faith in it.
It is too much to expect Mr Modi to resign, for that would be the decent thing to do. It would be even more unexpected of the BJP not to “back” him, because holding him up as a model is one of the party’s priorities. Perhaps many in the party agree with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that the “Gujarat experiment” was successful and can now be repeated elsewhere. In such a situation, Mr Modi would be the only act to follow. The court’s reference to raj dharma may be read as a glance at the BJP’s unstinting support for Mr Modi, since it is a deliberate repetition of the prime minister’s words. Mr Modi has made quite a bit of history, a history India will never be able to recall without shame. He has even brought forth an unprecedented rebuke from the Supreme Court. He could make more history by doing the totally unexpected: just resign.