March 20: Narendra Modi kept everyone guessing on whether he would travel two kilometres tomorrow to appear before the Supreme Court-created Special Investigation Team which wants to question him in connection with the murder of a Congress leader during the 2002 riots.
Officials at the chief ministers office said they were in the dark on whether Modi — considered a secretive person who rarely speaks his mind — would appear before the SIT at its office in the old Gandhinagar secretariat, a two kilometre drive from his official bungalow.
Jaynarayan Vyas, the spokesperson for the Gujarat government who had earlier claimed that the BJP and the chief minister would cooperate with the process of law, today said he was not sure if Modi would appear before the SIT or send his lawyer.
Im not an astrologer who can predict about another person. The summons is a matter pertaining to an individual who alone can decide for himself, Vyas said.
The SIT, headed by former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan, had on March 11 asked Modi to appear before it in the week beginning March 21 in connection with the murder of former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri and 68 others in the Gulbarg Society massacre of February 28, 2002.
Modi is the first accused in the complaint filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of the slain Congress leader, before the Supreme Court on the basis of which the chief minister is to be questioned.
The SIT had not received any communication from Modi till this evening. There is no response from Modi as yet, PTI quoted Raghavan as saying.
BJP sources said Modi could be buying time till April when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on an application asking it to recall its earlier order referring Zakias complaint to the SIT.
The application has been moved by senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, who is appearing on behalf of Kalubhai Maliwad, a BJP legislator who has been named with Modi in Zakias complaint.
A BJP source said Modi is examining if it is expedient for him to wait until the apex court gives its judgment on Jethmalanis plea that will be heard in the week beginning April 5.
The BJP national brass appeared to be playing safe. Chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said Modi would respond to the SITs summons on the basis of the legal advice given to him.
It is a purely legal process for which an appropriate decision will be taken by Modi. He will respond in accordance with legal requirements, said Prasad.
Asked if he was one of Modis legal advisers, BJPs Rajya Sabha MP and advocate for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rama Jois, said the chief minister was going entirely by the counsel offered by Jethmalani.
Gujarat BJP sources appeared to be taking cover under the technicality of whether the SIT had issued a notice or a summons, which is usually the prerogative of a court or a commission of inquiry.
Since the SIT has only issued a notice to Modi asking him to be present before it on March 21, nothing will happen if he chooses not to appear. There are no consequences, said a BJP source in Ahmedabad.
Legal experts and rights activists, however, maintained that whether it is a summons or just a notice, Modi will have to appear some day.
The SIT has all the powers of an investigative agency under the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, a legal expert said on condition of anonymity. So quibbling over whether it was a notice or a summons will not get Modi too far, one said.
He can avoid appearing before the SIT once or twice. But he cannot do so forever, he said. Since the SIT is an investigating team, the process is basically inquisitorial… amounting to an interrogation by police over evidence collected, he said.
A BJP source in New Delhi claimed Modi may not exploit his propensity to engage in political grandstanding over the SITs summons and convert his impending appearance into a spectacle.
Instead he may use this chance to project himself as a responsible, law-abiding citizen who actually welcomes the investigation instead of running away from it. He is not afraid because he has nothing to hide. He might want to set an example for the political class, the source said.
A section in the BJP felt Modi should try and discard the 2002 riots stigma before the next Lok Sabha elections if he wishes to be perceived seriously as a national leader.