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For Modi, riot relief versus snoop slap

Narendra Modi

New Delhi, Dec. 26: Relief and anxiety were entwined for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate today.

An Ahmedabad trial court rejected a Gujarat riot widow’s petition seeking to involve Narendra Modi in the violence that killed her husband.

But hours before the verdict, the Union home ministry had ordered a probe into allegations that on Modi’s directive, his government had for months snooped on a young woman in violation of the law.

BJP sources argued that the relief from the court was “far more significant” than a “politically inspired” executive order (for a probe).

Modi tweeted “Truth alone triumphs” after the court dismissed a protest petition against the clean chit given to him by a Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) looking into the 2002 riots.

The verdict effectively closes the only riot case that directly accuses the chief minister of being a conspirator who reined in his police to allow the Hindus to unleash violence on Muslims.

Modi today also quoted Mahatma Gandhi to say: “Truth by nature is self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.”

Petitioner Zakia Jafri is the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was burnt alive by marauding mobs at Ahmedabad’s Gulbarg Housing Society.

Zakia’s lawyer said Modi’s “moment of triumph” would be short-lived because he planned to appeal in less than a month.

But BJP sources familiar with the legal labyrinth claimed the process for a fresh hearing was unlikely to kick off in the next few months, by when it would be time for the Lok Sabha polls.

Modi’s friends in the BJP had been waiting for the verdict with a sense of anxiety because they believed that a legal indictment was the only possible hurdle standing between him and his prime ministerial ambitions.

Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley spelt out the main political takeaway.

“Modi’s popular sanction has been buttressed by a judicial verdict which accepts the SIT’s exoneration of Modi and blames those who were concocting the evidence against him,” Jaitley said. “He goes into the 2014 campaign untainted by propaganda.”

The BJP cadre celebrated the news by holding up Modi’s cut-outs and bursting crackers for over an hour. It lifted the gloom that had settled over the BJP headquarters after the Centre announced the “snoopgate” probe.

Jaitley said the Centre’s probe commission could be challenged in the courts because “this action is suspect legally”.

His statements suggested the BJP would use the two developments to argue that Modi was the victim of a sustained conspiracy hatched by the Congress and executed by its friendly NGOs through the CBI and the media.

Jaitley claimed that Modi had “emerged stronger” in adversity. “He faced a lynch mob, a hostile group in the media and some motivated NGOs. He did not allow his own focus to be disturbed.”

As he briefed the media, Jaitley replayed the “truth” motif Modi had used.

“There is a fundamental difference between truth and falsehood. Truth holds together. Falsehood is full of contradictions; it falls apart,” Jaitley said.

“This is exactly what happened to a conspiracy of falsehood hatched by Modi’s opponents in relation to the 2002 Gujarat riots.”

Modi’s “opponents”, party sources claimed, included former Gujarat police officers Sanjiv Bhatt and R.B. Sreekumar who, after falling out with the chief minister, had accused him of involvement in riots and fake encounters.

Jaitley trashed the “snoopgate” inquiry panel as a “phony commission” and wondered if it was a “bizarre coincidence” that its announcement came hours before Modi was legally cleared.

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh congratulated the Centre for ordering the probe. He said the commission should have been constituted earlier because the “snooping” violated the Indian Telegraph Act and the Information Technology Act and, therefore, “responsibility should be fixed”.