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Gulbarg massacre case: Judicial system hollow, will hurt Modi’s image internationally


The Ahmedabad court’s verdict on the Gulbarg Society massacre case does not put a full-stop on the horrific incident which has agonised India for the past 14 years. In fact, quick-time reaction of the convicted that they still had the option of appeal, and the response from those who have waged a campaign for justice, that they will too appeal in higher courts against the acquittals, suggests that the matter is far from over.

Not only because justice delayed is justice denied but the fact that the court has ruled out criminal conspiracy demonstrates unfairness of the entire judicial system. It just proves the entire system has chosen to remain bystander while 69 people were roasted alive in a cluster of 29 bungalows and ten apartment buildings.

One-time Congress lawmaker, Ehsan Jafri, died while making repeated telephone calls and now justice has suffered another haemorrhage despite the entire body of civil (and civilised) society’s attempt to secure convictions and establish links between mobsters and their political bosses.

Particularly troublesome for the prime minister will be return of Zakia Jafri in public limelight.

Because public memory is short, it must be recalled that the appeal of Jafri’s widow, Zakia, who alleged complicity of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and other ministers in the Gulbarg Society killing, is being heard in the high court after the lower court verdict stating there was no case against Modi.

Technically, accusations against the prime minister and his one-time colleagues is sub judice and there is a possibility – however remote, given the dynamics of power equations – that a court in future may judge that there is a prima facie case against him.

The centrality of the Gulbarg Society case was not over the number of people involved in the attack and how many of them would be convicted or acquitted. This case had come to symbolise the political patronage to the riots wherein the administration – and even the Congress top brass – looked the other way because it suited the political leadership. The Gulbarg Society tragedy mirrored many such incidents in Delhi during 1984.

The victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom feel that no justice has been done because the “big-fish” has gone scot-free, while a few smaller politicians and petty criminals were convicted.

Justice has not to be delivered only in individual cases but also in the overall context. If in Delhi, convictions of Congress leaders HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar became essential to secure a sense of justice, in the Gulbarg case, those with political connections, especially BJP corporator Bipin Patel needed to have been convicted.

People like Zakia Jafri have argued for close to a decade that those who provided political patronage too must be prosecuted. Patel’s acquittal will go a long way in establishing that the case was imperfectly contested by the state.

In any case, in a virtual repeat of the Delhi 1984 narrative, Patel is a sitting corporator from the city having won his seat for the fourth consecutive time in 2015, just as the Congress leaders kept getting re-nominated by the party for Lok Sabha polls till a shoe was thrown at P Chidambaram.

There is no denying that violence of the scales of 1984 and 2002 could not have occurred without state complicity or negligence, and unless this is proved by investigating agencies in court and verdicts are secured, victims will always feel that they have been done in, not once during the incident, but twice – second time during the trial.

The Gulbarg Society verdict has come at an inopportune moment for Modi. He heads for the United States this week making stopovers at Afghanistan, Qatar and Switzerland before touching down in the US for a bilateral visit on June 7. As part of his single-ticket multiple-halt dictum, he will make a quick visit to Mexico before returning home on June 10.

This verdict will deflect attention in, at least Switzerland and the US, from what he says and does, and instead, turn the spotlight on the Gujarat riots and remind people of the politically troublesome charges against Modi.

In the past two years, the Modi regime has successfully entirely separated him from all accusations and memories of 2002 riots. It has almost appeared that the riots had never occurred in Gujarat during his tenure. But with this verdict which, at least, establishes the enormity of this crime and other incidents in Gujarat, people will start wondering whether the proclaimed efficiency of the regime under Modi was just result of marketing overdrive.

In societies like the US, it will be tough for this regime to choke debate on his inability to control riots for so long. The stunted arm of justice is nowhere near Modi, but internationally, he faces the prospect of being looked through the same prism as he was when he was chief minister.

Modi’s international sheen will come off a bit because governments in liberal democracies will be wary of fêting him the way they have done so far for fear of earning the wrath of rights groups and civil society. Particularly troublesome for the prime minister will be return of Zakia Jafri in public limelight. Her bedraggled persona is a stark contrast to jubilation of convicted and acquitted alike as they were escorted outside the court and this wouldn’t be missed on anyone.

It is no secret that life has continued seamlessly for all accused because their needs have been taken care of. Whether they are convicted or acquitted, for the Hindutva brigade these people shall remain heroes. It just proves the hollowness of the judicial system in such case.

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