Dileep Padgaonkar 
21 April 2013, 02:34 PM IST

Zakia Jafri deserves accolades for her grit and determination to get justice for her slain husband.

On April 24,  a magistrate in Ahmedabad will begin daily hearings on a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of the slain Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, challenging the clean chit that the Special Investigation Team gave Narendra Modi’s for his alleged role in the Godhra and post-Godhra violence in 2002. She contends that the SIT overlooked masses of evidence – including dispatches filed by the intelligence department and detailed records of cell-phone calls made on Februray  28, the day on which her husband and 70 others were killed in the city’s Gulberg Society – to save the Gujarat chief minister’s skin.

The calls indicate that as soon as he was he informed about the burning of the train at Godhra, Modi contacted not his senior officials first but the secretary of the Gujarat unit of the VHP, Jaideep Patel, and asked him to go post-haste to the site of the gruesome incident. There Patel ensured that the bodies were handed over to him and not, as is the prevalent practice, to the next of kin. He then hauled them in trucks and, ignoring police warnings, orchestrated a procession of the bodies through the streets of Ahmedabad. This brazen attempt to provoke communal fury had the desired effect: death and destruction on a scale that shamed India.

The fact that the Supreme Court first allowed Zakia Jafri access to a truck-load of documents compiled by the SIT and also permitted her to file the petition was a clear indication that in the eyes of the apex court Modi is not entirely off the hook. That realization probably explains why he sought the death penalty for two individuals convicted for their actions during the riots: Maya Kodnani, who once served in his cabinet, and Babu Bajrangi, a VHP activist. But far from giving himself a freshly minted secular image, this move has triggered indignation in the ranks of Hindu right-wing groups, including the Shiv Sena. And it has further alienated him from his critics within the BJP, especially from L.K. Advani who had doted on Kodnani.

Nor has he succeeded  in detracting attention from Zakia Zafri’s petition. It should finally settle the matter one way or the other. Regardless of its outcome, however, the remarkable courage that this frail and elderly lady has shown over more than a decade to get to the bottom of the communal carnage must command respect and admiration. Despite repeated legal set-backs, she never wavered in her determination, nor did she once fear the consequences of defying the Gujarat strong-man.

No less significant is her undiminished faith in the judiciary. Time and again she has vowed to abide by its verdict once she exhausts all legal remedies available to her as a citizen of the republic. For a woman who has borne untold suffering, such faith is touching beyond words. And such grace and dignity under intolerable pressure is quite simply miraculous.

But tough times await Modi even if the magistrate hearing Zakia Jafri’s petition endorses the SIT’s conclusions. According to a report published in the Sunday Times of India, two senior police officers made numerous calls to the chief minister’s office during two encounters: one that killed Sohrabuddin Shaikh on 26 November 2005 and another that killed Tulsiram Prajapati on 28 December 2006. Modi’s minister of state at that time, Amit Shah, is an accused in these two cases. He was recently given a plum job in the highest echelons of the BJP.

Public pressure will now mount on the CBI to take cognisance of these calls – something that the investigation agency apparently failed to do even though it was in possession of the details. At some point or the other, the kin of the victims, or human rights organizations, or both, will petition the courts to order  a probe. Moreover, even those sections of the media that are enamoured of the Gujarat chief minister’s record in office – effective and clean governance, speedy economic growth, a no-nonsense attitude to security issues etc – will find it hard to ignore the ghost of Godhra that is certain to haunt him in the weeks and months ahead.

As it happens, these weeks and months are crucial for Modi to reinforce his claim that none other than he can lead the BJP-led NDA to rout the two-term, scam-ridden, indecisive UPA in the next general elections. The one who is best placed to thwart his prime ministerial ambitions is not Rahul Gandhi, nor Nitish Kumar nor even his detractors within his own party’s fold but Zakia Jafri. She has emerged as the Mother Courage of an India that abides by the letter and spirit of its Constitution and by the ethos of its pluralistic culture.

It is a pity that there is no such Mother Courage to expose the criminal shenanigans of the likes of Jagdish Tytler and many others who lost their lives in communal riots under the watch of the Congress and that of other self-appointed votaries of secularism for decades.  But that cannot detract attention from what the courts have in store for the zealous prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi: either a squeaky-clean image of constitutional rectitude or an image that is forever tainted with bias, prejudice and worse against our minorities