Ahmedabad/New Delhi, March 11: Narendra Modi has been summoned for questioning by the Supreme Court-created special investigation team (SIT) on the 2002 Gujarat riots, but the initial euphoria among families of the victims and rights groups was tempered by the lack of an FIR against the chief minister that would have necessitated his arrest.
Modi, 60, has to appear before the SIT in Gandhinagar on March 21 in connection with the Gulbarg Housing Society carnage of February 28, 2002, in which Congress leader Ahsan Jafri was burnt alive. At least 69 people were slaughtered in the complex.
The hearing will be held in camera, SIT sources said.
We have summoned the chief minister and will be asking a few questions based on the evidence collected, SIT chief R.K. Raghavan, a former CBI director, said.
Last year, the apex court had referred to the SIT a plea by Jafris widow Zakia relating to the state governments complicity in the riots as much as its duplicity in launching ostensible criminal prosecutions in respect of them.
The SIT order is an embarrassment for Modi, who has so far managed to avoid deposing before any of the panels probing the post-Godhra riots.
One of his cabinet colleagues, Maya Kodnani, has been arrested in connection with the Naroda Gam and Naroda Patiya incidents. Jaideep Patel of the VHP was also arrested after an SIT probe into the Naroda incidents.
Legal sources said Modi could rest easy as the SIT had only issued summons for questioning and not registered an FIR, which could have led to his arrest and even forced him to step down as chief minister.
Jafris son Tanvir said: I have nothing to say unless this (the complaint) is converted into an FIR against Modi, which is what we want and have been fighting for. It has already taken a lot of time.
Advocate Mukul Sinha, representing the riot victims, said he was sceptical of the whole process because Modi was being summoned as a witness and not as an accused. He is being summoned as witness under Section 60 of the CrPC. Besides, a second FIR cannot be lodged in the same case, he said.
The SIT had filed a chargesheet in the Gulbarg Society case, naming some VHP and BJP leaders in the list of absconders among the 14 accused. The case is being tried by the special court of judge B.U. Joshi.
Zakia Jafri, who had made the chief minister the first accused in her draft FIR, said she was happy. She said: Hopefully, now, after a long wait, justice will be done.
Zakia, who had been trying to lodge an FIR since 2006, had demanded that 63 people, among them the chief minister, 11 of his cabinet ministers, three sitting MLAs and 38 high-ranking police officers and bureaucrats, be arraigned as accused in the case. None of the 63 named in her complaint figure as accused in any of the FIRs or chargesheets filed in the riot cases.
When her complaint, initially sent to the local police, was ignored, she went to the high court, which refused to order that an FIR be lodged against the accused on murder, conspiracy and other charges. She then moved the apex court, which told the SIT to probe the charges.
The SIT, set up to reinvestigate nine post-Godhra riot cases, has drawn flak for allegedly dragging its feet on probing charges against Gujarats high and mighty.
Solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam has accused the SIT of withholding from trial courts crucial evidence in the form of call records of conversations between top police officers and state ministers.
On December 2, 2009, the SIT had told a trial court in Meghaninagar that Jafris call records had been destroyed. Jafri had called up several police officers and ministers seeking help minutes before the Gulbarg Society was torched by the mob.
On February 9 this year, the apex court asked the SIT to reply to the allegations.
The state government sought to make light of the summons. Jaynarayan Vyas, the spokesman for the government, said: The BJP and the chief minister will as usual cooperate with the process of law.
The summons came on a day megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who is BJP-ruled Gujarats tourism brand ambassador, said he was willing to do the same job for Left-ruled Kerala.