Election cycles often rake up pressing issues that are otherwise left on the back burner.
Take the 2002 Gujarat riots. On Friday, the Supreme Court ordered the state government to form fast-track courts to expedite cases. The apex court’s move has rightfully reinserted the issue into mainstream discussion.
The violence of Gujarat in 2002—both at Godhra and in its aftermath—are a stain on the secular fabric of India. For this reason, the Supreme Court’s move for fast-track courts is a welcome one. But perhaps the timing of the judicial remedy is not right.
The trial has already become overly politicized as political parties use its significance as hollow rhetoric on the campaign trail. These sound bites allow the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to divide and conquer the electorate. But this makes the trial more of a campaign flashpoint than a meaningful judicial solution for the victims of violence. A trial requires a peaceful environment, one that is unlikely to be found in the heat of an election season.
Already, a contempt of court petition has been filed in the apex court against Narendra Modi for allegedly calling the court’s actions a Congress-led conspiracy. This undermines the legitimacy of independent judicial investigation.
As Modi was chief minister of Gujarat at the time, the trial will always have politicized threads. But during an election that point becomes unnecessarily stressed. Party hardliners will always debunk even the most impartial of trials as an electioneering tactic. This does a great disservice to India, the judiciary and the victims of the violence.
Finally, an allegation is not the same as a conviction. While all allegations against Modi should be thoroughly investigated, pursuing a trial at present unfairly maligns Modi and the BJP.
It cannot be stressed enough how important a prompt and thorough trial is. All too often, riot inquiries have been bungled or delayed, discrediting the ultimate decisions. Gujarat could serve as an exception to that. But a general election is not the time.
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