New Delhi: India’s apex court has agreed to a fresh probe into the communal violence that engulfed Gujarat in 2002—a move that could serve as a setback to the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the run-up to general election that could be held either late in 2008 or in early 2009.
The violence was sparked by the burning of a train carrying Hindus in Godhra. Gujarat was then, as it is now, ruled by a BJP government headed by Narendra Modi. With two victories at the polls since, Modi has emerged as a mascot of sorts for the BJP and political analysts have spoken of a greater national role for him in the party.
The Supreme Court will pass a formal order on the probe on Wednesday. On Tuesday, it said it would set up a five-member special investigation team, including three police officers from Gujarat and two from outside the state to look into the violence that claimed the lives of at least 1,000 Muslims. The team will submit its report within three months.
A bench of justices Arijit Pasayat, P. Sathasivam and Aftab Alam announced this following a hearing on a petition filed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
In 2003, NHRC had filed the petition asking for transferring the case and trial outside Gujarat because it feared that the trail would not be conducted in a fair and transparent manner within the state due to the hostile environment encountered by the witnesses. Most of the witnesses had turned hostile due to alleged threats and inducements.
NHRC officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, recently revealed that then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee favoured the removal of Modi following the violence. Advani has admitted that he had backed Modi.
Madhusudan Devram Mistry, a Lok Sabha member of the Congress party from Sabarkantha in Gujarat, said: “Clearly, the court felt the investigation had not been done properly...”
The BJP, however, sought to play down the court’s decision. Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a national spokesperson of the BJP, said: “The Gujarat government’s willingness to assist the new team being set up by the Supreme Court is itself an indication that it has nothing to hide or fear.”