On September 5 a local court in Gujarat ordered the removal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name as respondent from three civil suits related to the killing of British nationals during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the incident and had been named as a respondent on account of his alleged complicity by acts of omission and commission as an authority figure who could have prevented the spread of communal violence. Here’s a closer look at the order passed by Principal senior civil judge SK Gadhvi of Pranjit taluka in Sabarkantha district.
Brief background of the case
The killings took place on February 28, 2002. At that time an 18-year-old British national named Imran Dawood was visiting India for the first time. He had travelled to Jaipur and Agra with his UK-based uncles; Saeed Dawood, Shakeel Dawood and Mohammed Aswat. The four were then on their way to their native village of Lajpur near Pranjit in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat in a Tata Sumo with their driver Yusuf Piragarh. That’s when a mob attacked them killing the three uncles and the driver, while Imran barely escaped with his life.
Other than Modi, the high-profile respondents in the case included former home minister in Gujarat Gordhan Zadaphia, late DGP K Chakravarthi, former Additional Chief Secret
The families of the victims then filed civil suits for compensation to the tune of Rs 22 crores alleging acts of commission and omission by respondents including Modi. The suits were moved by British nationals Shirin Dawood, Shamima Dawood and Imran Salim Dawood. Following this Modi’s lawyer SS Shah moved an application for removal of Modi’s name as a respondent as he was “neither necessary, nor proper party to join” as a respondent in the suits.
The application by Advocate SS Shah
Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the 2002 genocide, was named as respondent number one in the civil suits. In the recent application filed by advocate SS Shah on behalf of Narendra Modi, he had submitted that “if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the alleged facts of negligence or tort even then only the State would be liable and there cannot be any liability of defendant No.1 personally for the same. It is further stated that defendant No.1 is joined without any reason and not required to be continued for the alleged tortuous acts of other officers of the State. It is stated that presence of defendant No.1 in the suit is at all not necessary and legally sustainable considering the provisions of Order I, Rule 10(2) of the Code. It is also stated that defendant No.1 is neither necessary nor proper party and, therefore, this application should be allowed.”
Shah also submitted that, “looking to the averments and allegations made in the plaint, it can be said that whether said allegations and averments are political, covered by inquiry by Nanavati Commission or relating to constitutional policies and there is not at all any specific allegations against defendant No.1 and therefore defendant No.1 is required to be strike off from the suit proceedings.”
The taluka court’s reasoning behind the order
In the order delivered on September 5, the court summarised the plaintiff’s submission saying, “In the plaint, it is alleged that defendant No.1 was at all material time the Chief Minister of State of Gujarat and constitutionally, statutorily and personally liable for being in complete command of the State machinery. It is also alleged that defendant No.1 was elected on B.J.P. ticket and Sangh Pracharak of R.S.S. and continued the policy of R.S.S. through defendant No.8 State. The plaint also describes so many things in so many words alleging the same as the activities against Muslims. That, there was alert from I.B. of defendant No.8 for the movement of Karsevak of Ayodhya but there was complete failure of state administration. It is alleged that it was the acts and omissions of defendant No.1, which had resulted into genocidal killings of Muslims. There are also allegations against the alleged administrative policies of defendant No.1 and the State.”
However, the court ordered that Modi’s name be dropped from the three inter-related civil suits stating, “Upon a careful perusal of the plaint, it appears that the plaintiff has attempted to narrate not only riot incidents following Godhra incident in the State but also criticized the Government and the administrative actions of the Government and, therefore, I do not deem it fit to narrate all such assertion, pre & post the cause of action, i.e. the incident in question. It may also be stated here that the entire plaint contains allegations only general, non-specific and vague against defendant No.1. There is not a single averment showing presence of defendant No.1 at the scene of offence at the relevant time or his direct or indirect involvement in the alleged act or any specific role from which reasonable ground for malice or intentional acts or omissions can be found, entitling the plaintiff to claim any legal right or relief against defendant No.1 in his personal or official capacity in the suit.”
It further said, “Moreover, having read the averments made in the plaint and the reliefs claimed in the suit, I am of the view that striking out name of defendant No.1 would not make any adverse effect on the claim of the plaintiff. A bare reading of the plaint makes it further evident that bald allegations are made against defendant No.1 and none of the averments indicates malice on the part of defendant No.1, which resulted into the incident in question.”
The entire order may be read here:
Why is this significant?
The Pranjit case became one of the nine Gujarat riot cases that the Supreme Court began to monitor along with Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaam, Ode village (two cases), Dipda Darwaja, Sardarpura and Godhra. This is also significant because the Zakia Jafri case that pins the blame for the riots on the people incharge of administration including the then Chief Minister and several top ministers, policemen and bureaucrats, is based on how various acts of commission and omission enabled the violence to continue unabated in a deliberate bid to intimidate minorities.