Damning report

Published on: March 1, 2011

The SIT report, scooped by Tehelka magazine, damns Narendra Modi – no clean chit here – and itself

On December 3, 2010 while the contents of the Special Investigation Team’s May 2010 report (on the role of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 61 other top politicians, civil servants and police officers in the 2002 genocidal targeting of Muslims in Gujarat) – which had been placed before the Supreme Court – was yet to be made public, The Times of India splashed “news” on the front page of all its editions headlined, ‘SIT clears Narendra Modi of wilfully allowing post-Godhra riots’. Treating this obviously planted “news” as gospel truth, TV news channels mindlessly jumped on the bandwagon, announcing to the nation that Modi had been given a “clean chit”.

Needless to say, the “news” brought great joy to the sangh parivar camp. It inspired the BJP leader, LK Advani, to pontificate on his blog: “In my 60 years of political life I have not known any colleague of mine so consistently, so sustainedly and so viciously maligned by opponents as Narendra Modi.” His eulogy of Modi ended with the words: “The Times of India and several other papers have reported that the SIT has found no evidence to substantiate the charge and has exonerated the Gujarat chief minister. The country is eagerly awaiting the full text of the SIT report to the Supreme Court.”

But Hindutva’s glee proved to be short-lived. Modi’s manipulation of the media came to naught and the media itself was left red-faced when Tehelka scooped the 600-page SIT report to show that, far from a clean chit, the SIT had severely indicted Modi on a number of counts. Dissecting the report, Tehelka proceeded to reveal how, while indicting Modi, the SIT had damned itself as well. In 2010, survivor eyewitnesses and CJP had petitioned the Supreme Court, complaining that the SIT was not honestly adhering to the mandate it had been given by the apex court. That the SIT’s work was, in part at least, an exercise in rank dishonesty is now obvious from a perusal of its own report made public by Tehelka.
The SIT report should be read as a not-so-clever attempt at a balancing act. The SIT could not possibly give a total clean chit to Modi without opening itself up to national and international ridicule. After all, Modi and his government are sponsors of India’s first mass killing in the era of “Live TV”. Besides, there are several fact-finding reports – of the National Human Rights Commission, of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by three retired Supreme Court and high court judges (Crime Against Humanity), of the Editors Guild and by Communalism Combat in its special issue, ‘Genocide: Gujarat 2002’ – to contend with. Also, it is not for nothing that Modi continues to be treated as a pariah by many within India, even BJP allies in the former NDA government, and internationally (Modi is denied a US visa). And then there are the depositions of several highly credible persons before the SIT itself.

So what does the SIT do? It severely castigates Modi on several counts but, contradicting its own findings, concludes that “the substantiated allegations did not throw up material that would justify further action under the law”. But half-hearted investigations and inexplicable conclusions notwithstanding, the SIT report still amounts to a sufficiently damning indictment of the Gujarat chief minister. Enough for the Supreme Court to take the justice process further.
Tehelka reported that the SIT found Modi guilty on several counts (see box, ‘Truth talks’).

As Tehelka rightly points out, “It is significant to note that the SIT probe against Modi and his government was severely limited in its scope and authority. The report was merely a ‘preliminary inquiry’. The inquiry officer had no powers to carry out search or raids, effect arrests, interrogate the accused in police custody or compel the government and individuals to produce crucial records. The only method left to the probe officer was to record statements… The inquiry officer has noted with pain that hardly any bureaucrat or police officer was inclined to tell the truth, as most of them had got lucrative government assignments after