A local court in Gujarat has 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. Principal senior civil judge SK Gadhvi of Pranjit taluka in Sabarkantha district passed the order after finding “allegations only general, non-specific and vague,” against Modi who was Gujarat Chief Minister at the time, and that his presence at the crime scene could not be established.
In its order passed on September 5, 2020, the Pranjit taluka court said, “There is not a single averment showing presence of defendant No.1 (Modi) 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.” The order also said that the victims’ family members had failed to establish how Modi “is personally liable for the alleged acts or omissions of officials” of the then state government.
The court further held, “The averments in the plaint are made cleverly to connect defendant No.1 (Modi) with all pre and post Godhra incidents and thereby to array defendant No.1 (Modi) as perpetrator of the crime making him liable for compensation…. In my view, such reckless allegations without any basis, i.e. evidence, can hardly establish any nexus or help in raising cause of action” against Modi.
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 Secretary at Home Department Ashok Narayan, late IPS officer Amitabh Pathak and then inspector D K Vanikar. A special court in Himmatnagar acquitted them in February 2015 saying “the prosecution has failed to prove charges against them.” Imran Dawood, the sole survivor, had testified via video conferencing. However, three other witnesses had turned hostile during the proceedings. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and many other NGOs had termed the investigation as shoddy and unreliable.
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.
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.