Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi appeared before the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team on Saturday and was questioned for the first time on his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots that have come back to haunt him.
Ending the suspense as to where he would appear, the 59-year-old senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader drove to the SIT office around noon at the old state secretariat building in Gandhinagar.
Modi suffered the ignominy of being the first-ever chief minister of any state to be called for questioning in a criminal complaint of mass murder after he and his administration were accused of aiding and abetting riots in one area in Ahmedabad.
SIT chief R K Raghavan was not present at the SIT office when Modi appeared. A K Malhotra, the number two in the SIT and a former DIG in the Central Bureau of Investigation, is believed to be questioning the chief minister.
Elaborate security arrangements were made at the SIT office for the deposition of the chief minister where a large crew of media persons had assembled since morning.
Clad in a crisp white kurta and pyjama, Modi greeted the waiting media persons with folded hands after alighting from his car before proceeding to the SIT building.
The SIT had summoned Modi to depose in connection with a complaint of Zakia Jaffery, widow of former Congress Member of Parliament Eshan Jaffery, who was killed in Gulbarg society riots case of 2002 along with 69 others.
The complaint also alleged that he had instructed officers not to take action. Social activist and a Modi baiter Teesta Setalvald said,"Today is an important day for democracy and rule of law when a sitting chief minister has been forced to appear before an inquiry team after various attempts to block justice."
Gujarat government Spokesman Jai Narayan Vyas dismissed suggestions of a setback to Modi following his appearance before SIT. "We have always said that he will abide by rule of law but much hype is being made. There is no setback as far as BJP government or Modi is concerned. Mr Modi is cooperating," he said.
Modi's appearance before SIT assumes significance as he is a serving chief minister who is being questioned before any authority in connection with the 2002 riots.
Saturday's event was preceded by drama after Modi refused to appear on March 21 calling as false claim that the SIT had fixed that day for questioning him in connection with the 2002 riots.
The Supreme Court had on April 27 last year asked the SIT to inquire into Zakia's complaint in which she has alleged that Modi and 62 others, including his cabinet colleagues, police officials and senior bureaucrats, aided and abetted the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat.
Zakia approached the apex court after the Gujarat high court had on November 3, 2007 refused to give any direction and asked her to seek redressal before the Magistrate's Court.
The wife of the slain Congress leader had alleged that between February and May 2002 there was a 'deliberate and intentional failure' of the state government in protecting the lives and property of innocent people.
SIT had to face legal hurdles while probing Zakia's complaint when in July last year former BJP MLA Kalu Malivad (one of the 63 people named in the complaint) approached the Gujarat HC demanding a stay on investigations by SIT with regard to Zakia Jaffery.
The high court had dismissed the petition saying as the SIT is directly working under the supervision of the Supreme Court, no relief can be granted in this matter.
Malivad has now approached the apex court challenging the high court verdict. Inquiring into Zakia's complaint, SIT has already recorded statements of a number of persons, including former Minister of State for Home Gordhan Zadafia, BJP leader I K Jadeja, former BJP MLA from Lunawada Kalu Malivad, sitting MLA from Mehsana Anil Patel, ex-IPS officer R B Sreekumar, social activist Teesta Setalvad, IG Shivanand Jha, some senior police officers and political leaders.Narendra Modi on SIT