While Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's moral argument has been severely weakened by the judgment, on the political turf he is unlikely to lose, or gain, from it. However, the story is not about politics but justice, says Sheela Bhatt
The Naroda Patiya verdict has to be applauded for many reasons.
The conviction of Maya Kodnani, former junior education minister in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's government, and 31 other accused in the rioting case should not be viewed only from a political angle. The story is not about politics. The issue concerns justice.
Indian judiciary, the witnesses in the Naroda Patiya massacre, prosecuting agencies and human rights activists have done a remarkable job to take this case of heinous crime against a minority community to its logical conclusion.
This should make one thing loud and clear: the system is working in India. This is THE MOMENT to cheer, which reminds Indian minorities that they have the definite option to get justice if wronged in a weak national moment by the brute fore of the majority.
The Indian State can take care of its pluralist society, is the message from the verdict.
Ten years after 97 people were killed in one of the worst atrocities during the 2002 Gujarat riots, 32 people have been convicted by a special court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
The rioting crowd, which was led by activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on February 28, 2002, following a bandh call given by the outfit, had attacked the Naroda Patiya colony killing 97 Muslims. It was horror of a scale that shocked the nation. Innocent women and children were selected and killed only because they were Muslim.
The criminal justice system saw many ups and downs these 10 years, but in the end the victims have got justice.
The Modi government was not helpful in fixing Kodnani's responsibility, but the Congress party in the state too will not get an iota of credit for the judgment that would assuage the sense of hurt among the minorities of India. The Congress in Gujarat has fallen between two stools. It never took up the cases of the riot victims as it should have, fearing a majority backlash, nor did they ever define their understanding of secularism to send the message to the majority that standing up to uphold the constitutionally mandated values of secularism and for human rights doesn't mean appeasement of the minority. The Congress, simply, doesn't know the language that Gujaratis can understand.
Indira Jaising, additional solicitor general, told rediff.com, "Secularism, as mentioned in the Constitution, demands that the prosecution and investigating agency should not have an institutional bias. This judgment indicates that the bias, if any, has been neutralised."
This is no mean achievement.
There remains no doubt that in the last 10 years, support for Modi over the hugely controversial stand that he took has not vanished among his core constituency. This is a contradictory situation. The historical baggage and many layers added to the current identity of Gujarati society have brought in a contradiction where on one side, as an Indian one is delighted to receive the judgment, while on other hand the state government is unlikely to be politically affected by a judgment which indicts one of its junior ministers who was working shoulder to shoulder with the chief minister.
This contradiction is clear when one sees how even four hours after the judgment, Gujarat's Congress leaders have not yet issued any statement over it. It shows their predicament.
The judgment is an acute embarrassment for Modi because Kodnani was in his Cabinet and played an active role in the party's activities Ahmedabad. Modi's moral argument has been severely weakened by the judgment but on the political turf he is unlikely to lose, or gain, from it unless his opponents misinterpret the ruling.
Only if the verdict is dubbed as an issue between Hindus and Muslims of Naroda Patiya will it help Modi polarise the voters. If it's taken as an issue where "the law has taken its course", Modi will contain the anger of certain Hindu voters who were shouting in the court premise that "Modi didn't save them".
In this complex situation where communal tensions, the issue of justice, and the politics of Hindu-Muslim identity fuse dangerously into one explosive mix, it is better to cheer the judgment as evidence that Indians want to keep their faith in the judiciary, in their justice delivery system.
Not only do the victims of Naroda Patiya deserve this judgment, Gujarat deserves it as well.