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Modi's summons to SIT triggers high drama

Sheela Bhatt | March 20, 2010 00:40 IST

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There is confusion about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's [Images] much awaited appearance before the Special Investigation Team on March 21.

The SIT was appointed by the Supreme Court in 2009 to probe into the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.

A well-informed source who is involved with the supervision of criminal cases of the Gujarat riots said, "The media has been wrongly reporting that Modi would be appearing "on March 21."

As per the SIT summons, Modi has been asked to appear anytime " in the week beginning March 21".

In Gandhinagar, so far, no official announcement has been made about Modi's actual appearance before the SIT.

Bharatiya Janata Party [Images] spokesman Jainarayan Vyas refused to comment, while another senior minister in Modi's cabinet said, " The matter is concerning us and the SIT. Media has no role in it."

The SIT summons is one of the most complicated challenges of Modi's political life.

If and when Modi appears before the SIT, which will be significant in many ways, he would face questions about his and his office's functioning during the first three days of the Gujarat riots when major killings took place.

Interestingly, the SIT has been criticised severely by most 'secular activists' running campaigns against Modi.

The SC has ordered the SIT to probe a complaint that alleges that Modi, his cabinet colleagues, police officials and senior bureaucrats had abetted the riots in 2002.

The complaint has been filed by Zakia Jaffrey, whose husband and former Member of Parliament Ehsan Jaffrey and 35 others were killed on February 28 during the riots at Gulburg society in Ahmedabad [Images].

Modi's core supporters, who worship him as a Hindtuva hero, will be watching his every move in the coming days.

In Gujarat, Modi's popularity is, by and large, intact after two elections, and his macho image amongst his voters has been consolidated. But, on other hand, Modi has also become vulnerable in the process.

He has been unable to cross the boundaries of Gujarat to enter the centre stage of Indian politics because of his 'mishandling' and, as some allege, the alleged fueling of communal riots in 2002.

He has also been shunned by the US due to his tarnished image -- the US had earlier refused him a visa.

Modi will have to tread carefully to ensure that his macho image amongst his supporters remains intact, while also "bowing" to rule of the land, said Congress Member of Legislative Assembly from Saurashtra.

In view of the present predicament, Modi will weigh his options carefully.

The SIT's status itself is under debate and lawyers and politicians are divided on the issue. Social activists have spoken against SIT's members and have even written to Supreme Court against it.

Legal experts in New Delhi [Images] are vertically divided on the issue of summons to Modi.

A majority of the legal experts spoke to believe there is a huge difference between the lower court in New Delhi sending summons to then prime minister Narsimha Rao in the Lakhubhai Pathak case and the summons sent to Modi by the SIT based on an application filed by Jaffrey.

Most importantly, the lawyers say, Modi was summoned after Jaffrey had filed an application before the SIT and not as a result of a criminal procedure undertaken by the police after registration of a police case.

Even though there are over 3,000 riot cases in Gujarat, no FIR has been filed against Modi making him an accused.

Anand Yagnik, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court told, "I firmly believe that if Modi doesn't respect the summons sent by the SIT then he will open the gates for the SIT to arrest him."

Mukul Sinha, the lawyer for the Gujarat riots victim, doesn't think so. He was sad that the SIT's summons would give Modi chance to create a "show" via the media.

Sinha has worked relentlessly to nail Modi with help of Law for the last eight years. He said, "We didn't work hard to allow him to create a show."

Sinha said, "The SIT has not investigated into the larger conspiracy, so it is unable to connect the crime of riots to Modi.

"The SIT has not sent summons to Modi as witness or accused," he said, adding, "It is sent under no law."

Yagnik thinks that by appearing before the SIT Modi would be able to score in many ways.

"By appearing before the SIT he will revive his chance to stake claim for the post of prime minister. Second, by showing that he abides by the law of the land he will claim that he is not above law as his opponents claim, and third, he will also claim that he welcomes investigation because he has nothing to hide. Fourth, he will claim that here is the BJP CM who is setting an example by respecting order of the Supreme Court," Yagnik said.

Lawyers like Ram Jethamalani think that the SIT had no powers to summon Modi. Jethamalani is appearing in a similar case in the Supreme Court on behalf of a BJP MLA Kalubhai Maliwad in the Gujarat riots case.

If Modi appears before the SIT, his questioning would be held in-camera.

Modi has acknowledged that he has received the summons to appear before the SIT and has promised to cooperate.

According to reports, Modi has been taking legal advice asking if he would need to make a personal appearance before the SIT.

He will also see if he can give answers in writing. Supreme Court has fixed Jethmalani's plea during the week beginning April 5.

Some believe that Modi could wait till the Supreme Court gives its judgment on the SIT's legal status to send summons.

However, Modi's critics like Sinha feel the Gujarat CM would prefer to appear before the SIT to turn the event into a "television show".

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