With assembly elections in Gujarat a little more than a month
away, a key issue is how the outcome will impact the many cases
related to the 2002 communal riots that are under way in various
courts. The answer, activists and jurists say, is: Well, not much.
"Political outcomes do not have much to do with judicial
pronouncements. Fortunately, we have a robust and independent
judiciary," said prominent Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad,
who has been fighting for the victims and survivors of the riots
for more than a decade now.
Most activists and jurists agree with Setalvad that a change in
government won't impact judicial decisions. "The judiciary is
fairly insulated from executive authority in India," says Supreme
Court advocate K.T.S. Tulsi, a former additional solicitor general
New Delhi-based activist Shabnam Hashmi agreed. "As long as the
courts are supportive, as long as they do not turn to the right,
the process of justice will continue unhindered," Hashmi told
The 2002 riots were triggered by the torching of the two coaches
of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra station, allegedly by a Muslim
mob on Feb 27, 2002. The coach was carrying 'Ramsevaks' returning
from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad. Fifty-eight ramsevaks, including 25
women and 15 children were killed in the attack.
In the ensuing riots, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed and
223 people were reported missing. Over 500 places of worship were
damaged, while 61,000 Muslims and 10,000 Hindus fled their homes.
NGOs and activists have accused the government of Chief Minister
Narednra Modi of insufficient action over the riots and even
Another factor which will insulate the cases from political
interference is the highest court in the land.
"Because there were instances of political interference in the
past, the Supreme Court has now personally stepped in and is
currently monitoring the progress in the cases (relating to the
Gujarat riots). That is a big help," Tulsi said.
That said, activists and jurists feel that if the Congress comes
to power, it will make a difference, albeit a small one.
"In the past 10 years, there has been very little effort to book
the criminals. Indeed, the government has shied away from doing
so. Still, if a Congress government comes to power, there will be
more freedom and less inhibition and pressure," said Mukul Sinha
of the Ahmedabad-based Jan Sangharsh Manch, which has been
fighting for the riot victims and survivors.
Tulsi agreed. "If the Congress comes to power, the cases will be
pursued more objectively. And if anyone tries to interfere, the
Supreme Court is always there to apply restraint."
Hashmi felt that while the Gujarat poll result won't affect the
riot case proceedings, their larger implications must not be lost
upon anybody. "Narendra Modi is envisioning a greater role at the
centre through a victory in these polls. If he becomes prime
minister, it will have implications for democracy in this
For Sinha, it was not the riot cases but the ones concerning
staged shootouts that will be in the spotlight in the days to
"We have the Ishrat Jahan and the Sadiq Jamal cases where top
police officers, the former home minister (Amit Shah) and probably
even the chief minister might be involved. What will be
interesting is how these cases progress if the BJP comes back to
power," Sinha said.
What is the current status of the riot cases? "The primary phase
in most of the cases is largely over. Judgements have been handed
out in the five most prominent massacre cases including Godhra,
Sardarpura, Deepda Darwaza, Ode and Naroda Patiya," Sinha said.
"Two major cases are pending though: Naroda Gam, which is
important as now-convicted minister Maya Kodnani is an accused in
the case along with VHP general secretary Jaideep Patel and
Gulberg Society. The trial is pending halfway in both these
cases," Sinha noted.
The Gujarat polls will be held Dec 13 and 17. Votes will be
counted on Dec 20.
(Rajat Ghai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)