On Modi

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Can Modi do an Advani?

The Special Investigation Team (SIT) report on Narendra Modi’s alleged role in the Gulbarg massacre held no particular surprises. As widely discussed previously, the SIT report held that there was no ‘prosecutable evidence’ to proceed against Modi and his fellow co-accused in this particular case. Naturally, the much-anticipated report has set off a political maelstrom in the media: His supporters see it as the final vindication of Modi’s innocence while his opponents have sworn to pursue the legal case against the Gujarat chief minister to its logical conclusion.

In this highly charged debate, it is imperative to separate the legal case against Modi from the political case. As I have argued elsewhere,

However, instead of accepting the findings of a duly constituted investigative body, many have attempted to put the SIT itself on trial. It appears that their faith in the legal process may not be as unshakable as they have repeatedly claimed — especially if it yields results that they find unpalatable. In fact, lambasting the legal system in India and labelling it fundamentally unfair to the poor and the marginalised seems to become an element of faith among the Left-liberal section of the Indian polity and civil society. Even the argument that SIT has ‘ignored’ important testimonies is fallacious. Any investigative and judicial process rests on weighing competing narratives and evidences; mala fide intent is not proven merely because the ultimate verdict favours one particular narrative over the other. Finally, the legal options for Modi’s critics have hardly closed. They can certainly contest the SIT’s findings in a judicial forum, but casting aspersions on an investigative body constituted and monitored directly by the Supreme Court is hardly appropriate.

Naturally, Modi can and should be confronted politically. It can be reasonably argued that Modi’s administrative and moral failures in 2002 make him an unsuitable candidate for the highest office in the land.

Instead of launching a calumnious campaign against SIT chief R.K Raghavan, Modi’s opponents should let the judiciary adjudicate on the SIT report. If the SIT has indeed ignored important evidence—as critics like Teesta Setalvad allege—then surely the Supreme Court can be trusted to take the SIT to task and order a fresh investigation. Retaining faith in India’s institutions is of paramount important and is a concern Modi’s opponents would ignore at their own peril. After all, it is the same SIT which recently secured the conviction of 23 accused in the Ode massacre case.

But as the judiciary evaluates the SIT report, the political battle continues unabated. Modi’s supporters see the SIT report as a golden opportunity for the Gujarat strongman to finally emerge in the national spotlight. They believe that only Narendra Modi can confront Rahul Gandhi and lead the BJP to victory in the 2014 general elections. But can Modi finally lay the ghosts of 2002 to rest merely because he has won an important legal battle? Writing on the Indian National Interest platform, blogger Pragmatic perfectly captures the Modi dynamic:

Let me explain how. Mr Modi may never get around to be acceptable to a majority of people in a diverse country like India. No politician in India is, whether it be a Nitish Kumar or a Naveen Patnaik. But unlike Mr Modi, a Nitish or a Patnaik are not unacceptable to a vast majority of people. People may not vote for them but they are not going to come out to vote against them. It is not the case with Mr Modi, as the Time poll clearly shows. A Nitish Kumar in a similar internet poll may have got only 30-35% of the Yes votes that Mr Modi received but the No votes for Nitish wouldn’t have been more than 10-15% of the No votes that Modi got. This is Mr Modi’s handicap.

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