Questions and Answers
Balbir K. Punj
By appearing before the SIT, Narendra Modi underlined not just that no one was above the law, but that those in power had ` the additional responsibility to lead the way in submitting to the majesty of the law
IT SEEMS that the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has deprived the socalled secularists of a golden opportunity they were looking for. Now they are a disappointed lot. That explains their ridiculous demand of asking the Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, not to share the dais with Mr Modi at the first convocation ceremony of Gujarat National Law University in Ahmedabad.
The CJI gave a reply to these desperate people by attending the function and sharing the dais with Mr Modi. This came as a big blow to the self-styled secularists who had created a huge brouhaha around the CJI's visit using US-based children of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in Gulberg Society massacre. These "secularists" had characterised Mr Modi as a "modern day Nero" and even claimed that the CJI sharing the dais with him would be interpreted as him supporting Mr Modi who is "being examined under the directives of the Supreme Court for his alleged role in the killing of innocent people".
At the function, the CJI gave no opportunity to the "secular pack" to get a quote from him against Mr Modi and the chief minister himself did not utter a word. Interestingly, Zimbabwe's former Chief Justice Ahmed Musa Ebrahim, who also spoke at the meeting, gave a fitting reply to the pack. He lauded Mr Modi for attending the Special Investigation Team (SIT) enquiry as a witness and for pointing out that nobody is above the law and the Constitution.
Earlier reports about the SIT asking Mr Modi to appear before it for questioning had given the "secular pack" an opportunity for their usual anti-Modi flagellation. But Mr Modi disappointed them by going through a nine-hour-long grilling.
Against the impression several newspaper reports gave of Mr Modi being an accused, the SIT chief R.K. Raghavan was very clear-headed. Referring to a possible recall of the chief minister for further questioning, he told the press: "This applies to every witness. If I find there are some gaps, the SIT has a right to recall any witness". This way Mr Raghavan clarified that Mr Modi was present before it as a witness and not as an accused.
Instead of standing on what could be termed as an "executive privilege" of a chief minister, Mr Modi decided to submit to the rule of law. By appearing before the SIT, like any other witness, he underlined not just that no one was above the law, but that those in power had the additional responsibility to lead the way in submitting to the majesty of the law and the Constitution.
Now compare Mr Modi's response to what Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi did in 1978.
Sanjay Gandhi, the undeclared heir to the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, had his goons disturb the proceedings of the Justice Shah Commission that was enquiring into his misdeeds during the Emergency. And Indira Gandhi, in fact, refused to answer any questions of the commission claiming "executive privilege" as Prime Minister. Justice Shah, a former CJI, pointed out that at the time of questioning Indira Gandhi was out of power and, therefore, could not avail the privilege and that the commission had, in fact, been set up to look specifically into complaints of misuse of power by her and her regime. Indira Gandhi didn't budge and this prompted the commission to instruct the government to prosecute her for refusing to testify, as all citizens are required to appear if called upon by a court or a commission instituted under the Commissions of Enquiry Act.
When the government decided to take action, Indira Gandhi created another political drama instead of submitting to law or defending herself legally. At every step, she (and Sanjay Gandhi) placed herself above the law. It must be recalled in this context that the constitutional amendment which her government had pushed through in Parliament during Emergency actually specified that she would be above all accusations and all action taken previously, like nullifying her election by the Allahabad high court bench, would be annulled.
The 1976 Amendment placed her on a pedestal above all restrictions and obligations that the law places on every citizen.
And this was done when she had misused the Constitution to deny all citizens even the primary right to life and work.
When some Congress leaders railed against Mr Modi, expecting him to follow in Indira Gandhi's footsteps in responding to the SIT's summons, they thought that they have got yet another opportunity for Modibashing. When Mr Modi went for the enquiry and answered the SIT's questions for as long as nine hours, disappointment was evident on their faces.
The "secular pack" has now resorted to attacking the SIT itself. When they went to the Supreme Court with Mrs Jafri's petition, they were talking of law and justice. Now that the apex court has set up the SIT, headed by a former CBI director, the attack is on the team itself, alleging that some of its members are from Gujarat. The aim is very clear: They are preparing for the day when, and if, the SIT finds that the truth of the incidents it is looking into is far from what the secular pack has been claiming.
The accusation against the SIT is also an outcome of the secular pack's disappointment that the SIT did not condemn Mr Modi but only called him as a witness, for merely finding out and not for cross-examining as courts do. The petition to the CJI that he refuse to share the dais with the Gujarat chief minister was yet another attempt to get an official condemnation of Mr Modi even before the facts have been found out.
BALBIR K. PUNJ can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org