The Gujarat riots in 2002 were the worst communal violence in Indian history. The then Prime Minister, Attal Bihari Vajpayee, bluntly told the then Chief Minister of the state, Narendra Modi that he forgot his ‘Raj Dharam’ because he miserably failed to control the situation and restore peace. After the defeat of the BJP in 2004, Vajpayee said, but for the Gujarat violence, the BJP could have won the elections. A petition was filed by a victim of the violence that the Chief Minister was linked to the conspiracy of the riots. However, the court rejected the plea of Zakia Jafferi, the wife of the former MP Ehsan Jafferi who was killed in a mob massacre during the riots. The cause of these riots was the burning of a coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhara station on February 27. The special SIT court that conducted the trial of the accused charged with the burning of the coach convicted 31 accused on March 1, 2011 and acquitted 63 sentencing 11 with capital punishment and 20 others with lifer. Neither the prosecution nor the accused were satisfied with the judgment of trial court and approached the Gujarat High Court and the court announced its verdict on October 9.
The High Court endorsed the lower court judgment, but commuted the death sentence of 11 accused to life in jail. More than two years after the hearing was completed, the High Court division bench of Justices A S Dave and G R Udhwani pronounced the verdict. Some quarters have found fault with the High Court for commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment arguing that the crime was of a serious nature and 59 passengers mostly Karsevaks coming from Ayodhya were burnt to death and the trial court rightly sentenced them to capital punishment. There are two aspects of Godhra tragedy and the commissions set up to probe into the burning of the coach came to two opposite conclusions. The Nanawati commission appointed by the government said there was a criminal conspiracy behind the crime while the other inquiry ordered by the railways department said it was accidental. The trial court as well as the High Court concurred with the conspiracy theory. The whole story covered the torching of the coach and the communal riots that followed it and claimed 1200 lives mostly of minority Muslims. The unofficial figure crossed 2000 deaths in the violence that continued for about 2 months. Keeping these facts in view the High Court held that the state government had failed in discharging its duty in maintaining law and order. The state government was roundly condemned not only on national level but also globally and even the entry of Narendra Modi into the US was banned.
Some quarters are asking the government to go for appeal after commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment, but after the lapse of 15 years, there is no wisdom to prolong the case further. The matter better be left to the wisdom of the High Court.