VENTRILOQUISTS are adept at throwing their voices into puppets and mannequins. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his controversial home minister, Amit Shah, have mastered the art of making the judges investigating their alleged roles in riots and mayhem say what they would want them to say. The argument of the five-member Supreme Court bench hearing the Ayodhya land dispute case recently, for example, was leading to a clear critique of right-wing Hindu groups and their actions to illegally occupy and destroy the Babri Masjid. But even without a shred of material evidence to support its conclusion, the court suddenly upturned its own logic and assigned the disputed land to those it accused of illegal acts.
The latest evidence that Mr Modi holds critical sections of the judiciary in his thrall is revealed in the second part of the Nanavati-Mehta Commission of inquiry tabled this week in the Gujarat assembly. The commission was probing the Godhra train inferno on Feb 27, 2002, and Mr Modi’s possible role in the anti-Muslim violence let loose after that. The first part of the report released several years ago related to the burning of the train coach in which 59 Hindu volunteers perished. The report had called it a premeditated act of killing by Muslims in Godhra against compelling arguments that it was an accident. The second part of the report was prompted by a curious circumstance. The initial mandate of the commission related to the train tragedy alone. After the Manmohan Singh government unexpectedly came to power in 2004, Mr Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, widened the scope of the inquiry to comment on his own role in the communal violence that followed. The move cleverly pre-empted an imminent step by the Singh government to instal its own investigation into the chief minister’s role. “There is no evidence to show that these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abetted by any minister of the (Gujarat) state,” Mr Modi’s handpicked commission said in its report, which runs to over 1,500 pages. It is heartening that the bevy of clean chits to Mr Modi and his assorted aides in grievous acts of commission and omission have not gone unchallenged. And as long as these noble voices remain firm and resolute, there is always hope that the darkness stalking Indian democracy will lift and the judiciary sequester itself from the ventriloquist’s lure.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2019