Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi may not face further charges for his alleged role in delaying the police response to deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in Ahmedabad in 2002, as a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court has found no "prosecutable evidence," according to a newly released report.
As soon as the news broke, the head of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the popular-but-controversial leader is now a viable candidate for the post of prime minister, according to CNN/IBN.
In a complaint, Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed during the riots, had blamed Modi and 57 others for inciting violence, according to the Economic Times. The Supreme Court had said that the trial court will decide on the petition by Zakia on the basis of the SIT's report.
In its report to the trial court, SIT has also said that it has found no substantial evidence to back suspended police officer Sanjiv Bhatt's claims that Modi had ordered rioters to be given a free hand.
BJP President Nitin Gadkari on Thursday said Modi is one of the party's prime ministerial candidates for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
"Already I have cleared it that the BJP has got a lot of potential leadership who is capable of becoming the Prime Minister," the news channel quoted Gadkari as saying in a transcript of a television interview. "Now, Modi is also one of the leaders, he has also got the potential for that. There are five to six leaders, and at the right time the party will decide who will be the prime ministerial candidate for 2014."
Much has been made of the so-called "clean chit" given to Modi by investigators, though the statement that there is no "prosecutable evidence" perhaps stops short of a hearty vindication. But even if Modi has not fully overcome doubts about his role in the 2002 violence, he remains the most popular leader that the BJP has in the fray.
The problem is that he has powerful rivals within the party, he sometimes appears reluctant to give up his sinecure in Gujarat to lead the BJP's nationwide campaigns, and many believe that the BJP's coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance may object to him because of his history of provocative, anti-Muslim statements.
If Modi emerges as the BJP's candidate for PM, it will prove not only that a leader tainted by a history of jingoistic speeches is the best it can do. It will also show that whatever lip service the BJP pays to its supposed transformation from a party of ethnic nationalism -- and an essentially fascist ideology always masquerading as less than insidious, despite an unending trail of riots and pogroms -- it is still a long distance away from becoming India's version of the Republican Party.