An Indian Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae (friend of the court) reported on Monday that Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state, can and should be prosecuted for his role in the 2002 riots there, in which more than a thousand people were killed. Raju Ramachandran, the amicus curiae, rejected the findings of a Special Investigative Team that said Modi and others should be cleared of any involvement in the riots. The SIT (also Supreme Court-appointed) had discounted a statement by a suspended police officer who says that Modi, during a meeting immediately prior to the riots, instructed his aides to “allow Hindus to vent their ire and teach Muslims a lesson.” Ramachandran, a powerful lawyer who has also been appointed amicus curiae in the prosecution of the sole surviving perpetrator of the Mumbai terror attacks, thinks differently. His findings, made public this week, contrast starkly with the SIT’s report:
“In my opinion, the offences which can be made out against Shri Modi, at this prima facie stage, are offences inter alia under Sections 153 A (1) (a) & (b) of IPC which means promoting enmity among different groups on grounds of religion and 153 B (1) which says assertions prejudicial to national integration,” Mr. Ramchandran said in his report.
(The role of an amicus curiae in India is different than in the US. In the US, an amicus serves as an impartial observer and can submit a report or offer an unsolicited legal opinion during a trial. In Supreme Court cases, amici curiae usually have to receive consent from both parties in a case before presenting an observation. In India, the Supreme Court can appoint an amicus in a particularly sensitive trial to serve as an investigator, separate even from the court-appointed investigative team. The opinion of the amicus thus carries significant weight. Observers say that furthermore, in the case against Modi, Ramachandran was given unusual powers in his role as amicus: The Court asked him to serve independently from the SIT, to assess the SIT’s final report and also conduct his own investigation on the case itself.)In January, polls put Modi at the top of the list of candidates to be the next prime minister: 24 percent of respondents chose him as the next leader of India. With Congress’s popularity crashing (see the results of recent state parliament elections), Modi’s share of the national spotlight will only increase. The effort to prosecute Modi, then, might be a Congress Party initiative to deflate his popularity ahead of national elections in 2014.For Washington and London, both of which have refused Modi entry visas several times since 2002 and instruct diplomats in India to avoid him on suspicion of his involvement in the riots, and for all those who suspect that India’s story will impact the future of the entire world, this is a story worth watching.