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Narendra Modi questioned for 2002 communal carnage

Gandhinagar, March 27 (IANS) Eight years after communal riots left over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead in Gujarat, Chief Minister Narendra Modi was Saturday questioned by a Supreme Court-appointed probe panel for the first time over his alleged complicity in not doing enough to stop the carnage.

Modi chose to appear before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) without a lawyer but took a four-hour long break in between to consult Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley, a Supreme Court advocate, who is also leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, party sources told IANS.

Jaitley had flown here specially for the day.

As he emerged after a five-hour questioning, Modi said he was abiding by the Indian constitution and law which are "supreme".

"The Indian law and constitution are supreme. As a citizen and as the chief minister, I am bound by the constitution and the law. Nobody is above the law," Modi, wearing his trademark crisp white kurta and pyjama, told reporters.

The chief minister was probed following a complaint by Zakia Jaffri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffri killed in the riots, that the chief minister was party to the 2002 widespread violence that swept Gujarat following a train burning in Godhra that killed 59 people in 2002.

The SIT is believed to have based most of its questions on some of the issues raised by Zakia in her 100-page petition to the Supreme Court.

According to sources, privy to the SIT questioning, some of the questions asked were:

- Did you give a Gujarat shutdown call following the Godhra incident?

- Who sent ministers to police control rooms during the riots? (Some ministers were alleged to have taken over the control rooms in Gujarat stopping police from taking any action)

- What happened at the Feb 27, 2002 meeting held by the chief minister and other senior officers for review of the situation following the Godhra train burning?

- Do you know about calls made by Ehsaan Jaffri to your office? (the Congress leader had reportedly called up the chief minister's office several times for help after his house was surrounded by rioters)

Zakia has alleged that Modi and his administration aided and abetted the rioters in Ahmedabad's Gulberg Society where over 60 people were burnt to death. The victims included Jaffri.

The first phase of the questioning went on for over five hours. SIT's A.K. Malhotra, an additional director general of police, led the questioning. Probe panel chief R.K. Raghavan was not present.

The questioning was to resume after 9 p.m. and Modi said he wanted the process to end Saturday.

The chief minister said the SIT was made up of officers from outside Gujarat. "They are clearly working under the direction of the Supreme Court."

Modi, one of the top leaders of the BJP, appeared unperturbed though he had been evading being questioned over the riots.

"I have spoken at length with the SIT. My conduct should be a fitting reply to my critics."

Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily said it was "unfortunate" for a chief minister to be in a situation like that.

"It is most unfortunate that Modi landed himself in that kind of a situation. It is not desirable but unfortunately it has happened," Moily said.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) asked Modi to step down on moral grounds.

"There is no justification for him to continue as the chief minister. He should resign on moral grounds," CPI-M leader M.K. Pandhe said.

Social activist Teesta Setalvald, who has been fighting for the riot victims, said: "It was an important day for democracy and rule of law when a sitting chief minister has been forced to appear before an inquiry team after various attempts to block justice."

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