There are two aspects to the summons Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been issued by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to appear before it, in connection with the Gulbarg Society massacre of 2002, a legal one and a political one.
Modi appears to be concentrating on the legal one at the moment and legal eagle Ram Jethmalani has been pressed into service -- appearing on behalf of one of the BJP MLAs accused of having a role in the post-Godhra riots, Jethmalani has argued that the April 2009 order by the Supreme Court (to establish the SIT) was taken without hearing the 63 accused, which include Modi.
The Supreme Court has indicated it will hear Jethmalani's plea early next month. So one course of action for Modi is to argue that he should not be asked to make a personal appearance before the Supreme Court case is disposed off. Indeed, the BJP seems to be supporting this view -- party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad has already said that Modi will respond to the summons to appear before the SIT in accordance with legal requirements.
Modi, however, is a shrewd politician and should know that the legal process is the least of his worries -- the case against Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the anti-Sikh riots following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984 is still being heard! The political issue for Modi, however, is a different one. His party continues to remain down in the dumps, but at some point its fortunes are bound to revive -- in that situation, the question is whether Modi's stars will be in the ascendant. So far there are few signs of this happening.
Modi remains a deeply divisive figure and, since it does look as if Indian democracy will continue to throw up coalitions for a while at least, any prime ministerial candidate has to be acceptable to all partners. That is, Modi's political career graph hasn't moved an inch in the last several years -- meanwhile, rivals such as Sushma Swaraj appear to be moving towards larger roles within the party structure. Despite the party's core base of support being the Hindu, BJP's new chief Nitin Gadkari has also been making some overtures towards the Muslims -- in other words, in response to a younger and more confident India perhaps, the BJP is also readying to move on.
Modi has to read these signals and move on himself. If he is, as he professes, not guilty of either egging on Hindus to kill Muslims in the aftermath of the torching of the Sabarmati Express and killing Hindu pilgrims inside it or of benign neglect when this was happening, he should welcome the SIT process as it will give him a chance to answer all his critics.
Newspapers have published transcripts of conversations between policemen in the post-Godhra riots period suggesting they were happy to stay away from the riot-affected areas till the mobs finished their work -- this is Modi's chance to redeem himself by explaining his role. Whatever the SIT's verdict, and however long it may take, Modi must come clean and explain his role. He has no option but to try and win over those he has alienated. Make the effort even if it doesn't succeed. It takes as much courage to express remorse as it does to act tough.