The Supreme Court, on Friday, September 02, finally granted interim bail to activist Teesta Setalvad, who was arrested by the Gujarat police for allegedly fabricating evidence to target “innocent people” over the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. A bench of Chief Justice of India U U Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia directed that she be produced on Saturday, September 03, before the concerned trial court which shall release her on bail. It also asked her to surrender her passport.
The court, after hearing Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for Gujarat state and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Setalvad, said it was not touching upon the merits of the matter.
While the case against Teesta Setalvad is sub-judice and hence, out of the purview of conclusive comment, what is open for remark is the manner in which she and others considered allied to her have been treated, so far. Some would say this treatment is unjust, discriminatory and motivated.
A case in point is the query by the Supreme Court on Thursday, September 01, wondering why the Gujarat High Court listed Setalvad’s bail plea for hearing on September 19, six weeks after it sent a notice to the state government seeking a response to her application. An apparently displeased CJI said, “We will hear this case tomorrow… Give us instances where a lady accused in such cases has got such dates from the High Court. Either this lady has been made an exception… How can the court give this date? Is this standard practice in Gujarat?”
Setalvad was arrested from her house in Mumbai on June 25. Former Director General of Police R B Sreekumar, accused of the same offence as Setalvad, was also arrested. Both were lodged in the Sabarmati central jail. Sreekumar has also moved the High Court for bail. Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, the third accused in the case, has not applied for bail. Bhatt was already in jail for another criminal matter when he was arrested in this case.
Setalvad and Sreekumar were arrested by the Ahmedabad city crime branch after a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against them under Indian Penal Code sections 468 (forgery for cheating) and 194 (fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction for capital offences). They were arrested hours after the Supreme Court, on June 24, dismissed a petition filed by Zakia Jafri challenging the SIT’s clean chit to 64 people in the riots, including the then chief minister Narendra Modi.
Zakia Jafri’s husband and former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri was killed during the riots in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Society during violence on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train burning.
On August 3, the Gujarat High Court had issued a notice to the Gujarat government on the bail plea of Setalvad and fixed the matter for hearing on September 19. An Ahmedabad sessions court had, on July 30, rejected the bail applications of Setalvad and Sreekumar in the case, saying if they are released, it will send a message to wrongdoers that a person can level allegations with impunity and get away with it.
This brings us to the allegations against Bhatt, Sreekumar and Setalvad. In this article, we will look at charges against Setalvad and the ensuing political slugfest.
On July 15, 2022, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Gujarat Police submitted an affidavit in court that claimed Setalvad was part of a “larger conspiracy” carried out at the behest of late Congress leader Ahmed Patel to dismiss the BJP government in Gujarat after the 2002 riots. “The political objective of the applicant (Setalvad) while enacting this larger conspiracy was dismissal or destabilisation of the elected government….She obtained illegal financial and other benefits and rewards from rival political party in lieu of her attempts to wrongly implicate innocent persons in Gujarat,” said the SIT’s affidavit.
Citing the statements of a witness, the SIT said the conspiracy was carried out at Patel’s behest and that Setalvad received Rs 30 lakh after the post-Godhra riots in 2002, it alleged. Setalvad used to meet the leaders of a “prominent national party in power at that time in Delhi to implicate names of senior leaders of the BJP government in riot cases,” the SIT further claimed.
It cited another witness to claim that Setalvad had, in 2006, asked a Congress leader why the party was giving “chance to only Shabana and Javed” and not making her a member of the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress was quick to deny the above allegations and on July 16, it alleged that the charges levelled by the Gujarat government against late party leader Ahmed Patel were part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “systematic strategy to absolve himself of any responsibility for the communal carnage” in 2002.
A statement issued by Jairam Ramesh, Congress general secretary in-charge of the party’s communication, media and publicity department said, “The charges against Ahmed Patel are part of Prime Minister’s systematic strategy to absolve himself of any responsibility for the communal carnage unleashed when he was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002.” It added, “It was his unwillingness and incapacity as the then chief minister to control the carnage that had led the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to remind the chief minister of his ‘rajdharma'”.
Even though the truth remains obscure, the overwhelming impression this sequence of events leaves behind is that there are vested interests that do not want the facts to surface. In this context, these lines from Coventry Patmore’s poem ‘Magna Est Veritas’ come to mind readily:
For want of me the world’s course will not fail: When all its work is done, the lie shall rot; The truth is great, and shall prevail, When none cares whether it prevail or not….