People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 21

May 31, 2009

 

The Accused In The Mass Murder

Modi And 62 Others Face Investigation

 

ALMOST three years ago, on June 8, 2006, a mammoth 119-page complaint was sent by Zakiya Ahsan Jaffri to the then director general of police (DGP), Gujarat, P C Pande, who, ironically, is listed as accused number 29 in the document. The legal action group, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), through its secretary and trustee, Teesta Setalvad, had provided her with legal assistance in assimilating the material required for the historic exercise, which took over five months to draft. Although token gestures were made by the Gujarat police – the DGP sent the additional director general of police (ADGP), Mahapatra, to meet the complainant – despite 2000 pages of devastating evidence, the Gujarat DGP saw nothing prima facie of incriminatory substance in the complaint.

 

Eight months after the Gujarat police refused, in spite of clear directives in law and practice, to register a first information report (FIR) and investigate the offences, the complainant and CJP jointly filed a petition in the Gujarat high court praying for directions from the court ordering the state police to register an FIR and investigate the complaint. The petition also argued for an independent investigation by the CBI since top echelons of the police hierarchy in the state were personally involved in the crimes that were alleged to have been committed. Advocates M M Tirmizi and M S Ganesh argued the matter over two days in September 2007 while advocate general, Kamal Trivedi, for the Gujarat government, strongly resisted the petitioners’ arguments. A week before judgement was delivered the petitioners had through an additional affidavit argued for the transcripts of the Tehelka exposé following its sting ‘Operation Kalank’ (made public on October 25, 2007) to be treated as extrajudicial confessions in the matter of the overarching criminal conspiracy and investigated. In November 2007 the Gujarat high court rejected both the petition and the affidavit.

 

Months later the petitioners filed a special leave petition in the apex court challenging the high court order. On March 3, 2008 – the first date of hearing – the apex court not only issued notice to the state and union but also appointed counsel, Prashant Bhushan, as amicus curiae to assist the court. Recognising the specificity and enormity of the complaint, the Supreme Court had observed, "What does a citizen do when it has such voluminous evidence and the police simply refuses to investigate? What is the remedy available for a citizen?"

After the usual logistical delays the matter was ultimately heard on April 27, 2009. By then the Supreme Court had also, on March 26, 2008, directed the appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by former CBI director, Dr R K Raghavan, to not only reinvestigate the eight other major trials but to oversee prosecution of the accused in these trials as well.

 

Acknowledging the worth and magnitude of this complaint, the Supreme Court, in a historic move, ordered the SIT to investigate the allegations and submit a report to the apex court within three months. Advocates Aparna Bhat, Ramesh Pukhrambam, M S Ganesh and Sanjay Parikh appeared for the petitioners during the proceedings in the Supreme Court.

 

Of the 63 persons named as accused in this complaint, 12 are politicians who were, in 2006, holding the rank of cabinet ministers in the state cabinet. Four of these 12, including Narendra Modi, the chief minister himself (who also holds several cabinet portfolios, including home, transport, industry and information and broadcasting), Amit Shah (minister of state for home), Indravijaysinh K. Jadeja (minister for roads and buildings) and Prabhatsinh Chauhan (minister of state for tribal development), continue in positions of power and authority. Ashok Bhatt, minister for law and judiciary until 2007, is currently the speaker of the state assembly.

 

Of the remaining accused, three are MLAs from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seven are office-bearers of the state BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal (including Dr Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP), 10 are officials of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and 28 are Indian Police Service (IPS) officers.

 

Accused number 23 in the complaint, Keshavram Kashiram Shastri, former chairman of the VHP’s Gujarat unit and editor of the Vishwa Hindu Samachar, published from Paldi, Ahmedabad, is dead. He had in the now infamous interview given to rediff.com in March 2002 proudly claimed a badge of honour for himself and his organisation, for the selective loot and destruction of Muslim lives and properties. "Karvunj pade, karvunj pade (It had to be done, it had to be done). We don’t like it but we were terribly angry. Lust and anger are blind." He had also outlined in graphic detail how VHP and Bajrang Dal workers had been provided with ownership details of key properties and establishments, which made their task of selectively targeting Muslim-owned ones somewhat easier.