By Devendra Swarup
A two-member Bench of Supreme Court delivered an important ver-dict on April 12 in the widely publicised Best Bakery case of Vadodara (Gujarat). The 69-page verdict delivered by Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Arijit Pasayat was written and read out by the latter. On January 13, the Supreme Court had accepted a petition filed by Zahira Sheikh, a member of the Best Bakery family, in which she had challenged the verdict of Justice B.J. Sethan and J.R.Vora of Gujarat High Court, given on December 26, 2003, upholding the decision of the Vadodara´s lower court on June 27, 2003, regarding the release of the 21 accused in the Best Bakery episode. In her petition, Zahira Sheikh pleaded that it was not possible to get justice in Gujarat where an environment of fear prevailed and hence, the proceedings of the case be held somewhere out of Gujarat.
The questions arising out of Supreme Court decision.
It may be recalled that in the lower court, Zahira Sheikh, the key witness, and other witnesses had refused to recognise the accused. Hence the court, due to lack of evidence, ordered the release of the 21 persons held accused. But on July 7, Zahira Sheikh, on being incited by a leftist worker, Teesta Setalvad of Mumbai, knocked on the doors of the High Court and said that she had changed her statement under pressure. The Gujarat High Court, in its decision of December 26, had raised serious questions and had severely criticised the role of Teesta Setalvad. Hence, Teesta too approached the Supreme Court with an appeal to get her criticism expunged from the High Court decision. The Supreme Court accepted her appeal for consideration.
Decision becomes a weapon
The Supreme Court accepted these petitions on January 13 and completed the hearings on March 24, before delivering its verdict on April 12. Those people, who complain about the lakhs of cases pending with the Supreme Court and the delay in justice, should rejoice at the speed with which the apex court delivered its decision. The Supreme Court has ruled that the hearing in the Best Bakery case should be held afresh, and that too in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, and not in Gujarat. At the same time, the Bench also admonished the Gujarat High Court for commen-ting on Teesta Setalvad. The apex court also directed the High Court to stay away from religious feelings and expunge the comments on Teesta from the Court´s decision of December 26.
Naturally, this decision of the Supreme Court has become a potent weapon in the hands of the Opposition parties against the ruling BJP in Gujarat and also the NDA government at the Centre in the ongoing General Elections. And on the basis of this judgement, the Opposition parties have started clamouring for the resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. The question that arises is why did Justice Pasayat decide to deliver the verdict on April 12 itself? He must be aware that polling to the 26 Lok Sabha seats of Gujarat was scheduled to be held on April 20 and announcing the decision just a week prior to the elections would amount to getting entangled in electoral politics. Eight more petitions related to the Gujarat riots are pending before the Supreme Court and over which Chief Justice V.N. Khare has yet to give his views. (Chief Justice Khare has retired since then.) But when Gujarat´s Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi requested the then Chief Justice Shri Khare to postpone his decision till the polling got over in Gujarat, the latter willingly accepted the request and postponed the verdict till April 20. Couldn´t the two Justices have emulated the step taken by the then Chief Justice and waited for eight more days before making the decision public?
Did it not occur to Justice Pasayat that the Gujarat riots of 2002 have not only a humanitarian but a political aspect too? It is clear like the sun that if Muslims had not committed the gruesome act of killing 59 innocent women, children and the old at Godhra on February 27, 2002, out of religious intolerance, then whatever happened as a reaction would never have occurred. Whatever took place was unfortunate and highly condem-nable. Any civilised society would have been embarrassed in its heart of hearts at such retaliatory frenzy in time of peace. But what justice is this to turn a blind eye to an incident that fans the fire of frenzy and centres all its attention on the undesirable reaction only? Why don´t Teesta Seetalvad, Father Cedric Prakash, Shabnam Hashmi and supporters of human rights raise the question of the perpetrators of the Godhra crime?
Why is no campaign launched to bring them to the witness stand of justice? Why don´t they express sympathy for the hundreds of Hindus killed in Gujarat riots? Why do they portray the one-sided picture of the attack of the Hindus over the Muslims and as killers in the Gujarat riots? When in reality the culprits are those who through their atrocities pushed a peace loving and sympathetic society to adopt a cruel posture.
Who stands to benefit?
All know the political leanings of Teesta Setalvad, Shabnam Hashmi and the others of their ilk. Their friends and enemies are known the world over. Their sole political objective is to spread revulsion and jealousy among the Muslims against the Hindus. The Gujarat government has tried its best to heal the wounds inflicted in 2002 and had even won over the confidence of the Muslim society.
In large numbers the Muslims are embracing the members of the Hindu society. This environment of tolerance and unity is unacceptable to these missionaries of hatred. That is why people like Teesta and Shabnam are forever taking rounds of Gujarat to sow the seeds of envy and fan the fires of communal violence. In reality the criticism of Teesta by Gujarat High Court should have been viewed from this angle. Is it not necessary to reveal the perpetrators of hatred and violence so that communal harmony, peace and unity can be brought into Gujarat?
Even if Teesta had not been physically present in the Gujarat High Court and has been manipulating the strings from behind the curtain, but how should we view the physical presence of Congress leader Kapil Sibal as an advocate for Zahira Sheikh in the Supreme Court in Delhi? Kapil Sibal is a professional lawyer and his fee for a single appearance is Rs 50,000. Is it possible that Zahira Sheikh could have afforded to pay this high fee to him? But, nowadays, Kapil Sibal is seen as a spokesman of the Congress rather than as a lawyer. What is more, he is now contesting Lok Sabha elections as Congress candidate from Chandni Chowk. Certainly, the reason of advocating for Zahira Sheikh must have been some personal gain, apart from the party. The fate of a candidate depends upon the large number of Muslim voters in Chandni Chowk. By advocating for Zahira Sheikh, he has certainly tried to woo the Muslim voters. The Supreme Court Bench by announcing its decision on April 12 in favour of Zahira may have unwittingly strengthened Kapil Sibal´s candidature, as within two days of the court decision, he was declared the Congress nominee from Chandni Chowk. Now he will certainly exploit this decision in the Muslim-dominated constituency.
What is extremely painful is that one does not get even a whiff of objectivity from the verdict of Justice Pasayat. The judgment said that when innocent children and helpless women were being burned inside the Best Bakery, today´s Nero was looking elsewhere, perhaps deliberately. It sounds more like political language than legal. Its aim is clear. The media has aptly replaced the Roman Emperor Nero´s name with that of Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. But Narendra Modi is unable to reply to this attack as the author of this verdict is wearing the protective armour of ´contempt of court´.
Even the support of Mahatma Gandhi´s name has been taken in the verdict. ?On Mahatma Gandhi´s land, vicious killings were taking place because of which a pertinent question raises its head?whether some people had become so bankrupt with their ideology that they turned away from all those things which he stood for?´´
Did it not occur to Justice Pasayat that the Gujarat riots of 2002 have not only a humanitarian but a political aspect too?
Use of Mahatma Gandhi´s name and views certainly makes it emotional but does not seem in accordance with history. Perhaps, the respected judges ignored the fact that Gujarat has a long history of communal violence. During Gandhi´s life itself Gujarat had burnt in such violence. His pain at the 1924 riots of Ahmedabad is visible in his complete works; since Independence sparks of violence have been spreading in the Muslim-dominated areas of Godhra and Ahmedabad; Mohammad Ghaznavi was extended invitation to again prevent the reconstruction of Somnath temple which caused unbearable pain to Gandhi. Gujarat has had a long history of riots during the Congress regime that called itself the sole inheritor of Gandhi´s legacy even after his death. In 1969, during Gandhian Hitendra Desai´s rule as Chief Minister, Ahmedabad witnessed communal frenzy, in which more than 3,000 people were killed, i.e. much more than those killed in the riots of 2002. Hence instead of getting caught in the quagmire of ideology, it is necessary to probe into the causes of this endless chain of communal riots in the state.
How is Maharashtra better?
The Supreme Court by entertaining Zahira Sheikh´s appeal has given the decision to hold the proceedings on the Best Bakery case in Maharashtra. The Gujarat government, respecting the honour of the apex court, has very humbly accepted the order. But this order raises certain questions in the minds of the common man. It seems from the order that the Supreme Court has lost faith in the Gujarat High Court and in the unbiased and firm handling of the situation by the police. Probably, the Court thinks that they all are working under pressure from the BJP government of Gujarat. Can it then be said with conviction that the High Court of Maharashtra and the state police are not working under pressure from the Congress government of the state? Won´t the Congress government on this occasion embarrass its Opposition, the BJP party? The Maharashtra police and judiciary have not so far been able to convict the guilty in the dangerous bomb explosions of 1993. The accused who planned to kill the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani in August 2003 were let off by a session court of the Maharashtra due to laxity of the police. The Telgi scam has unveiled the corrupt face of the Maharashtra police, administration and the ruling party. The accused in Ghatkopar bomb conspiracy have not yet been caught. Why does the Supreme Court presume that justice will not be meted out within the state that it is necessary to go to another state for seeking justice? A few months ago, the Supreme Court had ordered that proceedings in the cases against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalitha should be held in the Congress-ruled Karnataka state. Both these decisions raise a serious question mark on the impartial and correct judgement of the judiciary. Faith in the judiciary depends upon the person sitting in the chair of the judge.
Public faith should not be shaken
Man is an integral part of the society. Today, the society is facing the serious issue of not finding men of upright character, and this is reflected in every sphere. The person holding the post of a judge also comes from the same society and represents the character of the entire Indian society. It would not be proper to say that the judges of a state are different from those of the other states. If the impartiality and credibility of a judge sitting in the Supreme Court can be questioned, then people can be audacious enough to point their accusing finger at the Supreme Court one day. After all, the judges in the Supreme Court too reach this high post through the High Courts. Recently, Ram Jethmalani had levelled serious charges of corruption and misuse of authority against A.S. Anand, the retired Chief Justice of Supreme Court. The same A.S. Anand is now holding the post of Chairman of the Human Rights Commission. During the Emergency of 1975-77, the role of Supreme Court had become an issue of controversy. If public faith in the impartiality and credibility of the judiciary is lost, then even God will not be able to save the Indian democracy. The responsibility of maintaining this credibility has now fallen upon the Supreme Court.
But it seems that the judges, in order to maintain the dignity of their post, prefer to remain away from the people and are dependent on the media for information about the country and the world. Thus, they must be getting influenced by the media too. But, today the Indian media, instead of being the mirror for the society, echoes the voice of a handful of Leftists and anti-Hindu forces. This fact was very clearly presented by lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi, who is representing the 21 accused in the Best Bakery case when the latter came up for hearing to the Supreme Court Bench. He had said that more than the judiciary it was the media that was directing the proceedings. That the media is not a true mirror of public opinion was proved by the electoral results in Gujarat Assembly. Instead of playing an objective role, the media has itself become a party to biased views. It should be no surprise if the judiciary fails to delve deep into the exact truth if it continues to remain dependent on such partial media. Some decisions of the Supreme Court on Ayodhya controversy and disinvestment policy of the Government of India are proof of its limitations in its decision-making ability. How the Supreme Court should rise above these limitations is a prime cause of concern for the country.
The Maharashtra police and judiciary have not so far been able to convict the guilty in the dangerous bomb explosions of 1993. The accused who planned to kill the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani in August 2003 were let off by a sessions court of Maharashtra due to laxity on part of the police.