THE Supreme Court judgement on the Best Bakery case understan-dably has been hailed by the secular press?and for good reason. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat has been nailed to the cross. Indirectly he was called a modern-day Nero who fiddled while the Best Bakery and its inmates burnt.
The editor-in-chief of The Statesman hailed the judgement written by Mr Justice Arijit Pasayat on April 12 for himself and Mr Justice Doraiswamy Raju as ´clear and masterly´, not to say ´a classic´. Apart from finding Narendra Modi”s government guilty of the ´vilest improprieties´ wrote Mr C.R. Irani, the facts of the case described as ´clear and shameful´ left the Supreme Court ?no choice but to order transfer of the retrial under the supervision of the Chief Justice of the Maharashtra High Court?.
Mr Irani added: ?If any government should resign over this judgement, it is, of course Narendra Modi”s.? Several interes-ting questions arise. Presuming that the Chief Minister of Gujarat is guilty, as hinted by the Supreme Court, could not the judgement be held in abeyance till the elections were over? The Election Commission is quiet on this point. Would the judgement have affected the election? And would that have been a right thing to do? No newspaper seems to have given this side of the problem any further thought.
Modi had to be damned. Again, the point was raised that Teesta Setalvad was not to be criticised in Court because she was not there to answer any charges against her. Then should Narendra Modi be criticised when he was not in Court? Said the Court: ?Criminals have no religion. No religion teaches violence and cruelty-based religion is no religion at all, but a mere cloak to usurp power by fanning ill-feeling and playing on the feelings aroused thereby.? Great thought! Had heard similar sentiments when Congress-wallahs were killing Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
Writing in Deccan Herald (April 18) on the judgement, O.P. Verma said: ?The Court has sent a strong message across the country that communal elements, which indulged in mass killings, would not be spared.? It is a relief to know this. Mr Verma probably does not know that, in ´Riot After Riot´ (the words are from M.J. Akbar”s book by that title) there have been mass killings and at a time when the ruling Chief Ministers were also fiddling like Nero. And would anyone believe that it took Rajiv Gandhi 72 hours to summon the army following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and, yes, ´mass-killings´?
Our columnists have been unsparing of Narendra Modi. Seema Mustafa writes in Deccan Chronicle (April 17): ?The Gujarat govern-ment under the ugly Indian, Narendra Modi, left no stone unturned to ensure that the victims of his violence were isolated, and that the goons who killed and maimed innocent citizens of this country were left free to take the law into their own hands again…? Seema Mustafa, had she waited for a few days more, would have been shocked at what another columnist, Tavleen Singh wrote in Deccan Herald (April 23). Wrote Tavleen: ?In view of the Supreme Court”s decision to shift the retrial of the Best Bakery case to Maharashtra, I wanted also to see if justice had been done in an equally horrific case in which the state was responsible for killing innocent Muslims. When Narendra Modi”s govern-ment was guilty only of allowing Muslims to be murdered by violent Hindu mobs and denying them justice, in Meerut and Maliana, a Congress government”s police in 1987 personally did the killing… Congress governments ruled in Delhi and Lucknow. Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and Veer Bahadur Singh, Chief Minister.?
On May 23, 1987, when there was looting and killing, the Provincial Armed Constabulary arrived and started shooting. According to a Muslim citizen interviewed by Tavleen, PAC was siding with the Hindu rioters. Eleven members of a Muslim family were burnt alive. Riot soldiers arrived, rounded up more than 70 Muslim men, shot them dead and threw their dead bodies in the Ganga canal. Notes Tavleen: ?The Hashimpura massacre occurred under a Congress government; justice was denied for years afterwards under various Congress governments and it is ironical that it is under a BJP Prime Minister that the Supreme Court has been able to do justice in the Best Bakery case.?
But consider this: Nachiketa Desai, a reporter for Sahara Time (April 24) makes an interesting observation. He writes: ?Fearing a Hindu backlash, state Congress leaders had been scrupulously avoiding any reference to the mass killing of Muslims by Hindu mobs.? At the same time Nachiketa Desai quotes Narendra Modi as saying in an address to an election meeting in Kheda district: ?All the five Congress MPs from Gujarat have been going overboard to prove to the world that fifty million Gujaratis are murderers, rapists and looters.? According to the Sahara Time, ?The Supreme Court order transferring the Best Bakery case may paradoxically energise the Hindutva brigade.? The Bar Council of Gujarat has passed a resolution expressing ´deep concern´ at the observations made by the apex court and has demanded that the judgement be reviewed. The Council president is Yatin Oza, a Congressman who contested against Narendra Modi in the Assembly elections in 2002.
Significantly, in an appeal to the Supreme Court to take back its words, the Gujarat government has made the point that ?the state functionaries and the highest court of the states have been condemned unheard of, which, even otherwise would have serious demoralising effect on the functioning of the state machineries in future…?
Not many English newspapers covered the move by the Gujarat government in seeking modification of the April 12 judgement. The Hindu (April 22) is an exception. According to The Hindu: ?The Bench acceded to the request and posted the petitions filed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and some others seeking transfer of 12 most sensitive cases for hearing on August 3.? Incidentally, the application had prayed for the shifting of the case back to the same Sessions Court in Vadodara or some other Sessions Court with the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court appointed to monitor the retrial.
But it needs to be mentioned here that the Urdu press has been practically unanimous in praising the Supreme Court decision. The Inqilab said: ?The verdict has paved way for a fair and unbiased hearing. The message is clear: Justice can be delayed but one should not lose hope… all is not yet lost for the Gujarat riot victims.?
Wrote the Hindustan: ?In Gujarat, the Congress has got a shot in the arm after the apex court”s order…? According to the Urdu Times Daily: ?Justice can be done only after the accused are arrested?. Meanwhile, the Maha-rashtra High Court would be under heavy pressure. What happens if it upholds the Gujarat High Court”s decision? It will be a case of being damned if it does and damned, if it doesn”t.
Teesta Setalvad was not to be criticised in Court because she was not there to answer any charges against her. Then should Narendra Modi be criticised when he was not in Court?
It took Rajiv Gandhi 72 hours to summon the army following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and, yes, ´mass-killings´.