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Govt loses Godhra voice & face
- Public prosecutor pulls out of ‘solved’ case

Ahmedabad, Feb. 24: A week after claiming that the Godhra case had been wrapped up, the Gujarat government suffered a stunning blow in court today with the public prosecutor returning the government brief.

The development caps weeks of investigations and a raid on alleged “chief conspirator” Maulana Hussain Umarji’s house that yielded nothing incriminating.

P.P. Panchal’s withdrawal, which forced Gujarat High Court to postpone till March 5 hearing of the anti-terror case against the 123 accused, follows loud proclamations by the government last week that investigators had pieced together the conspiracy with the arrest of the cleric.

Today, it seems that all the government wanted to do is get some good press a week before the first anniversary of the torching of the Sabarmati Express that sparked the bloodiest communal violence in recent memory.

Arun Ojha, who will now argue for the government, says he has not yet “applied his mind” to the case and so cannot say how he would pin down the “guilty”.

“After the arrest of Maulana Umar, the entire dimension of the investigation has changed,” he says cryptically. But neither he nor the police are willing to go further. All that investigators are saying now is that the “evidence on hand against the maulana and the others is enough to merit invocation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act”.

Matters have been further complicated after the police found nothing incriminating in a raid at Umarji’s Godhra home. Even additional director-general of police A.K. Bhargava says the raid yielded nothing. Now the police are looking for Umarji’s son, Sayyed, who, they claim, has the videodisc that could nail the maulana. Airports in the state have been alerted to foil Sayyed’s “escape bid”.

Defence counsel Y.M. Thakkar says there is nothing in the case to merit invocation of the terror law against the maulana, who was picked up early this month. “The status of the earlier arrested, too, does not change. The government will have to do a lot to establish evidence that calls for Pota,” he added.

“Moreover, there are a lot of loose ends and unanswered queries. How can you clamp Pota without being in a position to answer these'”

Thakkar and others following the case say the police are basing their allegations on revelations by Zabir Bin Yamin Behera, who confessed that Umarji was the chief conspirator. What is being asked, though, is how can the police take for granted the statements of Behera, a hardened criminal with 22 serious crimes against his name.

The police maintain that Umarji disbursed Rs 1,500 each every month to the Godhra accused and that the money came from anti-India sources in Dubai and other countries. But the question is whether the money came before or after the train carnage.

The government began by maintaining that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was involved in the carnage, only to debunk it in favour of a theory that linked the Students’ Islamic Movement of India. Here, too, the government found nothing substantive with Hashim Raza, the Simi man who “called up a few persons after the train attack to congratulate them”, being let off.

The third chargesheet tried to connect a link with narco-terrorism. The police brought in “two drug dealers” from Jammu and Kashmir, who were alleged to have put in money for the train attack. They, too, were released as nothing was found to pin them to the February 27 incident.

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