The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ghost in court, giant outside

Vadodara, July 9: Inside the Circuit House, the rights commission plodded through piles of documents. Outside, Madhu Srivastava strutted.

Srivastava, the man said to have dealt a deathblow to the Best Bakery massacre case by threatening the main witness into silence, seemed to be clearly enjoying the limelight. “I was there when the National Human Rights Commission came to Vadodara. They just had to call me to question my role in the case, but they didn’t seem to be interested in that,” he said.

Tall, tanned and thickset, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, Srivastava revealed flashes of his notorious temper. “People say I threatened Zahira (Sheikh) and asked her to change her statement in court, but they don’t know what they are talking about,” he snarled, twirling his moustache. “Of course, I was worried about the fate of the accused, all of whom are innocent, but I hardly knew Zahira. Who is this woman' Let her say this in front of me.”

Zahira, who lost her father in the massacre and saw the family bakery being burnt with 14 people inside on March 1 last year as Gujarat convulsed in post-Godhra riots, said in Mumbai recently that the BJP legislator had threatened to wipe out the rest of her family if she did not turn hostile in court. “I lied in court because Srivastava said he would kill me and my family,” the 19-year-old said.

Srivastava was present throughout the trial. The case fell on its face after that, and on June 27, a court acquitted all the 21 accused.

Zahira has now publicly accused Srivastava of threat and intimidation and added the name of Chandrakant Srivastava to the list of those who put pressure on her to kill the case. Chandrakant, Srivastava’s cousin, is a Congress corporator from Vadodara.

But Srivastava, against whom 13 criminal cases are pending in the state and who was once jailed for some time in 1983 under the National Securities Act for being involved in a communal riot, seemed unruffled. Throughout yesterday, as the rights team, which spent most of its time in Vadodara’s Circuit House, collected court and police papers related to the case, he was seen moving conspicuously around the premises.

And when not swaggering about, he was a picture of nonchalance. “I am not afraid of anyone,” he said, arms akimbo and one leg resting on a parapet at the Circuit House. “Let the court, the NHRC and the police interrogate me, I will answer them.”

Srivastava has reasons to feel confident. Residents of Hanuman Tekri, the area from which all the accused were picked up, idolise him. Jaswant Gohil, who had six family members arrested before they were freed after one-and-a-half years, said Srivastava was a constant motivating force for them. “Next time there are elections, he will win with the biggest-ever margin,” a grateful Gohil said as Srivastava beamed a knowing smile.

Srivastava’s stock in the BJP has risen considerably after the June 27 verdict and some party leaders say he may even pitch for a minister’s berth.

Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Srivastava knows that people talk about him — and not always with admiration. In 1990, Shailesh Mehta, a former mayor, had even blamed Srivastava for trying to kill him. “People are jealous of my success,” he says. “I won the last elections with a huge margin and next time, too, I will win. Let’s see who will stop me now.”

Srivastava, who has in the past publicly beaten up government servants for not doing their duties in his constituency, is itching to take on a bigger role after his “success in ensuring justice to innocent Hindus” in the bakery case.

“I like to help people and don’t care for the consequences,” he said. “I will be remembered for my good deeds.”

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