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Court declares loss of faith in Modi

New Delhi, Sept. 12: In an unusual observation, the Supreme Court today told Narendra Modi’s government to quit if it could not protect the “weak” and perform “raj dharma”.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices Brijesh Kumar and S.B. Sinha said the Gujarat government’s appeal in the Best Bakery case and in other riot cases was an “eyewash”.

It directed the chief secretary and the director-general of police to be present in court on September 19.

Of the 43 witnesses in the Best Bakery trial, 37 turned hostile and all 21 accused were acquitted. Fourteen people were burnt to death in the bakery at Vadodara on March 1, 2002.

The chief justice said the court had no faith in the prosecution and the Gujarat government that they would bring the guilty to justice.

In a reference to the statement of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made during the riots that Modi had to perform his “raj dharma”, Khare said: “What is the raj dharma of your government' You quit, if you cannot prosecute the guilty and protect the weak.”

The judges said if Gujarat could not establish special trial courts for riot cases, “we could order for one right away”.

Additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohtagi’s argument provoked the observations by the court. Appearing for the Gujarat government, Rohtagi cited the criminal cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other places. He argued how difficult it was to prove guilt in such cases and how not a single person had been convicted in the 1984 riots.

The judges shot back: “What will a court do if the government through its prosecution does not bring facts and evidence' What will a court do other than acquitting the accused'”

Rohtagi argued that the “malady” in the system was such that the guilty in riots often escaped punishment.

Khare told the counsel: “We have no faith in your (state) prosecution. I am not talking of Article 356 (imposition of President’s rule) for the failure of the state government, but of raj dharma. You have to protect people and punish the guilty and not the opposite.”

The counsel caused further aggravation by contending: “Gone are the days when a chief minister’s tenure depended on somebody’s mercy. He is a democratically elected person”.

“Are you suggesting that the ‘malady’ in the system means rioters in Gujarat should be acquitted'” the judges asked.

Rohtagi replied that criminal law required amendments to answer such situations. Khare asked: “Who is to amend the law'” Obviously, it is the legislature that has to.

In its criticism of the state, the judges referred to the appeal against the acquittal in the high court. “Even a lawyer of one year’s experience will not draft such an appeal. Is this an appeal'

“It is just an eyewash and nothing else. We will not be silent spectators. We will act if the state keeps silent before the high court,” Khare said.

The court said there was no cross-examination of the witnesses who turned hostile. “There appears to be some sort of collusion between government and prosecution in a case where 14 people were burnt to death and almost all the witnesses had turned hostile”.

“Is this the way prosecution is conducted before the trial court'” the judges asked.

The Opposition Congress sought Modi’s resignation immediately after, but the BJP — though deeply embarrassed, particularly as the court used Vajpayee’s words — presented a brave face.

“There is no need for Modi to resign,” said party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu. “The Gujarat government is an elected government and it will take note of the comments, advice and direction of the apex court.”

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