The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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After U-turn, commandos

Nov. 4: The government that could not help Zahira Sheikh when her relatives were being burnt to death two years ago has now despatched 15 commandos to protect her and whisk her away from Vadodara.

The Gujarat administration acted with alacrity a day after Zahira charged human rights activist Teesta Setalvad with pressuring her into implicating innocent people in the Best Bakery massacre case. Setalvad denied the charges.

Chief minister Narendra Modi, whose government tasted the wrath of the Supreme Court after Zahira deposed that she was intimidated during the original trial in Vadodara, seized on the somersault to hint at penal action against voluntary groups.

After yesterday's media conference where she levelled the charges against Setalvad, Zahira and her family members remained closeted in a Vadodara hotel until the commandos arrived.

Officials said Zahira, who had yesterday said she wanted to stay in Vadodara, was being taken to Ahmedabad but could not say why.

'I do not know why she is going to Ahmedabad,' said Vadodara police commissioner Sudhir Sinha, who had provided her police protection yesterday. 'As Zahira and her family members ' mother, sister and brother ' are going out of my jurisdiction, the Intelligence Bureau is providing them security cover.'

When news broke that Zahira had left Vadodara, speculation was rife in Mumbai, where a special court is holding the massacre retrial, that she could be headed to the metropolis in response to a summons.

Zahira had denied that she had received any summons but the public prosecutor in Mumbai said she was 'quite certain' that the family received the notice. 'We sent the summons while Zahira and her family were staying on Mira Road (in Mumbai),' said public prosecutor Manjula Rao.

'Zahira's mother Sehrunnisa Sheikh met me on October 27 when she told me that they could be present today in court. If they had not received the summons, how would they promise me to be present at the trial' Rao asked.

She said that she had also sent a letter to Zahira. 'We will wait for a few days as there are more eyewitnesses. If Zahira does not turn up, we will ask Gujarat police to bring her here,' she said.

In Gandhinagar, Modi called for a thorough 'scrutiny' of NGOs. 'Wednesday's incident raises serious questions. The country, its citizens and constitutional bodies now need to look into the role of NGOs,' he said.

Sources close to Modi said the government is considering a proposal to probe the sources of funds of some NGOs, including Setalvad's.

In the Mumbai court, an accused in the massacre case claimed that Setalvad had 'threatened' him. The court has taken the complaint on record.

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