Ahmedabad, Sept. 17: When the country’s highest court raps out a stern one-line order, even men of steel lose their sleep. Gujarat’s officials and ministers are no exception.
The Supreme Court’s order — “You have to remain present in the court on September 19 at 10.30 am” — has made chief secretary P.K. Lahari and director-general of police K. Chakravarthy nervous, their unease compounded by the absence of written queries which would have helped them prepare their answers.
“We do not know what the court wants to know,” the chief secretary is said to have told one of his colleagues.
The police chief refused to hazard a guess, but appeared more resolute. “It is difficult for me to guess. I have no idea what the court is going to ask us,” he said. “But I am going prepared to clarify and answer any query.”
Amit Shah, the home minister of the riot-ravaged state, seemed uncomfortable but put up a brave front, saying the two top officials will explain whatever the court wants to know.
However, considering the background of the apex court’s order, it is unlikely that the two officials do not anticipate what they could be asked to explain in court. More than Lahari, who superseded two senior officers to the post of chief secretary a few months ago, it is the DGP who would have to do a lot of explaining. Chakravarthy, police chief for the last two years, has been criticised for his inability to control the post-Godhra violence that claimed more than a thousand lives.
Questions relating to the Best Bakery massacre case — in which all those accused of burning to death 14 people were acquitted after most of the witnesses turned hostile — would be difficult to answer. The fast-track court had expressed “helplessness” while acquitting the 21. With the apex court keeping a watch on developments in Gujarat, it is this helplessness that haunts the Narendra Modi government.
The two officials may have to explain why so many witnesses turned hostile and why the public prosecutor appeared to be colluding with the accused. They may also have to answer why the appeal against the acquittals filed by the state government in Gujarat High Court — which the apex court called an “eyewash” — had no prayer for retrial.
Queries on investigation into riot cases and appointment of public prosecutors with alleged RSS and VHP backgrounds will be difficult to explain, though the DGP claims he is “well prepared”. A senior official in the chief minister’s office said the approach of the two government big guns will be to give a positive impression and an assurance that the government would do as the court directs.
To please the Supreme Court, sources said, the two officials might agree to redraft the appeal filed in the high court and assure a free and fair trial.
The National Human Rights Commission, which had approached the Supreme Court seeking retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat, might become a party to the proceedings. If it does, it would be bad news for the state government.
The government might have to hire an independent counsel from outside the state. And if retrial in the Best Bakery case is ordered, an independent agency may be asked to investigate.
That, the sources said, will be the worst-case scenario for the BJP government, which had dismissed the demand that an independent agency investigate the case.