The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Teesta at SC door with probe plea

Mumbai/Ahmedabad, Nov. 6: The Best Bakery rollercoaster took another sharp plunge today as rights activist Teesta Setalvad knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court for a probe into Zahira Sheikh's stunning somersault three days ago.

The 20-year-old key witness had on Wednesday accused Setalvad of 'tutoring' her to implicate innocent people in the March 2002 bakery carnage. Setalvad had helped Zahira take the case to the apex court after a Vadodara court allowed all the accused to go scot-free.

In an application filed in the apex court registry, Setalvad said the trial had been shifted to Mumbai on the basis of Zahira's statements on the 'woeful lack of cooperation from investigating and prosecuting agencies'. All affidavits in English had been translated into Hindi before Zahira signed them, she pointed out.

Setalvad, who is associated with the NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, declined comment on what could have spurred Zahira's turnaround. But she said the case would stand in spite of it as the testimonies of several witnesses were yet to be heard.

Questioning what the Vadodara police chief was doing when Zahira recanted, Setalvad said the role of Gujarat police ' the State of Gujarat is the prosecution though the trial has been shifted out ' had to be scanned as protecting key witnesses was part of their responsibility.

The Narendra Modi government refused to be drawn into the controversy. 'This is a matter between Teesta Setalvad and Zahira Sheikh. We do not have to react or overreact,' home minister Amit Shah said. He added that the state had no role to play unless Zahira made a 'specific' request. 'She wanted security, we have provided it.'

Javed Anand, another activist associated with the NGO fighting for Zahira's cause, said Setalvad had sought a probe at the highest level but had left it to the court to decide the agency.

As Zahira was today shifted from a resort on Ahmedabad's outskirts to an undisclosed location under police protection, anger erupted in a Vadodara locality. Her erstwhile neighbours in Ektanagar ' where she stayed for a year after the Godhra riots ' charged her with betraying their trust.

Claiming they had given her a house at a subsidised rate of Rs 55,000 because she was the 'face of riot victims fighting for justice', they accused her of 'colluding with the state government'. Many trooped to the nearby KGN park grounds after breaking their Ramazan fast in the evening and burnt her effigy.

'If she wanted money, we would have given her money. We supported her believing she had the courage to speak out. But she sold herself,' fumed Mohammed Ashraf, a community leader.

A resident, Ayesha Khan, said Zahira had become such a 'hate figure' and an 'outcast' in Vadodara that she had no option but to live in a Hindu-dominated locality in future. Many people were so furious that they had pledged never to name their daughters Zahira.

Another community leader said Zahira had probably grown too big for Setalvad to handle and the two had fallen out. Zahira's status as a celebrity witness had gone to her head and she could have made demands that Setalvad refused to meet, he said.

In Mumbai, the special court hearing the bakery retrial extended the summons issued to Zahira, her mother and two brothers to November 17. They did not show up in court two days ago.

Special public prosecutor Manjula Rao said she might push for a bailable warrant if they fail to appear by then.

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