The sustained witch hunt of Teesta Setalvad began in 2003 and is still continuing

Seven cases filed since 2003, a CBI raid lasting 22 hours in 2015, sustained vilification for a decade and more, finally culminating into the arrest of Teesta Setalvad cannot diminish her contribution

The sustained witch hunt of Teesta Setalvad began in 2003 and is still continuing
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Shalini Sahay

Public memory is notoriously short and hence it would help if we get the timeline straight.

2002

• Mob gathers in the morning at Gulberg Society.

• Former MP Ehsan Jafri calls police and CM Narendra Modi

• Police fail to arrive.

• 60 people including Jafri are killed by early afternoon by the mob.

2009

• Gulberg Society resident Rupa Mody confirms in court that Jafri had called the CM for help and was abused over phone.

2010

• Narendra Modi told SIT that he learnt about the attack later in the evening.

• SIT fails to confront him with Rupa Mody’s testimony.

2022

• Supreme Court asks for legal action against petitioners who had challenged SIT’s clean chit.

• Gujarat Police arrests Teesta Setalvad for fabricating evidence against Narendra Modi. Former IPS officers RB Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt also booked.

The SIT had questioned the then Gujarat chief minister for several hours and the transcript made public recorded this exchange:

SIT investigator Malhotra: Did you receive any information about an attack by a mob on Gulberg Society? If so, when and through whom? What action did you take in the matter?

Narendra Modi: To the best of my knowledge, I was informed in the law & order review meeting held in the night about the attack on Gulberg Society in Meghaninagar and Naroda Patiya.

Residents of Gulberg Society had already testified in court that Zakia Jafri’s husband, Ehsan Jafri, had called Modi when an armed mob started gathering outside on February 28, 2002 and was rebuffed.

When no police help came, as a last resort, Ehsan Jafri called Narendra Modi. Modi did not listen to him, in fact he abused him, testified a survivor to the court. This was also confirmed by Rupa Mody, who lost her son at Gulberg Society that day.

Those who believe the then Gujarat CM was framed and defamed maintain that Modi did his best to contain the riots. But the SIT did not find it incredible that the CM would not be informed of the attack on Gulberg Society, a few kms from Ahmedabad Police Commissioner’s office, when the CM was himself monitoring the situation and had ministers stationed in the police control room. How did he remain oblivious of the attack in the state capital for six hours and more?

However, while dismissing the petition challenging the SIT’s clean chit to Narendra Modi, the Supreme Court had this to say:

“…The falsity of their (petitioners) claims had been fully exposed by the SIT…Intriguingly, the present proceedings have been pursued for last 16 years…including with the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved in the process of exposing the devious stratagem adopted (to borrow the submission of learned counsel for SIT), to keep the pot boiling, obviously, for ulterior design. As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”

The Supreme Court held that ‘mere failure or inaction of state administration’ in the face of communal violence was ‘no basis to infer conspiracy’.


The apex court reproduced 150 pages from SIT’s final report as annexure, but it ignored what the National Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court and the Gujarat High Court had said earlier on the ‘inept’ investigation by the state police and the SIT. They were convinced that it was not mere failure of inaction.

In fact the Supreme Court had observed in the Best Bakery case in April 2004, “…The modern day ‘Neros’ were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected…”

Within hours Gujarat Police registered an FIR accusing Teesta Setalvad among others of “fabricating evidence, instituting false proceedings and preparing false records”. While the police seemed to be acting on a paragraph, an unwarranted paragraph according to legal experts, in the judgment, several Constitutional experts were appalled.

Setalvad had told the BBC that the case against the clean chit given to Narendra Modi was based on depositions, call records and over 23,000 documents. Setalvad and her NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace had worked tirelessly to bring the culprits of the 2002 riots to book and secured over 125 convictions. It is unlikely that one paragraph from a Supreme Court judgment is enough to belittle her work.

But she was vilified for living in a large bungalow in Juhu, which she inherited from her great grandfather and in which she is a fourth-generation resident.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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