There was no conspiracy behind the killing of 69 persons in Gulberg Society on February 28, 2002, said the verdict of the special court Thursday as it held 11 of the 60 accused alive guilty of murder, 13 of other related crimes like rioting and acquitted 36 including the presiding inspector of Meghaninagar police station KG Erda, who was the complainant in the case and later arraigned as an accused.
While the Gulberg verdict is not the first of the nine bigger riot cases being re-investigated by the SIT after an SC rap, that has dumped the conspiracy theory, not upholding conspiracy in this massacre could lead to a weakening of the other case by Zakia Jafri made out against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 61 others, accusing them of a larger conspiracy in the 2002 riots, in which she is challenging the clean chit given to him.
In the case of the Godhra Sabarmati Express burning case where 59 persons were killed, provoking the massacres like Naroda Patia and Gulberg, and others, the court upheld the conspiracy theory, but acquitted the alleged “mastermind” Maulana Umarji, who later died.
In the light of verdicts delivered in the Naroda Patia and Sabarmati Express carnage cases by special courts set up on the directions of the SC, this verdict does not seem to add up. Naroda Patia became a landmark judgment to convict a former minister in the Gujarat government Dr Maya Kodnani to a life term, and call her a “kingpin” of the massacre. It became the first communal riot case in the country where a former minister was convicted.
Even as the defence lawyer in the Gulberg case, has alleged that there was a “conspiracy” to include conspiracy charges, dropping of the 120 B section of the IPC, which makes the murder and rioting offence graver by showing that there was a “meeting of minds”, could have larger legal impact on the pending riot case verdicts.
Earlier too, special court verdicts in post Godhra riots like Sardarpura where 33 people died and Dipda Darwaja where 11 people died, had junked the conspiracy theory. Both offences were of Sabarkantha district. In fact in Dipda darwaja, the court did not even uphold murder charge and only convicted the accused of “attempt to murder”.
Conspiracy, however was upheld in the Ode case of Anand district, which was also in the list of nine cases probed by the SIT led by ex-CBI director RK Raghavan.
The Gulberg case, however was seen as the weightiest of the major massacres, given that, from it branched out an FIR against Teesta Setalvad, who was accused of fraud by a section of the Gulberg victims, for whom she had been fighting and was investigated for alleged FCRA violations.
The case was also in the spotlight because one of the 69 people killed was former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri in whose house several Gulberg society residents had taken refuge. And that his widow Zakia, had accused then chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 bureaucrats, police officers and politicians in the dispensation of omission and commission in the riots. The inquiry into her complaint, conducted by the Raghavan-led SIT led to the questioning of Modi, the first case of a chief minister in office being interrogated. It eventually cleared him of the charges, even as Zakia continues to fight the battle through a protest petition filed against this verdict.