Apart from accusing the three of them of acting at the “behest” of late Congress leader Ahmed Patel, the Gujarat SIT probing charges against activist Teesta Setalvad, retired DGP R B Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has stated in an affidavit that they “paraded” a 2002 riot victim for “political campaigning”, and that they tried to rope in the father of former state home minister Haren Pandya, after he alleged government hand in the latter’s killing in 2003.
The SIT is probing charges of fabrication of evidence and conspiracy linked to the 2002 riots against Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt. It filed the affidavit on July 15 before an Ahmedabad Sessions Court opposing the bail plea of Setalvad, who was arrested on June 25 from Mumbai.
While alleging “political motive behind the efforts made by the applicant (Setalvad) to tarnish the image of the Government of Gujarat and its top functionaries”, the SIT affidavit says this is illustrated in the statement of one witness.
This witness reportedly told the SIT that Qutubuddin Ansari, whose photo in a bloodied shirt, tears rolling down his face and hands folded was widely circulated, had been approached by Rais Khan Pathan, then with Setalvad’s NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace. The affidavit says that the witness told them that “on the instructions of applicant (Setalvad), he (Ansari) and his family were taken to Mumbai and then to Kolkata and were paraded before various media channels on several occasions”.
Facing charges of “fabricating evidence” in the riots along with Setalvad, Khan had subsequently turned against her and accused her of tutoring witnesses, alleging in several trial courts and in an open letter that she sent him “pre-typed” testimonies of riot witnesses.
The SIT affidavit, signed by its Investigating Officer B C Solanki, says Setalvad used Ansari’s photographs and interviews “not only to collect huge funds in their names, but also for political campaigning to malign the image of Gujarat”. According to the affidavit, “Qutubuddin Ansari further stated that when he became aware of the political and financial misuse of his image, he returned to Gujarat. The witness stated that he (Ansari) had been called by the petitioner (Setalvad) to her lawyer’s office in Ahmedabad and intimidated and chastised for leaving her team. The witness stated before the investigation officer that he (Ansari) has made several appeals to all media channels and had also preferred an application before Ahmedabad city police praying to impose a ban on the use of his image in the future.”
As per the affidavit, this had also been corroborated by another witness.
The photo of Ansari, a tailor, had been taken during the riots in Naroda Patiya. He was believed to have moved to West Bengal after the riots but later returned. Speaking to The Indian Express in 2019, Ansari had refused to disclose when he moved to Ahmedabad, only saying that he came back “after things became normal”.
Further referring to the “political nature of the conspiracy of involving political authorities of Government of Gujarat in vexatious and malicious prosecution”, the SIT’s affidavit says that one of the two witness who were interrogated — parts of their statements were cited – had talked of Setalvad’s interest in Haren Pandya’s father Vitthalbhai, since deceased.
“… when the applicant (Setalvad) became aware of a statement made by Shri Vitthalbhai Pandya, father of late Shri Haren Pandya, former minister of Gujarat, before the media channels alleging that the then CM of the state of Gujarat is responsible for the murder of his son, the applicant (Setalvad) attempted to be in contact with Shri Vitthalbhai Pandya and to make him join Citizens for Justice and Peace.”
A BJP MLA and former home minister, Pandya was murdered in Ahmedabad by two unidentified assailants.
The SIT affidavit says that Vitthalbhai was “also taken to Bombay to meet the applicant (Setalvad)”, and that a “written complaint of Shri Vitthalbhai Pandya was prepared” in the office of Setalvad’s advocate “as per the advice and instructions of the applicant and the co-accused RB Sreekumar”. According to the SIT, when Vitthalbhai was called to Setalvad’s lawyer’s office, “to obtain his signature on the already drafted complaint, Shri Vitthalbhai Pandya refused to sign as names of several innocent persons had been mentioned as accused in the said prepared complaint…”.
The Supreme Court judgment of June 24 that upheld the clean chit given by that SIT to the Modi-led state government, while indicting Setalvad, Bhatt and Sreekumar, had also talked of Pandya’s testimony to the 2002 riots SIT. The Court said that contrary to his and Bhatt’s statements, they were not present during a ‘law and order’ meeting convened by Modi on the night of February 27, 2002, after the Godhra train burning.