At Ahmed Patel’s behest, Teesta and others plotted to destabilise Gujarat govt: SIT

The Gujarat Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing charges of fabrication of evidence and conspiracy linked to the 2002 riots against activist Teesta Setalvad, retired DGP R B Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has stated in an affidavit that the accused were allegedly part of a “larger conspiracy” for “dismissal or destabilisation” by “hook or by crook” of the then state government. It stated that this was done allegedly at the “behest” of the late Ahmed Patel, who was political advisor to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at the time.

The affidavit was filed by the SIT’s Investigating Officer B C Solanki before the City Civil and Sessions Court in Ahmedabad on Friday. It states that Setalvad allegedly obtained “illegal financial and other benefits and rewards from the political party” for implicating and prosecuting “various authorities and other innocent persons in the State of Gujarat including the then Chief Minister”.

Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt are being investigated in relation to an FIR lodged in Ahmedabad on June 25, a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a plea against the clean chit given to Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat’s chief minister, and others in cases related to the 2002 riots.

In its order, the apex court had pointed to a “coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the state of Gujarat along with others… to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge”. It had said that those responsible for keeping the “pot boiling” for 16 years “need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”

The FIR lodged in Ahmedabad accuses Setalvad, Bhatt and Sreekumar of forging evidence, conspiracy and other charges pertaining to the riots.

Friday’s affidavit submits that statements of two witnesses taken during the ongoing probe “establish that the conspiracy was enacted by the present applicant (Setalvad), along with other accused persons at the behest of Late Shri Ahmed Patel, the then Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha and Political Advisor to the President of the Indian National Congress”.

The affidavit states that Setalvad allegedly “started to act as part of this conspiracy from the very beginning, as just few days after Godhra train incident the applicant had held meetings with Late Shri Ahmed Patel and had received Rs 5 lakh at the first instance where the money was given to her by one witness on the instructions of Late Shri Ahmed Patel”.

It alleges that “two days later, in a meeting conducted at the Government Circuit House Shahibaug between late Shri Ahmed Patel and the applicant (Setalvad)…the said witness had handed over Rs 25 lakh more to the applicant (Setalvad) on instruction of Late Shri Ahmed Patel”.

The affidavit claims that the “money given to the applicant (Setalvad) was not part of any relief-related corpus as all relief material in the form of food materials and other essential commodities was provided across Gujarat by one Gujarat Relief Committee. The presence of several political leaders at Shahibaug Circuit House during this period of meeting including that of Late Shri Ahmed Patel is corroborated by material collecting in the investigation”.

Referring to the purported witness statements, the affidavit claims they “further reflect that meetings were also held at the New Delhi residence of Late Shri Ahmed Patel where the applicant (Setalvad) and other accused person, Sanjiv Bhatt, had met Shri Ahmed Patel, approximately four months after the riots in clandestine manner”.

When contacted by The Indian Express, Patel’s daughter Mumtaz Patel described the SIT’s charges as “really unfortunate”. “All I would like to say is that it’s unfair but very easy to use a deceased person’s name for headlines and sensationalism. He is not here to defend himself and as family, we don’t have any more comments as we were not involved in his work.”

The affidavit also states that the statements of witnesses allegedly “shows that on various occasions when Teesta Setalvad and Sanjiv Bhatt used to meet at the latter’s residence, talks used to be concerning the collection of fund in the name of riot-affected persons”.

It states that “ocular evidence collected by the investigating officer points to several meetings that were conducted in Delhi with political leaders after riots, wherein it was discussed by Setalvad with the leaders of a prominent national party in power at that time to implicate names of senior leaders of the BJP government of the state of Gujarat in these riot cases”.

The affidavit links “these revelations” to “an incident of exhumation of human skeletal remains from Pandarvada village of Mahisagar district that had happened in the year 2006”.

“The said witness has stated that he, (Setalvad) and R B Sreekumar had gone to the place along with various media personnel. During this visit, the applicant accused (Setalvad) had remarked that the BJP government would have to resign in three days,” it states.

The affidavit also notes that a riot victim, Qutubuddin Ansari, was allegedly approached by a person working with Setalvad’s NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace — and that Ansari and his family was “paraded before various media channels on several occasions”.

It states that Ansari’s photos and interviews were allegedly used by Setalvad “not only to collect huge funds in their names, but also for political campaigning to malign the image of Gujarat”.

The affidavit also cites email transactions that purportedly reveal that “top Congress leaders of Gujarat were in constant touch with Sanjiv Bhatt during the period of consideration”. It claims that Bhatt was allegedly “holding personal meetings with senior Congress leaders as well”.

The affidavit states that Setalvad allegedly “was tutoring” Sanjiv Bhatt before his deposition before the Nanavati Commission (probing the riots) with “mock questions and answers”.

Meanwhile, an Ahmedabad sessions court on Friday adjourned the hearing of the bail applications of Setalvad and Sreekumar in the Ahmedabad FIR to July 18.

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