On March 1, 2002, in one of the most gruesome massacres during the religious violence in Gujarat, 14 people (11 Muslims including family members and 3 Hindu employees) hiding in Best Bakery, Baroda, 100km from Ahmedabad, were burnt alive when a Hindu mob set it on fire killing everyone inside. The Best Bakery case became one of the most publicized cases along with the cases of Naroda Patia, Gulbarg Society and Bilkis Bano. Narendra Modi in his ‘interviews’ with Madhu Kishwar spoke about all the cases except the Naroda Patia case in which Narendra Modi’s minister Maya Kodnani is serving a life term. In the interview televised on NewsX channel, Narendra Modi made the following claims vis-a-vis the Best Bakery case:
Best bakery case, this case was in Gujarat, the investigation was done by Gujarat police, charge-sheet was done in Gujarat ,evidence came from Gujarat and the witnesses came from Gujarat, and it was dismissed by the lower Court. After this the case went to the High Court where also it was dismissed after that the Supreme Court transferred the case. Case was transferred but the investigation by Gujarat police was continued, charge-sheet was continued.. what really changed was just the Judge..
Essentially, Narendra Modi is trying to take the blame away from the shoddy work done by Gujarat Police. While Narendra Modi talks about ‘witnesses coming from Gujarat‘, the fact is that in the 44 day trial of the Best Bakery case, 39 of the 77 witnesses turned hostile. The main witness Zaheera Sheikh, who had turned hostile, had walked into the court room with BJP MLA Madhu Srivastava. Srivastava had earlier ‘promised that witnesses would turn hostile in court.’ He was prescient: they did.
While acquitting ALL the 21 accused in the case, in his judgement, Judge Hemantsinh U Mahida observed:
There was not even an iota of trustworthy evidence in the crime of the accused presented before the court.
Judge Mahida also noted:
It seems the police fabricated the statements and got them signed from the injured.
While Narendra Modi tries to portray as if the Gujarat Police did a good job, Justice Mahida pinned the entire blame on Gujarat police for their shoddy investigation and the ‘untrustworthy evidence’ that they had collected. Besides reaching the spot eight hours after the incident, the police filed the charge-sheet against the 21 accused only on June 24, 2002, i.e. 115 days after the incident took place on March 1.
Supreme Court in its famous judgement, in which Narendra Modi was called the Modern Day Nero, lambasted the Additional Sessions Judge, the Public Prosecutor (APP) and the Police.
Quoting from Case No. Appeal (crl.) 446-449 of 2004
In our view, in a murder trial it is sordid and repulsive matter that without informing the police station officer-in-charge, the matters are proceeded by the court and by the APP and tried to be disposed of as if the prosecution has not led any evidence. From the facts stated above, it appears that accused wants to frustrate the prosecution by unjustified means and it appears that by one way or the other the Addl. Sessions Judge as well as the APP have not taken any interest in discharge of their duties. It was the duty of the sessions judge to issue summons to the investigating officer if he failed to remain present at the time of trial of the case. The presence of investigating officer at the time of trial is must. It is his duty to keep the witnesses present. If there is failure on part of any witness to remain present, it is the duty of the court to take appropriate action including issuance of bailable/non-bailable warrants as the case may be. It should be well understood that prosecution can not be frustrated by such methods and victims of the crime cannot be left in lurch.
The Supreme Court clearly stated that the Additional Sessions Judge Hemantsinh U Mahida and the Gujarat Government appointed Public Prosecutor Raghuvir Pandya had not taken any interest in discharge of their duties. As it turned out, Shri Raghuvir Pandya, the public prosecutor in this case at the time of questioning the witnesses, was a card-holding member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contested elections from Ward 20, Vadodara in the 1996 Corporation Elections and represented BJP.
Supreme Court had further lambasted Gujarat Police and the State Government by stating that those who were responsible for protecting life and properties seemed to have shown no real anxiety to do so:
Those who are responsible for protecting life and properties and ensuring that investigation is fair and proper seem to have shown no real anxiety. Large number of people had lost their lives. Whether the accused persons were really assailants or not could have been established by a fair and impartial investigation. 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. Law and justice become flies in the hands of these “wanton boys”. When fences start to swallow the crops, no scope will be left for survival of law and order or truth and justice. Public order as well as public interest become martyrs and monuments.
Narendra Modi’s commentary on the Best Bakery case are just blatant lies. Everybody in the state machinery was compromised which is why the cases had to be transferred to Mumbai to get justice. Similarly other such riot cases had to be transferred out of Gujarat to get justice.