After the Gujarat High Court on Saturday denied regular bail to Teesta Setalvad in a case of alleged forgery and fabrication of evidence related to the 2002 Gujarat riots, the activist approached the Supreme Court seeking temporary protection.

Justice Nirzar Desai of the High Court directed Setalvad, who was out on interim bail, to surrender immediately. He also rejected her lawyer’s request to stay the verdict for 30 days.

A special bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra, however, differed on granting interim protection to Setalvad, Live Law reported. Justice Oka urged Chief Justice DY Chandrachud to assign the case to a larger bench.

Justice Oka orally observed that the High Court should have granted some breathing time to her to surrender.

Setalvad, along with former state Director General of Police RB Sreekumar and former Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt, has been accused of fabricating the evidence with the objective to destabilise the state government.

More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in the 2002 riots. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time.

Gujarat High Court order

In his Saturday’s order, the Gujarat High Court judge claimed that Setalvad had made attempts to unsettle a democratically elected government and tarnish the image of Modi.

“Enlarging such kind of person would send wrong signal as it may give signal that in democratic country everything would be so lenient that even if person go to extent of making efforts to unsit the then establishment and to disrepute the image of the then chief minister to the extent to see that he is sent to jail, that will encourage others also to act in similar manner,” Justice Desai wrote.

Setalvad, the High Court claimed, helped the riot victims with the intention to gain personal and political benefits by collecting huge funds and projecting herself as a social leader. She ultimately became a member of the Planning Commission, the court added.

The statement of the witnesses also show that the activist had prepared false affidavits and convinced the victims to file them before the Supreme Court and other forums to fulfil her and Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s political agenda, the court observed.

The Gujarat government has claimed that Patel, who died in 2020, had paid Rs 30 lakh to Setalvad to unseat the Modi government following the riots.

In his verdict, Justice Desai described Setalvad as a “very influential person” and claimed that she can go to any extent to achieve her agenda. She has also shown courage in the past “to threaten the witnesses, tamper with the evidence and influence the people”, the judge alleged.

The High Court said that if such an applicant is given bail, then the verdict will “deepen and widen the communal polarisation”.

Justice Desai added:

“If any leniency is shown towards such person, there is strong possibility that in future also, we may see many more persons coming out openly to help any entity in fulfilling their agenda in an illegal and unlawful manner and show readiness to do anything by playing with the sentiments of the community just to ensure that particular political party gets sufficient swing in their favour by changing the mindset of people by exploiting their religious and communal feelings and provoking them as persons who are oppressed and are not given justice by the establishment.”

— The Gujarat High Court

Arrests of Setalvad and Sreekumar

Setalvad and Sreekumar were arrested on June 26. Their bail pleas were rejected by the sessions court on July 30, after which they approached the High Court.

Setalvad later moved to the Supreme Court after objecting to a long gap between the hearings in the High Court. She was granted interim bail on September 2. On November 25, Sreekumar also secured interim bail for two months from the Gujarat High Court.

On June 24, the Supreme Court dismissed Zakia Jafri and Setalvad’s plea challenging Modi’s exoneration in the violence. Zakia Jafri is the wife of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, was hacked to death when a mob went on a rampage in Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, setting fire to homes.

While dismissing the petition, the Supreme Court noted that certain people had filed the petition “to keep the pot boiling for ulterior design”. It said that these people must be “in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law”.

A day after the judgement, Setalvad and Sreekumar were booked by the Gujarat Police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad. The first information report filed against them quoted heavily from the Supreme Court judgement.

Just before she was arrested, Union Home Minister Amit Shah accused Setalvad of feeding baseless information to the police about the riots to tarnish Modi’s image.