Activist Teesta Setalvad, who was asked by a high court to “surrender immediately” in a case related to the Gujarat riots, will have to await the decision of a three-person high court session after two judges of the supreme court disagreed on the ruling on Saturday.
Judges Abhay S Oka and Prashant Kumar Mishra, who first heard the case at a special hearing, urged the Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud to reassign the case to a larger court as the two judges did not agree could agree on a decision. The activist has been on provisional bail since September, but could face immediate arrest if the Supreme Court does not overturn the Supreme Court’s new order.
Earlier on Saturday, the Gujarat High Court rejected Setalvad’s regular plea for bail and ordered her immediate surrender. The court charged Ms Setalvad with attempting to disrupt a democratically elected government and defaming the reputation of the then Prime Minister and current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Justice Nirzar Desai, who is presiding over the case, expressed concern that granting bail would send a false signal of clemency in a democratic country.
Setalvad was initially arrested in June last year along with former Director General of Gujarat Police RB Sreekumar and ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt. The three were charged with fabricating evidence to implicate innocent people in cases related to the riots in Gujarat in 2002. The Supreme Court granted Ms Setalvad provisional bail on 2 September 2022.
The Supreme Court ruling revealed that Setalvad had used her close associates and riot victims to file false and fabricated affidavits with the Supreme Court to undermine the establishment. The court expressed concern that similar tactics could be used in the future to destabilize a government or create danger for the nation or a particular state.
The court also commented on Ms Setalvad’s role as a social leader, saying she helped riot victims with the intent of personal and political gain. Ms. Setalvad, a Padma Shri recipient and former member of the Planning Commission, was also charged with preparing false statements and persuading victims to submit them to the Supreme Court and other forums.
The court further stated that any leniency to Ms. Setalvad could encourage others to act illegally, potentially leading to polarization. The court also expressed concern about Ms Setalvad’s influence and stated that she could go to any lengths to further her agenda, including intimidating witnesses and tampering with evidence.
The case against Ms. Setalvad, Mr. Sreekumar and Mr. Bhatt was registered after the June 24 verdict in the Zakia Jafri case. The Supreme Court rejected the petition filed by Ms Jafri, whose husband and former MP Ehsan Jafri was killed in the riots. The court noted an attempt by disgruntled officials and others to create a sensation by making false disclosures.
The 2002 Gujarat riots were triggered by a mob setting fire to a Sabarmati Express bus near Godhra station, killing 59 Hindu pilgrims. At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Gujarat in the violence that followed.