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  From the very beginning the Best Bakery trial has been held up as an example of how justice is being subverted in Gujarat

The Shame of Gujarat

“I Paid Zaheera Sheikh Rs 18 Lakh”

A Tehelka Sting Reveals Why The Prime Witness
Keeps Changing Her Stand

A month-long Tehelka sting operation has sensationally revealed that Zaheera Sheikh, the prime witness in the Best Bakery case was paid Rs 18 lakh by BJP MLA and close associate of Narendra Modi, Madhu Srivastava. His cousin brother, Chandrakant Batthoo Srivastava, a Congress corporator for the Hanuman Tekri locality in which Best Bakery is located, also confirmed the ugly fact. When Zaheera first turned hostile at the Vadodara fast track court on May 21, 2003, she had already counted the bucks. At the time, her testimony ensured the acquittal of the 21 accused.

From the very beginning the Best Bakery trial has been a test case for ensuring justice in Gujarat. The prime witness Zaheera Sheikh, despite the obstacles put up by the Gujarat government at each step, has been the focus of this pursuit for justice. Zaheera’s flip-flops have been playing havoc with the progress of the trial, undermining the process of justice.

In the course of the investigation, Tehelka reporters managed to ensure their presence at meetings where Madhu Srivastava and Madhu’s cousin Batthoo Srivastava, a Congress corporator, described in detail how Zaheera had been paid off. They did so while talking to a Vadodara Corporator Nisar Bapu whose son has been convicted in a riot case. Their statements have been captured on camera and were shown by Tehelka at a press conference in Delhi on December 22, 2004.

Moreover, the conversations with Madhu and Batthoo took place separately. Neither had any knowledge that the other had been approached, thus neither could have had an idea of what the other had said or would say. Their versions tally, confirming the authenticity of each version.

Both Madhu and Batthoo state that Zaheera and her family were the ones who took the initiative to approach Madhu for such a compromise. According to Madhu, `` Hum koi bulane nahin gaye the us ko (we did not go to call her)’’. Asked how much he had paid her, Madhu said, ``18 lakh rupaih (Rs 18 lakh)’’.

Batthoo confirmed the sequence of events, ``Madhu ke paas ghadi ghadi, ghadi ghadi akha khandan jawe. Ghadi, ghadi. Nahin, hamari bakery chaloo ho jayegi, ye ho jayegi. Tum humko kuch kara do, ye kara do. Saala kantal kar diya. Phir chhele Madhu ne jab decision liya, ki chalo bhai is ko paise dila do. To baat chali, to koi 25 lakh se chali.
18-20 lakh pe atki. To sab se paise ikhatte kar ke, 18 lakh rupaih poore cash diye usko (The whole family would keep going to Madhu, time and again, time and again. Do this for us, do this, our bakery will get started again, this will happen. Drove us up the wall. Then finally Madhu took the decision that let us give her the money. First it started from Rs 25 lakh and got stuck at Rs 18 to 20 lakh. Then after collecting cash from everyone, she was given Rs 18 lakh in cash).’’

Two things clearly mark out this investigation. At no stage were Madhu and Batthoo under any duress, nor were they offered any allurement to make these statements. The Tehelka reporter only happened to be present at the meetings where these conversations took place. It is also clear that in view of Zaheera’s latest about turn there is no reason for Madhu Srivastava and his cousin to say anything that would compromise her standing as a witness.

While reaffirming the truth of what happened at Best Bakery, the investigation establishes that Zaheera is now lying about what she knows. Tehelka further undertook to go to Zaheera Sheikh’s remote village in Uttar Pradesh. There, her maternal grandmother Zareena Shahu, who knows nothing of the twists and turns in the case, has reconfirmed the version that Zaheera had first given the police. Zareena was present when the mob attacked the Best Bakery and had returned to her native village Jhakiya, two months after the incident. Speaking to Tehelka she related how she witnessed the death of her son Kausar at the hands of the mob on that day. Zaheera now claims Kausar was never even employed at the bakery. Surprisingly Zareena is not listed as a witness in the case.

The damaging truth is out. The sting operation reveals extremely dangerous trends about our democracy and raises critical questions. Why do we still have a system where witnesses – even in such high profile cases – can be bought? Will there never be any justice for riot-affected families? Will innocents continue to die in vain? Will money and muscle power always derail fairplay and justice? It is now for the Supreme Court to ensure that truth and justice prevail.


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