Cries of hypocrisy as Gujarat Congress Chief holds talks with Best Bakery accused

Victims of the 2002 riots were outraged after Gujarat Congress president met with Madhu Shrivastav, a BJP turncoat and one of the accused in the Best Bakery case
Gujarat PCC president Shaktisinh Gohil (File Photo | PTI)
Gujarat PCC president Shaktisinh Gohil (File Photo | PTI)

An unexpected meeting of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) President Shaktisinh Gohil with former BJP MLA Madhu Srivastav has created disquiet among victims of the 2002 Godhra riots. Shrivastav figures in the list of accused in the Vadodara Best Bakery case, in which at least 14 people -- including the owners -- are alleged to have been beaten to death by a mob.

Following the meeting, Madhu Shrivastav -- who was acquitted in the case -- intimated that he might join the Congress.

Shrivastav met Gohil at the Congress office in Ahmedabad, after which the ex-MLA hinted that he is not averse to joining the Congress. "Congress's tea is sweet," he said, after the meeting.

"I had previously met with BJP state president CR Patil. And now that I have Shaktisinh, I will make the right decision when the time comes," he had said.

However, soon after coming back to Vadodara late at night, Shrivastav clarified that he had gone to Ahmedabad for personal work and Shaktisinh called him. "We are old friends come and have tea. So I went to meet him, but there was no political talk."

Madhu Shrivastav, who is as well known for his showy costumes as for his ability to stir up controversy, rose to national fame after Zahira Sheikh, a crucial witness in the Best Bakery 2002 Gujarat riots case, accused him of threatening her. Although Shrivastav rejected the claims, Sheikh later became a hostile witness in the case.

The bakery attack was part of the Godhra Riots in early 2002. According to the prosecution's case, on March 1, 2002, a mob of over 1,000 people invaded Best Bakery in Vadodara's Hanuman Tekri, looted bakery supplies, and set fire to the ground-plus-one structure that contained the shop as well as the owner's family and staff.

"The attackers lured the bakery owner's family and staff out with the promise of minor beatings, but slaughtered at least 14 of them, including women and children," according to the prosecution.

After the witnesses became hostile, a Vadodara court acquitted all 21 suspects on June 27, 2003. Madhu Shrivastav used to regularly figure at the receiving end of Gujarat Congress's attacks during the time.

"Now the true truth of Congress has come in front of people, Congress has never seriously fought for the victims of riots, if it had fought, all the accused would not have been released today," said Shamshad Pathan, a human rights activist and counsel for 2002 riot victims.

“The Congress has always toyed with people's emotions in the same manner that the BJP has utilized riots for political purposes, and Madhu Srivastava's meeting with the Congress President is confirmation of that," he added.

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