Oct 14, 2006 at 06:29pm IST

BJP cheers as HC slams Godhra panel

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to rake up a political hue and cry over the Gujarat High Court's verdict terming the Centre-appointed Godhra probe Commission headed by Justice U C Banerjee as “unconstitutional," even as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government indicated it would appeal against it in the apex court.

Though upbeat about what they called a "vindication" of their stance, the BJP leaders appear to be unsure about the apex court's reaction to the high court's views.

In a ruling on Friday, the Gujarat High Court termed the appointment of the Banerjee Commission that probed the 2002 Godhra train carnage as "unconstitutional, illegal and void”. It has also directed that the report shall not be tabled in the Parliament.

TIME TO REJOICE: BJP leaders termed the Godhra probe Commission headed by Justice U C Banerjee as unconstitutional.

The Commission, in its interim report, had said the fire aboard coaches S-6 of the Sabarmati Express was an "accident" and ruled out arson by outsiders, alleged by many to be local Muslims.

The Commission was set up by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in 2004 ahead of the Bihar Assembly Elections to investigate the fire in train in which 59 people died on February 27, 2002, in Godhra. The incident had led to the horrific Gujarat riots in which nearly 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.

One of the victims had approached the court saying the formation of Banerjee Commission was unconstitutional, as the Gujarat government had already appointed Justice Nanavati Shah Commission to probe the incident.

The BJP leaders privately said the party was "upbeat" about the "morale boost" the verdict had brought for them.

"Many leaders feel that we should make it a big political issue. After all we have been haunted for so long for the Gujarat riots," a party leader said referring to the criticism the BJP had to face over the communal violence that followed the Godhra carnage.

Senior BJP leader Mukthar Abbas Naqvi said his party's stance that opposed formation of the Banerjee Commission, had already been vindicated twice by the people's verdict.


"We are not worried about the Supreme Court verdict. After the Commission was formed there were two elections - one in Gujarat in 2002 and another one in Bihar in 2005. Our (Chief Minister) Narendra Modi got clear victory and Lalu Prasad was ousted," Naqvi said.

BJP Spokesman Prakash Javadekar said the Court was clear that the Interim report of Banerjee Commission appointed by Yadav was a 'colourable exercise and malafide action' 31 months after Justice Nanavati Commission was appointed to go into the issue.

The Commission which came up with a strange theory of fire emanating within the S6 coach on Sabarmati Express had not recommended any safety measure which spoke volumes about the intent of the whole exercise.

The Commission did not even go into the report of the Railways Claim Board, which had awarded claims for the victim as the fire was caused because of the attack by the mob on the train.

The Ministry never challenged this report before appointing an alternate inquiry.

However, while Naqvi and Javadekar claim it was a big moral and political victory for the BJP, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Raghunath Jha brushed it off saying, "For the BJP everything is a political issue. We do not think that it is a moral defeat for us.

Lalu Prasad, who was in Hyderabad, refused to comment on the judgment.

"I will comment only after studying the judgment," he told reporters on Saturday.

Official sources said the government would appeal against the Gujarat court's verdict in the Supreme Court.

"We do not consider it as a blow to our government. After all it is a high court verdict and there were many instances in the past that the high court judgments have been reversed," said a minister in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Government, who did not want to be named.

He also said the government would look into the legal options to table the probe panel report in Parliament.

UPA sources said the government was relieved as the verdict came at a time when there was no parliament session. "If parliament was sitting, the BJP and its allies would have made it a big issue. Now we have time to approach the Supreme Court," said a Congress leader.

(With Inputs from IANS and UNI)