Listen to this article:
New Delhi: A court on Friday acquitted BJP MLA Vikram Saini and 11 others who were accused of being involved in violence during the Muzaffarnagar communal riots of 2013. Saini, who in August 2013 was the pradhan of Kawaal village where the first incident of violence was reported after the killing of cousins Sachin and Gaurav, and others were let off over benefit of doubt after five prosecution witnesses turned hostile.
The latest acquittals came on the heels of the Uttar Pradesh government withdrawing 77 cases, some of which entailed punishment of even life imprisonment, in August 2021. The Wire had earlier reported that out of a total 510 cases, only in 165 cases final reports were submitted while 170 were expunged.
Thereafter 77 cases were withdrawn by the state government under Section 321 of CrPC, a move that invited the criticism of the amicus curiae in the matter senior advocate Vijay Hansaria. More importantly, the Adityanath-led BJP government did not deem it fit to explain the reasons for the decision, except citing that the administration had considered the cases before withdrawing the cases.
Even as legal proceedings in cases related to Muzaffarnagar riots are moving at a snail’s pace, the acquittal of Saini and 11 others marks yet another instance of circumvention of justice due to the state government’s failure to ensure protection of witnesses. In fact, the Adityanath government has been attempting to withdraw a number of cases against its party leaders. In December last year, the state government had also released a list of leaders against whom cases related to riots were being withdrawn. The list carried prominent names of three BJP MLAs – Sangeet Som, Suresh Rana and Kapil Dev – and Hindu right-wing leader Sadhvi Prachi.
Saini is currently the MLA of Khatauli, on whose acquittal the government counsel Nrendra Sharma told The Indian Express that “Special Judge Gopal Upadhyay acquitted Vikram Saini and 11 others over benefit of doubt due to lack of evidence.”
Saini and the other accused, who were out on bail, were present in court on Friday.
The case against them related to the murder of one Shahnawaz Qureshi at Kawaal, soon after Sachin and Gaurav were lynched.
The defence counsel, Bharatveer Ahlawat, said that the violence had broken out in Kawaal during the protest march over the killing of Sachin and Gaurav. Saini and others were facing charges of rioting and criminal intimidation. Ahlawat said that Saini is still facing charges of making hate speeches in two other cases.
Crucially, the Kawaal violence is believed to have triggered the Muzaffarnagar communal riots in which 65 people were killed and around 60,000 Muslims were displaced.
Saini has been in the news for controversial reasons several times. After Article 370 was read down in August 2019, he said that BJP workers were “excited” by the change as they can now marry “fair girls from Kashmir”. In January the same year, he said that all those who do not feel safe in India should be bombed. In January 2018, he had claimed that since India is called ‘Hindustan’, the country belongs to Hindus.