After the Supreme Court struck down the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to 11 life-term convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, political parties in the state have largely remained silent on the issue, with the exception of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In his reaction to the Supreme Court’s order, the ruling BJP’s C K Raulji, the sitting Godhra MLA who was on the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) that ruled in favour of remission of the 11 convicts, told The Indian Express, “It is a court matter. I cannot comment on it till I study the court order.”
In 2022, Raulji courted controversy when he had referred to the released convicts as “Brahmins with good sanskar (values)”.
The AAP, which has four MLAs, welcomed the apex court’s verdict. The party’s national joint secretary Gopal Italia, who is also a practising lawyer, said those convicted by the courts of law in the cases of rape “should not be granted pardon under any constitutional law”.
“Even then, the Gujarat government granted pardon to some convicted rapists. The Supreme Court has overturned the decision and upheld their sentences. I believe this should be the punishment for those convicted for rape because if we begin releasing convicts of rape, what will be the message to society? Those who think women are inferior will be motivated to commit such crimes,” Italia told reporters outside the Rajpipla sub-jail, where AAP leader Chaitar Vasava has been lodged over an alleged case of extortion and assault on forest officers.
Italia said the SC has “restored” a common person’s hopes for justice by overruling the decision of a state government that had “set the law aside”. “The SC’s decision is laudable and welcome… Why should you pardon rapists, who have been convicted by a court? If it was any other crime like a brawl or assault, and someone has forgiven, one can consider. But what happened that a rapist becomes a ‘good man’? When governments put aside the law and make decisions, it is the duty of the Supreme Court to step in and protect the spirit of justice and it has upheld the hopes of the people,” Italia added.
Italia’s statement marked a departure from the AAP’s stance to avoid commenting on the 2002 riot-related cases. In August 2022, days after the 11 convicts in the Bilkis case were released, the party’s supremo Arvind Kejriwal had addressed a town hall in Kutch, but had refrained from commenting on the Gujarat government’s decision.
Meanwhile, Pravin Togadia, leader of the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), said “Hindu brethren should receive justice”, referring to the convicts. “We pray that everyone should get justice in this country… We pray that the Hindu brethren should receive justice and be protected… We will look at available legal remedies in the case (of the convicts),” Togadia said.
Togadia was the international general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in 2002, when the riots broke out in Gujarat. He resigned from the VHP in April 2018 and floated his outfit AHP.