On 27 January 2007, when he heard Yogi Adityanath declare that the blood of ten Muslims would be spilt to avenge one Hindu, Parvez Parwaz was torn between completing his reporting assignment and fleeing the scene. But not only did Parwaz end up recording the hate speech, delivered near the gate of the railway station in Gorakhpur, the local reporter and a lawyer Asad Hayat also filed a criminal complaint against the Hindutva hardliner, accusing him of inciting the communal violence that followed.
"I was afraid but I also wanted to finish my assignment," Parwaz recalled in an interview to HuffPost India on Tuesday. "I was afraid then and I still feel afraid after 11-12 years. I have come to accept that anything could be done to me on any given day."
Eleven years after violence broke out in eastern UP, Adityanath, who represented Gorakhpur in the Lok Sabha for nearly two decades, is the chief minister of the state. For over a decade, that police complaint has been an albatross around his neck.
This week, Parwaz's plea in the Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the concerted effort by UP's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to get rid of the charges pending against Adityanath in connection with the riots.
In response to the petition filed by Parwaz, the Supreme Court has given the UP government two weeksto explain why Adityanath should not be prosecuted for delivering a hate speech.
Now 63 years old, Parwaz reflected on the absurdity of the situation. "On the one hand, he is an accused man. On the other hand, the BJP government is saying that there will be no trial. Does that mean he will always stay an accused man?" he said.
I was afraid then and I still feel afraid after 11-12 years. I have come to accept that anything could be done to me on any given day.
In May 2017, shortly after the BJP swept to power in UP, the Yogi Adityanath government refused to grant sanction to prosecute five BJP leaders including Adityanath on charges of inciting communal violence in 2007.
While refusing the Crime Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CBCID) permission to prosecute, the Adityanath government told the Allahabad High Court that a forensic examination found the CD of Adityanath's speech had been tampered with. The CD which he had submitted to a court in Gorakhpur in 2008, Parwaz argued, was never sent to a forensic lab.
In February this year, the Allahabad High Court dismissed Parwaz's writ petition challenging the UP government's move. Parwaz then challenged the high court's decision in the Supreme Court.
Adityanath's government does not want only the violence of 2007 erased from public memory. Earlier this year, it also began the process of withdrawing cases in connection with the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. This has, however, hit a roadblock. Last week, Rajeev Sharma, the District Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, opposed the withdrawal of cases against senior BJP leaders on administrative grounds. "I have advised the government that withdrawal of the riot cases can't be recommended," he said.
Reflecting on this, Parwaz said, "Will you say that the DM disobeyed the orders of the CM? No, he did not disobey the CM. In the light of the rule of law, he said these cases cannot be withdrawn. We want rule of law to respected. It isn't a matter of being in power for five years. The future of the country rests on the rule of law."
The future of the country rests on the rule of law.
While appearing in Rajat Sharma's Aap Ki Adalat in August 2014, Adityanath admitted that he made the speech in contention in 2007. Laughing and smiling as the audience applauded, Adityanath said his remarks were "conditional".
Despite Parwaz's criminal complaint against Adityanath in 2007, and the FIR registered against him in 2008 following intervention by the Allahabad High Court, successive governments led by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party failed to prosecute the BJP leader.
Parwaz says that he is both reconciled to and weary of how long it takes to get justice in India.
"This is the pace of justice in the country. We cannot go outside the system of justice we have. Imagine the number of dates in the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court takes our request for further investigation (by the Central Bureau of Investigation), it could be another five years. When we reach a trial after 20 years, then we don't know how much evidence will be left," he said.
His quest for justice is ultimately about assigning responsibility, says Parwaz.
"I don't know how much time it will take to get justice, but what is right is that people should be held responsible, and their responsibility should be highlighted," he said.
Parwez blames Akhilesh Yadav, who was chief minister when the CBCID found grounds to prosecute Adityanath and sought permission from the then Samajwadi Party government. It never got the go-ahead.
"If Akhilesh Yadav had given permission for the prosecution, then the accused man (Adityanath) would either be in jail or on bail. The situation we are facing today, the mob lynchings that are happening today, these things would not have happened," Parwaz said. "If he had given permission then, this whole game would have been over."
Parwaz, however, does not think communal riots like the one that occurred in Gorakhpur in 2007 are likely under the Yogi Adityanath government in UP. When asked why, he said, "Who will get it done?"
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