Six-time Godhra MLA and former Gujarat Cabinet minister Chandrasinh Raulji, popularly known as CK Raulji, was part of the Godhra Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) that granted remission to 11 life-term convicts in the Bilkis Bano case in August. The strongman, who is eyeing a seventh term in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, had stirred up the hornet’s nest when he referred to the released convicts as “Brahmins with good sanskar”.
Standing in a row outside the gates of Godhra remand centre in Gujarat, western India, the 11 middle-aged just-released convicts could have been mistaken for visiting dignitaries receiving sweets and blessings from local admirers. They were part of a 2002 Hindu mob who had been released after serving 14 years of life sentences for one of the most heinous crimes in India’s recent history. Since their release in August – on India’s Independence Day no less – the men have scattered across the country.
Their release is now under challenge before the Supreme Court. The apex court is hearing three petitions, two of which are initiated by CPM politburo member Subhasini Ali and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
Raulji shifted from the Congress to the BJP in August 2017 ahead of the Assembly elections, bringing the constituency back into the BJP fold after a decade. Under him, the party also managed to gain control of the area’s civic body last year.
Asked if the decision to release convicts charged for gang rape and massacre could send out the wrong message to society and other rape-accused serving similar sentences of imprisonment, Raulji said at the time, “We have only taken a decision as per the process and guidelines of the state government. We did not see which caste or creed the convicts belong to. What happened back then was in the heat of a communal riot. They are not hardened criminals.”
Earlier, Raulji enjoyed the support of 22 percent Muslim voters in his constituency but his role in the JAC is likely to alienate the community. A senior BJP leader, however, opined, “His overall prominence in Godhra will still benefit the party.”
Although Raulji’s aides are confident that he will win a seventh term, senior party leaders refused to comment on the matter. “The tickets will be decided later. As per the party’s criteria for repeating candidates, it is likely that Godhra will see a fresh face,” said a BJP functionary.