Journalist | Writer | Analyst
The Times of India
4 January 2015
Closed encounters of the ominous kind
The most astonishing aspect of the CBI court’s decision to release Amit Shah from all charges connected to the 2005-06 murders of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati is not that the judge chose to see the BJP president’s prosecution as politically motivated. Rather, it is that the Central Bureau of Investigation doesn’t seem particularly worried about the judgment’s implications for its own reputation and for the very future of the fake encounter case.
While discharging Shah from the sensational crime, the court has not only thrown out crucial evidence against the former Gujarat home minister but also undermined the foundations of the case that remains against some two dozen police officials before their trial has even begun.
Questioning the CBI’s contention that there was a conspiracy to kill Sohrabuddin — a gangster with connections to the Gujarat police and political establishment who had become an embarrassment to his erstwhile patrons — the judge said the police had every reason to “nab” him since there were cases against him. The implication of this reasoning is that the “encounter” in which he was killed was genuine! The fact is that Sohrabuddin was not arrested but abducted from a bus and murdered. As was his wife, who was travelling with him. This was first established not by the CBI but by the Gujarat CID, which made the initial arrests of senior police officers like DG Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian and Dinesh MN. Also, it was Gujarat police officers like Rajnish Rai and V L Solanki who helped piece together the crime’s ‘political’ aspects, including the conspiracy to derail the investigation.
It was because of this conspiracy that the Supreme Court gave the case to the CBI. “(C)onsidering the involvement of the State police authorities and particularly the high officials of the State of Gujarat,” the SC ruled in January 2010, “we are compelled … to direct the CBI authorities to investigate into the matter.” (emphasis added)
The SC had been told about a meeting Amit Shah held in December 2006 with the then DGP of Gujarat, PC Pande, ADGP , CID GC Raigar and IGP , CID Geetha Johri — then the lead investigator into the case — in which he had allegedly demanded that incriminating investigative reports prepared by Johri’s deputy, Solanki, be altered. Solanki refused to cooperate.Instead, he sought to interview Prajapati, who was a witness to Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi’s abduction. Prajapati had shouted in open court in November 2006 that the police were going to kill him because he knew too much. A few days before he was to speak to Solanki, he too was “encountered”.
Despite that setback, the investigation progressed after Rajnish Rai was put in charge in April 2007. Arrests were made but within a month, Rai was shifted. Johri was brought back and matters went into limbo for three years until the SC pulled her and the Gujarat police up for not properly investigating the linked murders.
Based on Raigar’s testimony and evidence like call records, the CBI eventually charge-sheeted Shah; Johri and Pande were also indicted for helping to destroy evidence. Astonishingly, the CBI court threw out Raigar’s statement against Shah simply because Pande and Johri denied the December 2006 meeting took place. In other words, the judge believed the claims of the two co-accused, one of whom had publicly been censured by the SC.
In its 2010 order, the SC had pulled up Johri and her bosses for not properly investigating the telephone trail: “So far as the call records are concerned … they (have) not been analyzed properly, particularly the call data relating to three senior police officers either in relation to Sohrabuddin’s case or in Prajapati’s case. It also appears from the (CID) charge sheet … that the motive … was not properly investigated into as to the reasons of their killing.” The apex court knew “the motive of conspiracy cannot be merely fame and name” for the policemen involved as the Gujarat CID claimed. It knew there were other actors. But when the CBI presented records to show how officers involved in the murders were in constant communication with Shah before and during their crime, the CBI court said the home minister being “in touch with ground level officers is not unusual … since terrorist activities have increased all over the world.”
Though the CBI court’s logic runs completely counter to the Supreme Court’s arguments, the future of the case now lies with the CBI. Will it aggressively push for an appeal for which it has very strong grounds, or will the ‘caged parrot’ flap its clipped wings and say only what its political masters want it to? The future of the rule of law, and indeed of democracy in India, will turn on this question.