Modi in a Mess

It now seems inevitable as another skeleton tumbles out of Narendra Modi’s closet. The controversy surrounding the involvement of the former minister of Home, Gujarat, Amit Shah, in the murder of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh, is getting more complicated and dense -for the BJP government. Five years after the encounter-death of the notorious extortionist, Modi stands face to face with the biggest challenge of his political career. He has to balance defending his junior (in office) and surviving a political battle that is wrapped in a twisted web of legal implications. This issue has certainly made life tougher for Modi and given the opposition something to rant about.  Opposition leader in the assembly, Shakti Sinh Gohil, says that this case is a measure of the government’s reverence for law and order. He stated that the Modi government had clearly lost the right to govern. As the case twists further, with the recent developments, it is more important to read between the lines to see that everything may not be as clear as it seems with the arrest of Shah.

Who was Sohrabuddin Sheikh?

Sheikh was a native of Jharaniya village near Ujjain, in MP. His life, on the path of crime, began in the year 1989 – as a carrier of narcotics for Chota Dawood, a henchman of Dawood Ibrahim, who also had links with terrorist organizations abroad. Later, he joined another gang of Abdul Latif Sheikh, who was also Dawood’s henchman. He was based in Ahmedabad and thus started Sheikh’s terror in the mercantile society of Gujarat and Rajasthan.  He was booked under TADA and sent to jail. After five years he managed to obtain bail from the Supreme Court. Thereafter he set out on a career of murder and extortion. He also made friends with a housewife, Kausarbi and lured her into running away with him leaving her husband and two kids. He was a terror to many and his death wouldn’t have caused much grief to anyone, but the fact that he was finished in such shady circumstances puts up a question on the integrity of the state and its scruples.

The Case as it Unfolded

In 2007 The Supreme Court asked the Gujarat CID and Crime Wing to look into the matter, for the first time. After human activists increased pressure,  the case was handed over to the CBI. Since the beginning of this year a central agency has been probing the case under the direct orders of the Supreme Court. With all the classified information and secret investigations it is a surprise that the charge sheet was leaked to the media. According to the charge sheet: senior officials of the IPS- D.G. Vanzara and Abhay Chudasama, currently in jail, were involved in extortion – under the name of Sohrabuddin. It is alleged that Shah also received a huge cut out of the money acquired through extortion. Sensing that this could destroy his political image forever, Shah decided to get rid of Sheikh. In November 2005, Vanzara and Chudasama got hold of Sheikh’s accomplice- Tusli Prajapati. He, alongwith Sohrabuddin and Kausarbi, were intercepted on the Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh border. Sohrabuddin was shot by the Gujarat ATS, on November 26. Two days later Kausarbi also met the same fate. Her body was burnt and her ashes thrown in the River Narmada – probably an attempt to destroy any evidence that could connect back to the culprits. After dodging the summons from the CBI, this month, Shah finally appeared before the central agency and was promptly arrested.

The Tightening of the Noose

Besides the charge sheet there are many other evidences presented by the central agency. There is a Sting operation that captures Ajay Patel and Yashpal Chudasama, Shah’s close associates, as they discuss how to destroy evidence. There is also a statement by a businessman, who was forced into giving upto 70 lakhs, as extortion money. There is also a statement by Sohrabuddin‘s brother Rubabuddin, who claimed that he was offered a bribe of 50 lakhs – by someone sent by Chudasama. There are also statements by Vanzara’s body guard and personal assistant, linking him to the case. But the real trouble for Shah comes in the name of N.K. Amin, the former deputy police superintendent, who was overlooking the case – under the Gujarat police. He is in jail – under the allegation of omitting important evidence from his reports. He has now moved an application in the Supreme Court to turn as an approver, in the case, and spill the beans. All this will make it just more than difficult for Shah to wriggle out of this one.

Two Sides of the Coin

This whole case raises serious doubts over the legitimacy of the state’s actions and the resulting investigations. The former home minister used a notorious criminal for extortion and later decided to do away with him. He went on to use his political privileges to suppress evidence. Such acts are totally unethical and not to mention – illegal. This is the second time in three years that the Modi government is faced with the task of warding off Sohrabuddin’s ghost.

The BJP alleges that the Congress is using the CBI to dig up issues and settle their political rivalry. There is no doubt that the Opposition will use this issue as a trump card – as the elections for the panchayat and the State Municipal Corporation are around the corner. Shah’s counsel, Ram Jethmalani, says that the fact that the charge sheet was leaked, before it even reached the accused, only goes to show that it is a political case. The CBI did not move the Court, for Shah’s remand, according to political analysts. This only proves that the case is more about political manipulations than legal justice. The question that needs to be asked is: why did it take so long for the CBI to reach this breakthrough? Is it just a coincidence that its timing is perfectly matched with the impending elections?

Whom do the ordinary people trust? When a senior aide,to the CM can be part of such a vicious circle – can the government make life safer for them? All this and more has to be answered, by both the parties, on either side of the battle line. For Modi and his political aides – it is time for some brainstorming and exercise in winning the faith of the people – to stay put in office.

Purva Bhatnagar

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