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Mainstream, VOL LI No 44, October 19, 2013

However High You Be, the Law is Above You

Monday 21 October 2013, by Badri Raina

The declaimed prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party seems distinctly apprehensive, and therefore angry.

As his political persona marches fast forward, albeit with contradictions and hiccups—the latest one being the declaration that he would like to see toilets built before temples, a sentiment first expressed by Jairam Ramesh of the Congress party, only then to be bashed by the Hindutva brigade, who now can find only good things to say when Modi says the same thing, leaving us to wonder what implications this might have for project Ram Mandir in Ayodhya—with most corporate electronic channels in attendance to give it the dimensions of an overwhelming fait accompli, the hype does not appear to succeed in shaming his legal answerabilities into non-existence.

Among the score or more fake encounter murders committed in Gujarat under his watch, the investigative career of the Ishrat Jahan case seems stubborn in its insistence to reach a logical end.

Reportedly, in his interrogation by the Central Bureau of Investigation, D.G.Vanzara, the IPS officer who has been in prison for some years, has stood by the averments he made in his letter to Modi written from jail. At the heart of those averments is his assertion that all the police officers now in the slammer only carried out the “conscious policy” of the Gujarat Government, and his anguish that those who made the policy (that encounters be carried out without due process) should not be in jail with them.

The Vanzara letter, a blow from an officer closest to the Chief Minsiter, may have been superseded in impact by the tape of a high-level meeting recorded clandestinely by another high-ranking officer, G.L. Singhal. The tape, as per reports, contains clear evidence of a conspiracy underway at the highest political levels of the Gujarat Government to scuttle the probe into the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter murder. Senior Ministers are heard to say how ranks must be closed if the SIT were to declare the encounter fake (although it was already declared so first by the Judicial Magistrate, Tamang, and then by the Gujarat Hight Court), and how the SIT itself must then be calumnised as being fake in itself. Guru Goebbels never forgotten by the Sangh Parivar.

Result: the CBI has had to carry their investigation forward to question three Ministers of the Gujarat Government, and prepare to question Amit Shah, however that might spook his grandiloquent project to win Uttar Pradesh for Narendra Modi.

Clearly anticipating where all that might lead in turn—it is to be noted that in the meeting recorded by Singhal on tape, one of the people in attendance was the Principal Secretary of Gujarat, one Murmu, someone who, per protocol, would have had to take the Chief Minister into confidence both before and after that meeting—Modi has predictably chosen at the public rally in Bhopal to shoot the CBI, equivalent of shooting the messenger, a circumstance against which the media never cease to grumble, but not this once.

Putting lung power to use, Modi has polemicised that the coming general elections will not be between him and the Congress but between him and the CBI, which is insistently caricatured as being the Congress Bureau of Investigation.

Cannily, his legal guru, Arun Jaitley, has done one better. He has sent a letter, as a clear pre-emptive ploy, to the Prime Minister, grieving about the “conspiracy” under foot, namely, to corner Modi legally through the CBI before the general elections of 2014, so that he is rendered politically neuter.

Now the sins of omission and commission by this investigative agency may be many, but those sins cannot be sourced to any one single political master. So noisy is the hype around Modi, and so reluctant the electronic channels to count the facts were it concerns him and his party, that some telling things on record are ignored and kept from the consideration of the hoi polloi. For example, that it was the same CBI that managed under the NDA rule to engineer a technical lacuna in the Babri mosque demo-lition case whereby the charge of “conspiracy” levelled against Advani and other stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar came to be dropped from reckoning.

More telling still, the obliging work done by the CBI in the case pertaining to the so fortuitous assassination of Modi’s erstwhile Cabinet colleague, Haren Pandya, wherein the “killers”—all Muslims—hauled up by the CBI were subsequently found to be innocent to the last man while the real assassins went scot free. To recall, Haren Pandya had made the grievous mistake of disclosing to the Citizen’s Enquiry Committee the details of what had transpired at the infamous meeting of February 27, 2002, including the averment that the Chief Minister had, according to Pandya, issued verbal instructions to the police not to thwart Hindu retaliatory activities during the course of the Bandh called by the VHP. To this day the Pandya family has been publicly holding Modi responsible for the killing, and the demands for the reopening of the Pandya case have grown with time. Even as the CBI was to come in for great praise by the Modi Government for a job well done!

But, most to the point, while Modi does dirt on the CBI, and is likely to do so till the cows come home, it is just as well to underscore the fact that the investigation into the Ishrat Jahan murder was not assigned to the CBI either by the Congress party or the Government of India but, what do you know, by the honourable Gujarat High Court to which alone it makes its reports.

Would it not be nice and in the national institutional interest for all our strident pro-Modi channels and anchors to keep this fact in mind even as they carry out their legitimate ideological task of furthering the future of corporate India via the Modi candidature?

There is another wholly specious argument that these channels make, some more than others, which carries very deleterious consequences for our constitutional life as a democracy, besides contradicting the contrary polemics the same channels make when it comes to political figures they do not much like.

And the argument is that since Modi’s detractors cannot fight him politically, they seek to do him in legally. Or that a man who has been thrice elected by his people must be held to be above all legal culpability. Another matter that with each of the three elections in Gujarat his vote share has been coming down and the Congress’ seats doubled in the Assembly. Nor would such propaganda help you to be reminded of the fact that Modi’s party has only four more Members of Parliament than the Congress.

Is it not a fact that those that make such an argument about Modi would not make it about other Chief Ministers who have also been elected three or more times by their people? Would they concede a position that a Sheila Dixit or a Tarun Gogoi having been also elected three times ought to be perceived to have transcended all legal answerabilities with regard to this that or the other, or a Manik Sarkar in Tripura who, after all, has a fifth term going? The larger import of this variety of blinkered, partisan non-thinking is to render the rule of law some-thing subjective and arbitrary, subordinate to the touted political sentiment of the day. Surely, it cannot be the intent of the corporate sector and those who yell for them at prime time to declare themselves as espousers of such a position, at least in public.

The straightforward thing is that if the current CBI investigations as whetted by court proceedings exonerate Modi and all his men, then they will all be honourable men again. And if not, then, like all other bigwigs now in pain, they must prepare to take their dose of the medicine.

Another gentle reminder though: while a Rasheed Masood of the Congress party, and Laloo Prasad Yadav, a staunch ally of the Congress party, have now received their comeuppance at the end of CBI-conducted investigations, and while a Naveen Jindal, also of the Congress party, is currently under the CBI scanner, two already convicted Modi satraps continue to grace his Cabinet as Ministers. Any thoughts on that? Any thoughts also on the brazen new Gujaat Government Bill on the subject of appointing a Lokayukt to be wholly beholden and subservient to the Chief Executive, with the prerogatives of the Chief Justice of the High Court taken away? Or on the CAG report indicting the Gujarat Government of some sixty thousand crore worth of questionable dealings? Remember how gospel-like CAG reports become when they pertain to the functioning of the UPA!

Perhaps the most corrupt, morally and legally, aspect of India’s contemporary media history is the fact that prime time channels will not make any of Modi’s record a matter of sustained scrutiny, or allow the same quality of critique on it as it gleefully allows and encourages when it come to the Congress and the least of its transgressions, or of any others who stand in opposition to Modi and his bandwagon.

Yet, the ghosts of many a Banquo haunt this Macbeth of our times, and if the CBI is able to get some skeletons to find tongue to public satisfaction, pray should the moral brigade object?

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