By Abhishek Jha:
On Thursday last week, Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, made some damning revelations about the progress of the case. “Last year I got a call from one of the officers of the Nation Investigation Agency, asking to come over to speak to me. He didn’t want to talk over the phone. He came and said there is a message that I should go soft,” she told the Indian Express. The NIA has denied the same in a press release. Asked whether she had seen a shift since the new government came in, Salian replied, “Yes, yes, throughout.” Since the supervision of the NIA lies in the hands of the central government, the power and responsibility to constitute special courts and appoint public prosecutors for cases being investigated by the NIA rests with the government, this shift is plausible and, therefore, worrying.
The BJP’s softness towards Hindutvawaadi organisations is not new and not surprising. However, this revelation is likely to make the BJP uncomfortable, which has had to work hard to wash away the communal image of the Modi-Shah duo. It is also a reminder to the rest of the country of the illusion they bought into by voting on the faux development agenda. The recent riots in Atali are a further attestation to that.
What ought to be done then? The case of communalism in Maharashtra was studied in detail after the 1992-93 riots and, therefore, we cannot deny having prior expertise in handling the situation. One of the suggestions by the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission Inquiry, commissioned by the Maharashtra government, said, “There is continuing cynicism in the minds of the public that the criminal justice administration system is skewed; innocent people are punished, while the influential and moneyed invariably get off. There is imperative necessity for dispelling this impression, not by mere propaganda but effective steps taken at the police station level.” That people belonging to the majority community also hold this undue power has been felt by their repeated acquittal in cases of rioting. “I never had much faith that we would get justice in this case. Today I have realised that we will get justice only at the doorstep of Allah. I do not expect mere mortals to provide justice for my dead son,” Nisar Ahmed, who lost his 9 year old son in the Malegaon blasts told the Indian Express.
Under the heading, freedom from interference, the report says “It is hoped that the Supreme Court which has evolved a mechanism for insulating the C.B.I. from political interference, would also lay down guidelines for similar freedom of the police administration from political interference, in a matter which it is already seized of.” What the report says about the police does surely go for the judiciary and investigative agencies as well. So, when the prime minister asks the judiciary to not be influenced by “five-star activists“, he should also ensure that members of his own party or government are not breathing down investigators and advocates. The NIA may or may not have knowledge of such an instruction being passed out but, that such an instruction reached the prosecutor, that it came via an officer of the NIA needs to be investigated before it denies it.
There is a need for the suggested changes because the hegemony of the Hindutva agenda feeds on the current system that has scope for this interference built in it. Legal communalism is more effective because it is protected by the law, as has been shown by the free hand that is given to the hooliganism of the RSS, VHP, and the like. The NIA’s explanation, that Salian’s denotification is routine and does not have anything to do with orders/suggestions coming from people in higher positions, is exactly that. It is the answer of the ruling power to our criticisms of it. We need a better rebuttal for that.