By Abhishek Jha:
The government may claim innocence. Perhaps it even is innocent and no attempts have been made by the BJP and its affiliates to subvert the cause of justice, but it is a claim which stands on shaky ground now. That is because even if the BJP isn’t trying to subvert the law, it isn’t assisting the pursuit of justice either. As the state loses ground on several cases, the BJP’s attempt at protecting its own, its selective deployment of state machinery against those who stand against it is only aggravating the damage.
Former minister from Gujarat Maya Kodnani, and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012 for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre of 2002. Both of them, along with 30 other accused had filed an appeal against their conviction in the Gujarat HC. Last year, a division bench of Gujarat High Court had recused themselves from hearing a bail plea of Maya Kodnani. Last Monday Justice G.B. Shah recused himself from hearing the appeal of the Naroda Patiya massacre accused. A new bench was constituted by the acting Chief Justice comprising of Justice M.R. Shah and Justice K.S. Jhaveri. On Wednesday, both these justices recused themselves from hearing the appeal. Justice M.R. Shah went on to say, “We are not bound to disclose this but some accused persons tried to approach us. Therefore we cannot hear this case now.”
What’s interesting is that during these developments, on Tuesday the office and residence of Teesta Setalvad, who’s Citizens for Justice and Peace has been assisting the victims of the 2002 Gujarat communal violence, was raided by the CBI. This raid and the judges’ recusal will not be viewed in isolation. That is to say that when activists like Setalvad accuse the government of witch-hunting of activists, people are going to believe them. Perhaps even if these activists do not protest, people are now going to find it hard to believe the Prime Minister’s Mann Ki Baat. There have been too many developments recently to deem all of it co-incidental.
Special public prosecutor Rohini Salian accused in June that the NIA had tried to influence her into going soft on the 2008 Malegaon blast accused and that this stance had been proposed to her post the new government’s arrival. Julio Ribiero, a retired IPS officer, wrote post this revelation, “Salian’s lament on being asked to go soft on Hindu extremists accused of terrorist acts frightens us to believe that the country is steadily being led on to the path trodden by our surly neighbour on our western border. The masterminds of the 26/11 attacks are treated like heroes in Pakistan. We are not there yet, but if hidden hands nudge the judicial system to free murderers of the saffron variety, we will be soon.”
Soon after Salian’s revelations, news emerged that Samjhauta and Ajmer Blast witnesses, one of whom is now a minister in Jharkhand, had been turning hostile since the inception of the new government. In what appears to be a case of quid pro quo, the minister in Jharkhand had in fact defected to the BJP only this year. The accused again have associations with Hindutva organisations that pledge support to the BJP.
So when CBI descends on Teesta Setalvad, even as she cooperated fully in a previous embezzlement case, on an FCRA violation when final hearings are to be made on Zakia Jafri’s case against Narendra Modi, the common man is bound to notice. This is because people have seen how a CBI probe was delayed for a long time in the Vyapam scam even as several people died. People are also going to notice that witnesses in Asaram Bapu case are dying. While the government fails to protect witnesses and whistleblowers, the accused seem to have an easy time. This, the BJP should know, is not something that people who have expressed hope in the new government will not notice.
Meanwhile, Teesta Setalvad has argued that the government’s interest in National Judicial Appointments Commission is an effort to influence the judiciary and erode its independence, which she likens to the situation just before the Emergency. When the Prime Minister thinks it befitting to keep the Judiciary free from “five-star activists“, it appears strange that he would try to have clout over a body that is supposed to act independently. It is stranger still that he maintains a stony silence on major plagues like Vyapam, or his ministers embroiled in Lalit-gate, and on cases of communal violence while painting a sanguine future for India in staged speeches. It is bound to make even a gullible supporter of BJP sceptical.
The government came to power relying hugely on publicity campaigns that extolled Narendra Modi and rubbed him clean of any taint of communalism. It promised a corruption free country and a developed India: things that the aspirational Indians fed up of the incumbent government wanted. But those campaigns aren’t going to work unless the people of country are severely in the grips of ideology. Only someone who is fanatically obsessed with the goal of a Hindu Rashtra, who is ready to sacrifice even one’s own conscience and morality for the sake of this goal, can put faith in the BJP.