Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Gujarat’s record on pursuing justice and permitting the law to take its course after the sordid 2002 carnage has been scandalous. If today an Amit Shah is caught, can Narendra Modi be far behind?

Disgrace abounding

The Gujarat home minister Amit Shah’s evasion upon being summoned by the CBI is the latest in a litany of disgrace where the law of the land has been openly flouted.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 26 July, 2010

The net is closing in on Amit Shah, erstwhile Home Minister of Gujarat and close confidante of Narendra Modi, the chief minister. His resignation was clearly tactical as he feared arrest for absconding after being summoned for questioning by the CBI for “knowledge” about the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, an alleged don, his wife and others in false encounters over four years ago. Telephonic evidence supposedly links him to the contract killers within the Gujarat police force, some of whom have made damaging confessions.

The CBI inquiry was ordered by the Supreme Court which was distressed by the pace and manner of investigations being previously conducted by the Gujarat authorities. An embarrassed BJP has sought to put some distance between itself and Shah after being caught on the back foot in Karnataka following the shenanigans of the Reddy brothers, both ministers in the BJP government there, for unlicensed export of illegally mined iron ore. This itself has opened up a huge scandal.

Amit Shah’s plea, through his lawyer, was that he needed more time for preparation before he appeared or applied for anticipatory bail. This is a standard ruse – to seek more time after having sought to scuttle investigations and adopting the most brazen delaying tactics to evade the law. Gujarat’s record on pursuing justice and permitting the law to take its course after the sordid 2002 carnage has been scandalous. If today an Amit Shah is caught, can Narendra Modi be far behind?

If ministers like Amit Shah and Pacheco in Goa, wanted for an alleged rape, abscond, this is shocking and should be regarded as an offence in itself and liable to condign punishment. But, alas, this seems to be a time of disgrace abounding. Consider this recent calendar of shame.

After the grievous train collision, killing over 60 passengers, at Sainthia, all that the Railway Minister, Mamata Bannerjee, could think of saying was to allege a dastardly conspiracy by her Leftist opponents in office in the state whom she is striving to displace. Her continuing neglect of her portfolio, playing politics while the Railways run downhill, is a burden the country should not have to shoulder. This after Raju and Alaghizi.

The total bedlam in the Bihar legislature, with members coming to blows and assaulting the Speaker, led to the expulsion of 67 “honourable” members! This followed a Patna High Court ruling on a PIL plaint seeking a CBI investigation into a CAG report alleging the siphoning away of over Rs 11,412 crore by the then government between 2002 and 2008 when the RJD, now in opposition, was in office.

Not to be outdone, the Karnataka Assembly witnessed a 48 hour bed-and breakfast dharna by rowdy JD(U) and other MLAs protesting the BJP government’s defence of the Reddy brothers, charged with illegal mining, after the Governor impugned their integrity and advised the CM, Yeduyarappa, to drop them. The published evidence against them is devastating and has been backed by the State’s Lok Ayukta, Santosh Hegde, a former justice of the Supreme Court. Hegde temporarily resigned on being thwarted from pursuing the matter but returned to his post after solemn assurances that the State Government would vest him with additional powers. Meanwhile the Reddy’s remain defiant and the BJP is digging in to defend its sole southern bastion.

Nothing daunted, the Maharashtra chief minister, Ashok Chavan curtly told the Election Commission that it had no jurisdiction to query the lavish and often identical “paid news” electoral advertisements in his favour last year which were not reflected in his mandatory return of election expenses. He had earlier at a public meeting in his constituency said he would give Rs 5 lakh to each of the three villages that had given him the highest votes. This comes close to ex post facto buying of votes if paid for by Chavan and should accordingly be part of his election expenses or, if coming from the exchequer, would constitute milking taxpayers’ money for personal gain.

Chavan has now suddenly resurrected Maharashtra’s claim against Karnataka to Belgaum and 865 adjacent villages on linguistic grounds, seeking UT status in the interim, a suggestion made only to be dropped. Immediately thereafter, the Maharashtra government announced it would legislate to arraign those defaming any national or religious icon. This came in the wake of a Supreme Court order overturning the 2004 ban on an old book on Shivaji by James Laine for allegedly denigrating the hero. The book was then “withdrawn” and the Shiv Sena has now warned the publisher not to reprint copies and bookstores not to stock the book. This crude ban on historical research, publication and intellectual debate bodes ill for any liberal society. Such crude, petty politics will be resisted.

Many of these episodes relate to corruption. Yet, a former Chief Justice of India, R.C. Lahoti, has reportedly written a tale of woe to the Chair of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi. Every whistleblower who risked his life to expose corruption after the murder of engineer Satyendra Dube by corrupt contractors whom he had detected massively defrauding the National Highway Authority project some years ago, has come to grief after approaching the Central Vigilance Commission “while the culprits remain, by and large, unharmed to this day”. Pretty damning that! But why? Because we protect the powerful and influential at the top and fear to break the coalition of corrupt politicians, businessmen and contractors who “grease” the “system”. It is for the same reason that police reform has not proceeded apace. For the affluent and greedy, anything and everything goes. For the poor, it is always jam tomorrow.

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