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Attempts to implicate Narendra Modi and his right-hand man Amit Shah for the 2002 riots in Gujarat have come to naught as courts have given them and others a clean chit. Has Zakia Jafri’s fight been in vain?

By RK Misra

Clean chits given by courts to those in power are not as simple as they look. Behind them are many issues—investigating agencies and their pull-backs, political arm-twisting and legal jugglery. The clean chit given to then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, former Gujarat minister of state for home, Amit Shah and others in the 2002 riots cases have raised many eyebrows. Of course, the fact that Modi is now the prime minister and Shah the national BJP president may have had a bearing on the investigations. Power alters equations and absolute power alters it absolutely.

A petition challenging the clean chit given to Modi and others by Zakia Jaffri in the 2002 riots cases is before the Gujarat High Court. Her quest for justice has been an arduous one after her husband, former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, was among 69 people killed in the Gulbarg society massacre in Ahmedabad. This was during the 2002 communal riots that followed the Godhra train carnage in which some thousand people died, largely from the minority community. The administration sought to thwart impartial investigation into the rioting cases and repeated attempts at lodging an FIR were subverted.

Zakia Jafri, waged a lone battle to punish the killers of her husband
Zakia Jafri, waged a lone battle to punish the killers of her husband

In 2006, Zakia filed a complaint in the Supreme Court against Modi and 62 others, which included ministers, police officers, bureaucrats and BJP leaders. The apex court constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the cases which included identified cases where it was felt that justice had not been done. The SIT found substance in the charges and filed charge-sheets in many of these cases against those who were culpable and the courts handed out varying jail terms to those involved.

Godhra train
Godhra train

However, it is the clean chit given to Modi by SIT which was subsequently upheld by a metropolitan magistrate that has been challenged in the Gujarat High Court in March 2014. Zakia’s revision petition argues that the lower court has not taken into consideration numerous aspects of the case, including the larger conspiracy that began before the burning of the Sabarmati Express bogie near Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002. The petition also said that even if riots broke out in reaction to the bogie’s burning, the state machinery had failed to control it. Officials failed to do their duty, curfew was not imposed in time and the army was not called in immediately, it said.

Moreover, while upholding the SIT closure report, the lower court did not rely on witnesses such as former DGP RB Sreekumar, IPS officer Rahul Sharma and suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt. Zakia also asked for further investigation by an agency other than the SIT in the lower court, but this was turned down on the ground that it was out of the jurisdiction of the court. This also forms a ground in the revision petition, notwithstanding the fact that a plea for reconstitution of the SIT before the Supreme Court was turned down. The matter now rests with the High Court.

The case of Amit Shah has also seen interesting twists and turns. A special CBI court in Mumbai in December 2014 discharged him in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter cases. “I find substance in the main contention made by the applicant (Shah) that he was involved in the case by the CBI for political reasons,” Judge MB Gosavi held.

The CBI did not chargesheet Amit Shah in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case
The CBI did not chargesheet Amit Shah in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case

CBI director Anil Sinha had then stated that the agency would study the court order and decide the further course of action, even as lawyer Abhishek Singhvi of the Congress had charged that the investigating agency did not present the case convincingly.

Small-time gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife, Kauserbi, were on their way from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra by bus in November 2005 when they were intercepted and abducted by Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and allegedly killed in a fake encounter. Tulsiram Prajapati, a witness to the encounter, was subsequently killed by the police at Chapri village in Banaskantha district of Gujarat in December 2006.

Ex-DGP RB Sreekumar
Ex-DGP RB Sreekumar

In September 2012, the CBI filed a charge-sheet in a Gujarat court against 37 accused, including Amit Shah and senior IPS officers such as DIG Vanzara and superintendent of police Rajkumar Pandian, under sections 302 (murder), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the IPC. In the same year, the encounter cases of Sohrabuddin and Prajapati were clubbed together and transferred to Mumbai following a Supreme Court order.

Interestingly, four months after Shah was discharged from these cases, on April 13, 2015, Judge Gosavi ordered dropping of criminal proceedings against another key accused, Gujarat IPS officer Abhay Chudasama. A day earlier, the same court had discharged two other accused—Ajay Patel and Yashpal Chudasama. They were all charge-sheeted by the CBI in 2010. Arrested on April 28, 2010, IPS officer Chudasama was granted bail on April 28, 2014, and promptly reinstated in his job in August 2014 and posted in the vigilance squad that works directly under the Director General of Police of the state.

This, when the CBI charge-sheet had described Chudasama as a “trusted officer” of Shah. The CBI had defended its case against Shah by submitting his call records and alleging that he was in constant touch with the other accused during the time of the encounter. These included Pandian, then superintendent of police (ATS), Ahmedabad. The court, however, rejected this contention saying that the home minister of a state needed to be in touch with his police officers who were part of an anti-terror unit. Charge-sheeted along with others, Shah spent three months in jail in 2010 before being bailed out by the Supreme Court.

There are other coincidences in these cases which make one question the truth behind certain matters. For example, earlier this year, Rubabuddin, brother of Sohrabuddin made it clear that he would not pursue criminal proceedings in the fake encounter case. Last month, Tulsiram Prajapati’s family also decided likewise.

IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt
IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt

Rubabuddin had withdrawn his appeal against Shah’s exoneration in the Bombay High Court. Narmadabai, Tulsiram’s mother has written a letter to Nirjhari, widow of advocate Mukul Sinha, withdrawing permission to Jan Sangarsh Manch, the NGO fighting the cases of encounter victims, to fight cases on her behalf. She alleged that Sinha and other lawyers had taken her thumb impression on blank papers and vakalatnamas and she apprehended their misuse. She directed that these not be used to initiate any court proceedings and also stated that she was registering this letter.

Interestingly, Rubabuddin was the first to move the Supreme Court for his sister-in-law Kauserbi after his brother was killed in an alleged fake encounter. The probe ordered by the apex court led to the arrest of a dozen or more cops.

When the case was handed over to the CBI, it was its investigations that led to the resignation of Shah as MoS home and his arrest later.

Again, is it a mere coincidence that relatives who have been doggedly pursuing the cases involving the killings of their near and dear ones for years, were now retreating? What has changed in these except those who are in power? A lawyer connected with this case said: “You said it.”

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