Without doubt Amit Shah’s contribution to the success of the BJP in the recent poll was spectacular. Through brilliant social engineering to split the opposition vote he obtained the crucially required success in UP and Bihar. He is a great asset for Prime Minister Modi’s new system given its pledge to achieve various goals. Amit Shah’s efficiency is unquestionable. However Prime Minister Modi apart from promising spectacular development had also promised zero tolerance for crime and corruption, with total transparency in maximized governance. Shah’s asset in the task of achieving goals is presently offset by his liability in relation to transparent governance delivering zero tolerance for crime. There are pending cases in the courts and before the CBI which require satisfactory resolution for his liability to disappear.
Eminent Lawyer Ram Jethmalani made a passionate plea over a TV channel that the new NDA cabinet should not induct a single minister with questionable antecedents in order to depart from the legacy of the previous UPA government. One can only speculate what Jethmalani’s views are about the antecedents of Amit Shah whom he defended in court in the Soharabuddin fake encounter case in which three victims including two women died. Currently the media is agog with speculation about which important political post Shah will get after his spectacular performance in the recent poll. This is surprising.
One may overlook the elastic moral code of the BJP when it entrusted Amit Shah with a crucial role in the party. One may overlook the elastic moral code of the Modi government in Gujarat which retains criminally charged ministers in the government. But after the loudly trumpeted assertions by Modi that totally clean governance devoid of any criminality or corruption will be delivered by him, how can there be any speculation about induction of Shah in the new dispensation in any important post till his name is cleared?
It is a fundamental democratic norm that any official being probed by investigators or being judged by a court of law should demit office until being cleared of charges. This is necessary to ensure the credibility of the probe process under way. Any official in power may not only influence the investigative agency or court but sleuths and judges too might feel inhibited about pursuing an incumbent in power with appropriate vigour.
The public has a natural tendency to look askance at authority probing incumbents continuing to hold office. That is why Amit Shah’s induction in any powerful post in Modi’s system makes no sense till his name is cleared. Failure to observe this norm in the past has destroyed public credibility in the political system. People believe politicians lack accountability. Modi pledged to restore public credibility in the system.
It may be recalled that in 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh having a criminal record was killed by the Gujarat Police. The CBI alleged that Sohrabuddin was killed in what the Gujarat state itself had alleged was a fake encounter. Sohrabuddin’s wife and a witness, Prajapati, were also killed. The Gujarat state police indicted senior police officers, A Chudasama and DG Vanzara, among others, and arrested them. Vanzara and Chudasama were in close touch with Minister of State Home Affairs Amit Shah while Chief Minister Modi held the Home portfolio himself. In the relevant period of time when the fake encounter was planned and executed original records revealed to the CBI that Amit Shah had made 331 phone calls to both officers. However the state police had deleted evidence of phone calls linking Shah to the case. The former DGP Gujarat, OP Mathur, had been indicted for criminal deletion of records. It was after this that the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the case to the CBI. In 2013 Vanzara wrote a letter to the Gujarat government from jail accusing Amit Shah of misleading the CM because he was only following the orders of the state government.
In court Shah claimed loss of memory on most questions. Shah was granted bail by the Gujarat High Court in 2010 and continues to be on bail. However the Supreme Court barred his entry into Gujarat for fear that he could tamper with the evidence. Arun Jaitley accused the previous system of motivated and false allegations against Amit Shah. However, if Shah was aware of what the indicted police officers were planning and executing, he would also be guilty. It would be truly astonishing that a minister as efficient as he is, in close touch with his officers through frequent phone calls, would be so inept as to be totally ignorant of what was going on.
During questioning of the indicted officer GL Singhal by CBI in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case the latter made available to the agency two pen drives of conversations he secretly taped while conferring with officials. Amit Shah is also being questioned for his role in the Ishrat Jahan case. The taped conversations included a meeting of officials comprising the defence lawyer in the Ishrat Jahan case as well as the acting Attorney General of the Gujarat government! In addition Chief Minister Modi’s Personal Secretary. Girish Murmu was also present. In the tape the officials are heard discussing strategy to obstruct investigation in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case.
While being questioned by CBI on the Ishrat Jahan case, Singhal reportedly said:
“The motive in the draft FIR mentioned a plan to kill the Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi, but this was wrong… I knew the motive was different… I had serious objections to killing the girl Ishrat. I had said we let her go, and had promised to ensure that she would not spill the beans about this operation to anyone. Despite my strong objections, Vanzara insisted on keeping the motive involving the Chief Minister and on killing the girl and branding her as a woman terrorist.”
Speaking to CBI Singhal also made damning revelations about Amit Shah’s direct role in the illegal surveillance of a woman by misusing the official security agencies.
On 16 May when the general election results were declared the Gujarat government reinstated GL Singhal, accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, as Superintendent of Police in Gandhinagar. By implication Singhal was innocent. By implication his testimony to the CBI was truthful. One trusts he will not after his reinstatement change his testimony. In these circumstances will it be appropriate for the new government to appoint Amit Shah to any powerful post until his name is cleared and the case against him is withdrawn? Surely, the standards of governance promised by the Prime Minister in his campaign speeches preclude Shah’s immediate appointment. It is for the Prime Minister to indicate whether he meant business, or will it be business as usual. People are waiting and watching.
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