The Modi Government’s Cynical Approach to Justice

The Special Public Prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, for which Hindu extremists are undergoing trial, has disclosed to the Indian Express newspaper that the Centre wants her to “go soft” in the trial court. The prosecutor, Rohini Salian has clearly stated that over the past one year, since the new government has come to power, she has been under pressure from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) “to go soft” in the Malegaon matter. She has given some details as to how senior NIA officials want her to be replaced by another advocate. “May be they want to loosen it and ultimately lose the case.”

This is a shocking revelation which makes a mockery of the Modi-led government’s claim of ushering in a new era of governance. The Special Public Prosecutor’s interview to the newspaper comes on a day when PM Modi has talked about his government’s commitment to the ideals and ethos of democracy to mark the 40th anniversary of the Emergency. The larger question to ask is whether the NDA, with its 282-seat majority in the Lok Sabha, thinks it is entitled to extra-constitutional discretion which it can use to selectively dilute or not pursue cases of national importance.

Rohini Salian’s interview to The Indian Express has fascinating parallels with the manner in which a Special CBI court had dealt with the fake encounter killing of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi and Tulsiram Prajapaty, an associate of Sohrabuddin.  The CBI chargesheet had named Amit Shah as a lynchpin of a larger extortion racket run by Sohrabuddin, a petty criminal, with the help of senior police officials of Gujarat.

Amit Shah case

But over the past year under the NDA, the same CBI appears to have shown little enthusiasm in pursuing the case, even before all the evidence against him were scrutinised in a proper trial. Note that during this period the CBI Special Prosecutor and the judge of the Court got replaced quickly.  Amit Shah’s lawyer argued for his discharge for several days and the new CBI prosecutor took barely an hour to put forth the CBI case. After Shah’s discharge most police officials, who have been in jail for some years in connection with the case, also got released on bail. The CBI has yet to appeal in the case.

So is anyone really surprised that the Special Prosecutor Rohini Salian feels the NIA wants to replace her with a new advocate in the Melegaon blast trial so that the case is ultimately lost? Clearly, the NIA cannot withdraw the matter as it is already in the court.

The modus operandi is a tried and tested one. If you can’t withdraw a case, just ensure it dies a natural death. Rohini’s statement is a damning indictment of the cynical ways of the Modi government which doesn’t have a place to hide now. The government is going about offering its own premature judgment on cases which are either being investigated or are committed to trial. In cases which are still being investigated — like the one against Vasundhara Raje’s son — the government is already giving clean chits.

Most likely this will be the fate of the investigation by the ED and CBI in the money laundering cases relating to Lalit Modi, the Adani Group as well as the still not-so-transparently launched criminal cases against income tax violators and alleged money launderers in the notorious HSBC Swiss branch list. In all these matters, a strong element of discretionary treatment seems to be at work. A news report suggested that the SC appointed special investigation team dealing with black money may be requested by the government to allow compounding of some income tax violation cases on the HSBC list.

Brazening it out

The Modi government has clearly tied itself up in knots. The PM’s deafening silence is the biggest evidence of this. The sole message coming out of the highest echelons of the NDA government is, “We will brazen it out, come what may”.

The NDA must remember one thing. Rohini Salian’s revelation is not a simple matter relating to a financial crime. This cuts at the very root of our constitution’s commitment to fostering a secular-democratic polity. Political brazenness will meet with its democratic/ judicial limit.  Eventually, of course, the people will decide the fate of those who systematically dilute democratic institutions.