The BJP’s Selective Pursuit of Justice

Vivek Tankha, the former Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh and the man who has provided legal guidance to the Vyapam whistleblowers when they were being hounded by the establishment, has an interesting insight to offer on the way the rule of law works in tandem with the politics of the day. His insight may also help us understand how the justice system, in general, works under the Narendra Modi regime at the Centre.

Tankha says the Special Task Force set up to investigate the Vyapam scam had good officers and indeed they did a fairly good job in the initial phase of the investigation. However, when the real political ramifications of the investigation started surfacing, in terms of the possible involvement of a large number of people in high places, pressure started building.

According to Tankha, the most critical political development which eventually led to the near derailment of an impartial probe was the November 2013 Madhya Pradesh assembly elections which Shivraj Chauhan won handsomely for the third time. After this victory, the state administration got so emboldened that it went about clinically replacing good officers in the Vyapam investigation team with their own favourites,  says Tankha.

The rapid downslide in the investigation began after that. Crucial evidence was ignored more brazenly than ever. The  whistleblowers started  getting hounded like never before. Anand Rai, one of the three important whistleblowers, says that as a member of the BJP and larger Sangh Parivar he took some of the evidence to the local BJP leadership but got little response. “Only then did I turn to the Congress leaders for help,” he says.

Selective application of law       

So the larger point being made is the application of the rule of law suddenly became selective after the BJP came back to power the third time and in the subsequent months it further helped to know that the BJP was likely to come to power at the Centre.

The same pattern of selective application of the rule of law can be seen in the cases of Hindu terror-linked bomb blasts in Malegaon or Modasa where the NIA has closed the case for “want of evidence”.  The overall attitude to cases involving Hindu terror has clearly changed after Narendra Modi’s ascent to power. The Sangh Parivar, of course, was always denying the very existence of Hindu terror.

Witnesses have possibly been eliminated in the Vyapam scam. But Gujarat saw the first big case of physical elimination of a witness with police complicity  in 2006:  Tulsiram Prajapati was assassinated because he was witness to the fake encounter killing of petty criminal Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausar Bi. That case also followed the pattern of Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh. Under the Supreme Court’s instruction the CBI conducted an impartial investigation and arrested many top police officers of the state as well as arrested Amit Shah who was named as a “lynchpin” of an extortion racket run by Sohrabuddin.

However, this case too is rapidly falling apart as many of the accused named by CBI have got discharged even before undergoing a proper trial. The CBI’s U-turn in this case started happening after the BJP came to power at the Centre last year.

Never before has political power so blatantly determined the course of justice. So there may be some substance in Vivek Tanka’s assertion that the rapid slide in Vyapam investigation began after the BJP came to power for the third time in 2013. This probably gave the BJP confidence of continued popular support and emboldened it to interfere with the course of justice.

But political power peaks and wanes in a non-linear fashion. The UPA too had a similar illusion when it came back to power in 2009 and some of its ministers became brazen about abuse of power. That the 2009 mandate was not an endorsement of the way spectrum or coal were allocated, the UPA learnt to its dismay much later.

Patra’s shocking assertion   

The BJP under Narendra Modi appears to be following the UPA tactic of burying the head under the sand and remaining in denial for as long as possible. This was exemplified by a shocking assertion by BJP spokesperson Sambit Parta on a TV news debate on July 10 that the MP Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan was the main ‘whistleblower’ in the Vyapam scam as he had ordered the original investigation!

It is this attitude which will prove harmful for the BJP eventually. In fact a close observer of Gujarat politics gives an interesting insight into how Narendra Modi’s instinct works when he confronts cases of corruption by his senior ministers. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi never sought the resignation of his cabinet colleagues who were caught in corruption scandals. One minister, Babu Bokhiria, was convicted in a mining scam by a trial court but Modi never asked him to step down.

In other similar cases Modi decided to stand by loyal colleagues of the Sangh Parivar. Another cabinet colleague Maya Kodnani was convicted in the Gujarat riots case but Modi stood by her until arrest warrants were issued. Even after her arrest Modi told a television interviewer that he would wait to hear what the Supreme Court had to say in the Kodnani matter. The Sangh Parivar too has displayed this tendency that “you will be protected if you are committed to the Parivar’s larger cause.”  It possibly explains why Modi is silent so far on the conduct of Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Chauhan.

Many, therefore, wonder whether Modi has imported this “Gujarat model” of loyalty-based delivery of justice to the Centre too. This poses the gravest danger to institutions that deal with the delivery of justice and rule of law. In this context, the mere ordering of a CBI probe into the Vyapam scam should be of little consolation. A closely monitored one by the Supreme Court should give more confidence.