On July 14, 2015, the Central Bureau of Investigation raided the home of anti-communalism activist Teesta Setalvad, a week after the Union Home Ministry transferred an ongoing investigation into her finances to the elite agency.
The CBI filed a case against her last week for criminal conspiracy and illegally receiving foreign funds, charges Setalvad denies. Though she wrote to the CBI saying she was willing to cooperate with them in every way, the CBI decided to raid her premises.
Setalvad’s organisation, Citizens for Justice and Peace, has canvassed and litigated for the prosecution of cases stemming from the 2002 anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat, especially the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya killings.
The latter case led to the conviction of prominent BJP leader and former minister Maya Kodnani.
The CBI raid on Teesta came barely a day before the appeals by those convicted for the Naroda Patia massacre case were to be heard in the Gujarat High Court, and just two weeks before the final hearing of Zakia Jafri’s petition against the closure report of the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, which cleared Narendra Modi of criminal liability for the Gujarat riots. Setalvad has been closely assisting Zakia Jafri with her petition and appeal.
The Wire asked a few prominent individuals for their views on the matter. Is the CBI raid an attempt by the BJP-led government at the Centre to intimidate activists opposed to it? Or is the agency merely doing its job, investigating charges against Setalvad just as it would in any other case?
Social Worker and former Director General of Police, Punjab
I’m quite certain that Teesta will fight it out. I know her and I know she will fight and we must help her. This just shows that there is no difference between the old government and the new one. The old one was trying to keep the guilty out and the new one is putting the innocent in. If they say they are different from the last one then I don’t know what is worse, keeping the guilty out or putting the innocent in. This government will lose out on public perception through this. Under no stretch will Teesta do something illegal. If she has contravened a rule, then many such rules are contravened and why aren’t they targeting everybody like this. I’m sure she had no intention to take money without clearance and now they have accused her of using it for personal purposes. Teesta has only ensured justice be done. They have chosen Teesta specifically because she has confronted them.
Eminent sociologist and Professor at the Delhi School of Economics
Based on its timing, there seems to be a clear sense of vendetta, and has gone way beyond Conflict of Interest, a light phrase in this case.
It seems obvious to even someone like me who isn’t associated with the facts of the case.
Writer, and the author of, most recently, Lunch with a Bigot
Just last night I was reading a novel by Philip Roth in which a young woman goes to a police station in Hong Kong. She is the mistress of a man who is a shipping tycoon and has gone to the police to complain about the rich man’s plot to get rid of his wife in a car accident. The officer on duty makes a phone call and subsequently a packet of cocaine is found in the woman’s purse.
I’m telling you this story because, of course, it doesn’t happen only in India. But, as a phrase dear to the liberal section of our society would have it, the brazenness is shocking. I’m talking now of the CBI raid on Teesta Setalvad’s home. It is an instance of the ways in which our prime institutions collude with power. I don’t, of course, have proof. But proof of what really? As in the with the deaths of witnesses in the Vyapam and Asaram Bapu cases, the needle of suspicion points in only one direction.
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
The government cannot handle activist civil society. Indira Gandhi wanted to monitor them under a common umbrella in 1982. Rajiv Gandhi tried to do something similar by use of the defamation provision. This government wants to use the platform of accountability to interfere with civil society and bring them to heel by criminalising methods. Civil society is faced with arrest, imprisonment and extensive auditing, leaving them with the threat of being disempowered. So many aspects of the FCRA can be ironed out without cutting funds. Instead huge raids, these matters can be dealt with differently. This government’s major concern is obviously Gujarat. Its endeavour is to effectively destroy opposing organisations so that the sanctity of Modi’s ‘Gujarat model of Good Governance’ is preserved. It is so important that they want to silence everyone through oppressive censorship. Teesta is enemy No. 1 in Gujarat and she’s paying the price for that.
Well-known documentary film-maker
The escalating legal and illegal harassment of Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand and their entire team is clear proof of how scared the Gujarat government and Narendra Modi actually are. It is thanks to Teesta and her organisation that 126 murderers, rapists and rioters went to jail for their role in the 2002 Gujarat carnage. Of course a few of these convicted killers like Maya Kodnani have been freed thanks to the intervention of the State. Many more cases are still pending. It is this that has clearly prompted the current attacks on Teesta. If there had been any financial wrongdoing, is it not strange that neither the charity commissioner nor the income tax departments had any problems with the submitted accounts? What is happening is a shame on our system.
Activist, and Assistant Professor at Jamia Milia Islamia
The so-called case of embezzlement, from the very beginning, has been concocted by elements instigated by the state government of Gujarat and the Gujarat Crime Branch. Remember, the FIR was registered in January 2014, just as Setalvad’s organisation was preparing to file Zakia Jafri’s protest petition. When the Gujarat government’s ploy to arrest Setalvad and her colleagues failed, thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court, the Gujarat government has mobilised the Ministry of Home Affairs to foist another malicious enquiry through the CBI. The complaint against Teesta and her organisation should not have been acted upon in the first place given that the complaint itself was sent on a forged letterhead. So certainly, it is not the process of law taking its own course – it is the deliberate and malicious invocation of law to suppress dissent and the struggle for justice.
Mirza Asmer Beg
Professor of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University
This is politically motivated and it is not something new. The executive has often used its powers to further their interests and suppress voices speaking contrary to their interest. This has been done to teach Teesta a lesson and it is to be a lesson for other organisations that want to speak contrary to the executive. The basic idea is that you should toe the line of the establishment and not cross it. If you cross it, then you are contrary to the establishment’s interest, inside the rekha, you’re fine. It is a question of basic freedom of expression. It sets out a dangerous precedent. Freedom and rights take a long time to be entrenched in a society but it takes only a small amount of time to throw them out.
Eminent sociologist and Professor, Institute of Economic Growth
The government is specifically targeting independent voices that have spoken out against it. Like Greenpeace, Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sabrang have been focused and persistent in their campaigns and it has been hard for the government to refute their arguments and evidence. So, standard harassment tactics have come into play. If the government was serious about illegal funds transfer, why hasn’t it acted decisively against its big beneficiaries: those with black money and its own Sangh Parivar subsidiaries?
Prem Shankar Jha
Eminent journalist, Managing Editor of Financial World
In a book I wrote some years ago I recorded the growing abuse of law by local governments to tyrannise academics who wrote on the corruption of these governments.
But at least China did not claim to be a democracy.
Social Activist and Chairman of Delhi Based NGO, Hazards Centre
This is an example of perfect timing by a determined regime – striking while the iron is hot. So the more ruthless the strike, the more one can assess the regime’s fear of the heat of the iron; and why it is so determined to strike at the heart of dissent that will burn its own vitals.
Every dystopic despot faced with a rebel pressing for accountability inevitably calls on discipline as the magic remedy that will make all evil go away. This is nothing more than the bully smirking, “play the game my way or there will be no game at all – चित भी मेरी, पट भी मेरी, अंटा मेरे बाप का”
And so, on a different note, one cannot cure a social malaise through petitions; it has to be dealt with by a change in the system itself. I see a lot of petitions on the net, and a picture of a dharna by the select at jantar mantar. Are such notional actions going to stop the rath yatra unleashed by an all-conquering demi-god set to civilise the world in the image of an ancient hierarchy; or will it require more and yet more of the rebellious demand for accountability that enraged the despot in the first place?
Journalist and head of the Delhi Dialogue commission of the AAP
She fought for the cause of justice valiantly and fearlessly for over ten years. The fact that in cases like Naroda Patiya there were convictions is proof of that. Modi is acting using the state machinery out of political vendetta as a result of her crusade against him, over his role in the 2002 riots. This is the worst witch-hunt ever I’ve seen by the Prime Minister of our country.
Director of Final Solution, a film on the 2002 riots in Gujarat
A Hindu organisation, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabhahas accused VHP and its associates of pocketing more than Rs 1,400 crore in cash and “quintals of gold bricks”, which were collected from across the world as donations for construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. I’ve heard about this for years, mostly through off-the-record comments by various ‘hindutva activists’ I’ve filmed. Now that a radical Hinduvta group has directly and formally brought this up all we can say is Jai Shri Scam! Any guesses why this government will not probe all donations- dubious and kosher, Indian, NRI and foreign – and the expenses supposedly incurred with the same rigour and urgency as that in Teesta-Sabrang Communications case of alleged financial impropriety?
Historian and Professor at Princeton University
The sheer audacity of this outrageous attempt at intimidation is actually deliberate and meant as a sign to others that they better not cross the Modi regime.
Reactions compiled by Anushrut Ramakrishnan Agrawal