New Delhi: It is well-known in Delhi that Narendra Modi’s most trusted officials and aides from Gujarat now rule the roost in the Prime Minister’s Office and in key government departments and agencies. But the fact that many of these names have also figured in investigations into crucial cases – the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case and the controversial Snoopgate incident – suggests these postings are but rewards for those who saw Modi through his most trying days as Gujarat Chief Minister.
The latest such example is the impending elevation of G.C. Murmu, currently Joint Secretary in the PMO, as Director of the Enforcement Directorate, the premier Central agency for investigating economic crimes. Murmu was earlier principal secretary and a trusted aide to Modi in Gujarat. The proposed ED posting has not only turned the spotlight again on this unofficial ‘reward system’ for Modi loyalists but raises questions about the propriety of choosing officials with serious charges against their names – in Murmu’s case, that of suppressing investigations into the 2002 riots – for sensitive posts.
With Murmu tipped to head the ED, human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and former Director General of Police of Gujarat R.B. Sreekumar are among those who have called attention to the enquiries still pending against him for trying to influence officers against deposing truthfully before the Justice Nanavati Commission of inquiry into the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Citing a further charge, Sreekumar has said that an inquiry initiated by the Governor of Gujarat on his complaint is also pending against Murmu. In the complaint, the former police officer had accused Modi’s aide of forcing him to commit perjury while deposing before the Justice Nanavati Commission.
Sreekumar, who was in-charge of the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) from April 9, 2002 to September 17, 2002, made the charge in his third affidavit to the Justice Nanavati Commission, constituted to probe the Godhra train burning incident and the riots that followed. He alleged that in a meeting held on August 24, 2004, Murmu had “unauthorisedly tutored, intimidated, forced and pressured” him to depose in favour of the state government during his impending cross examination before the commission on August 31.
A cover-up operation
In his affidavit, Sreekumar stated in detail what transpired at the meeting. “I was present at the briefing on the verbal instructions of the DGP, A.K. Bhargava. Apart from Shri G.C. Murmu (who was then Principal Secretary to Modi), Shri Arvind Pandya, government counsel to the Nanavati Commission, was also present in the meeting, and they gave me an elaborate briefing.” Sreekumar said that he was told not to give his deposition in such a way that, “more names would be opened up, leading to their summoning for cross-examination. I was also threatened that if I gave a statement contrary to the government’s interests, I will be declared a hostile witness and dealt with suitably later. I told them that I would depose before the Commission as per the statutory requirements and will not suppress truth, because that would be an act of perjury.”
The former police official further alleged, “The whole meeting was a pre-planned and well-focused massive exercise to coerce me to suppress facts, tell lies and present data in such a manner that it would not expose the government functionaries, senior politicians and others, who played a diabolical and criminal role during the long-drawn-out communal riots after the Godhra incident in Gujarat.”
This “briefing” by Murmu and Pandya was “in total violation of the letter and spirit of the terms of reference of the commission”, said Sreekumar. He also charged the Home Department officials with tutoring all government functionaries summoned for cross examination by the commission. “Obviously, the truth was suppressed and false depositions were made by many government servants,” he had submitted, adding that “many officers (witnesses) pretended amnesia and did not present facts and assessments relevant to the terms of reference of the commission, evidently due to their tutoring.”
Making a special mention of Murmu, Sreekumar had submitted that he had been “authorised and entrusted with the task of tutoring and briefing government officials deposing before the Nanavati Commission by the highest authorities of the government and Home Department.” That is why, he reasoned, Murmu, who belonged to the 1985 batch of IAS, had “dared to summon me, a 1971 batch officer in IPS, holding the rank of Additional DGP / Additional Secretary, Government of India. One, who listens to the recorded audio tape of the meeting, can get convinced that Shri Murmu has talked to me with an authoritative posture without even observing the conventional etiquette followed in interaction with senior officials of All India Services.”
That was not all. According to Sreekumar, Murmu had even spoken about how he had briefed an even more senior IAS officer, Ashok Narayan (1966 batch), who was the State Vigilance Commissioner and a former Additional Chief Secretary – and who happened to be the senior-most serving IAS officer in the state. “Such a posture by Shri Murmu is possible only if he has the specific support and clearance from the higher authorities in the government, i.e. the Hon’ble Home Minister / the Hon’ble Chief Minister,” Sreekumar had submitted.
Subsequently, Sreekumar had requested the Governor of Gujarat to inquire into the matter through a letter dated December 9, 2012, titled “A Representation in the Public Interest for Initiation of Departmental Action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of Public Order and Investigation of Genocidal Crimes”.
Sreekumar insisted that though the previous Governor had in January 2013 forwarded his letter to the Additional Chief Secretary (Home Department), seeking appropriate action, no action had been initiated. When he sent a reminder to the new Governor, he was told that the matter is still under investigation.
Talking to The Wire, Sreekumar said he had filed nine affidavits, four while still in service and five afterwards, but had not received a satisfactory response to any of them from the commissions of inquiry. Claiming that he “stood up to officials, whom no one dared to name”, the former officer said he was also the one to take on former Deputy Inspector General and ‘encounter specialist’ D.G. Vanzara, when, as head of the State Intelligence Unit, he came to know about the arrest of 22 Muslims following the ‘recovery’ of arms from them. “I started an enquiry into the matter but was soon transferred out. The question is, can we allow our system to collapse and relapse into medieval times?” he asks.
Responding to the charges made by Sreekumar, Murmu wrote to The Wire: “It has been a pastime for Sreekumar to write against everybody, but only after he was superseded in promotion in 2005. He had also suppressed his pending departmental inquiry initiated by the then Government of India administration for his alleged role in the ISRO case as Intelligence Bureau officer. How he got the matters closed just before his promotion was due, needs to be inquired into.”
Responding to the allegation of “tutoring”, Murmu wrote, “Sreekumar was a government witness before the Commission and was having a briefing meeting with the advocate (Arvind Pandya), when I along with other staff, were present with relevant files of the department. Surprisingly, he did not allege any such tutoring when he appeared before the Commission for deposition. He stuck to his affidavit which he filed with the label ‘secret’. It was only after he was superseded for promotion did he get concerned about the alleged tutoring, which was in fact a conference with the lawyer.”
Murmu further claimed that the Supreme Court-appointed SIT had conducted a detailed a inquiry into the matter and had recorded his statements. “[The SIT’s overall findings were] filed in the Supreme Court and later on the matter was disposed off and left to the Judicial Magistrate, who accepted the closure report. This matter is now pending in the High Court. So I think he has all the right to approach authorities.” Asked about his own appointment as Enforcement Directorate chief, Murmu said he had “no control on it and I don’t know.”
‘Modi was also being investigated’
Answering Murmu’s allegations, Sreekumar said his claims about the attempted tutoring had nothing to do with his being superseded. “I had raised the issue of my being discriminated against to the Gujarat Government even before 2005. After I reported against the alleged illegal recovery of firearms from certain Muslims by D.G. Vanzara In November 2004, the Gujarat government sought an explanation from me. In reply, I had told them that they were trying to victimise me because I did not comply with the illegal tutoring and intimidatory directions issued by Murmu and Pandya. Moreover, ‘Operation Kalank’ carried out by Tehelka’s Ashish Khetan had shown [government counsel Arvind] Pandya saying that he had threatened an ADGP not to depose honestly before the Nanavati Commission.”
Sreekumar went on to say, “The issue here is that the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was also being investigated by the Nanavati Commission and officials from his office and the government’s lawyer were pressurising other officials not to depose honestly before the panel. Can the lawyer of an accused brief a prosecution witness?”
One of many controversial appointments
Murmu’s impending appointment to a key post comes barely a couple of months after the PMO pressed for handing over the crucial policy division of the Central Bureau of Investigation to Arun Kumar Sharma, a 1987 batch IPS officer whose name had figured in the investigation into the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. According to a recent media report, “Sharma’s name had appeared on a CD purporting to contain details of discussions between top Gujarat leaders and police officials to derail the investigations into the Gujarat police’ killing of Mumbai college student Ishrat Jahan in 2004. They claimed that she and the three men shot dead with her were on their way to Gujarat to kill Modi. The CD, which was submitted to the CBI by chargesheeted police officer G.L. Singhal, contained details of a meeting between Modi’s principal secretary G.C. Murmu, Sharma and a few other Gujarat ministers and policemen.”
Sharma’s name also surfaced in connection with the Snoopgate scandal, in which the then Gujarat Home Minister (and now BJP president) Amit Shah had in 2009 ordered the surveillance of a young woman’s phone in Gujarat on the directions of his “sahib”. Sharma had served as Special Commissioner in Crime Branch at Ahmedabad before moving to the CBI as Joint Director in April 2015.
Apart from Sharma, the Prime Minister had also brought in Y.C. Modi, another Gujarat IPS officer, as Additional Commissioner in the CBI to increase his hold over the country’s premier investigation agency. Y.C. Modi was a member of the CBI team which had investigated the gunning down of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya in 2003. The family of Pandya had accused the CBI of derailing the investigation. The CBI probe had also drawn flak from the Gujarat High Court when while acquitting 12 people in the case, it had accused the CBI for a “botched-up and blinkered investigation”.