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Questions galore

In a major relief to Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, a special CBI court in Mumbai discharged him in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. The judge had inferred that conclusions drawn by the Central Bureau of Investigation were not sufficient to charge Shah as an accused in the case. The CBI had earlier charged Shah, then home minister of Gujarat, as a prime accused in the killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati, who was said to have been an eyewitness to the encounter. Although details of the judgement are currently unavailable, the court’s decision does cast a dark shadow on the investigative agency yet again. Leaders from various opposition parties have attacked the CBI for allegedly taking a U-turn in the murder case.

Referring to the ‘changed stand’ adopted vis-a-vis Shah’s alleged role in the two murders, opposition leaders said that the CBI presented a ‘limp’ submission before the court in Mumbai, where Shah’s lawyers had filed a discharge application. On 15 December, the CBI counsel argued for just 15 minutes in response to three days of vigorous arguments by Shah’s legal team, on why the BJP president should not stand trial in the murder case. Adding insult to injury, the CBI counsel did not even bother to appoint a special prosecutor, despite the magnitude of the case. Earlier this year, the CBI special prosecutor was transferred, along with the judge and investigating officer. To make matters easier for the BJP president, the CBI did not even object to Amit Shah seeking permanent exemption from appearing in court.  

Although, the CBI had earlier submitted that multiple calls were exchanged between Shah and the accused cops at the time of the killings, on Tuesday the judge said that it is ‘not unnatural’ for a home minister to work closely with the police as ‘terrorist activities have increased and are rampant all over the world.’ The CBI has not responded to whether it will challenge the verdict in a higher court. In light of the above circumstances, the court’s decision may point towards two conclusions.

Either Shah was unfairly targeted by the erstwhile UPA regime, or his recent acquittal comes at the time, when his party controls the Centre. Interestingly, it was only last year that the Supreme Court questioned the agency’s credibility, during its assessment of the coal scam probe, calling it a ‘caged parrot speaking in its master’s voice’. Many expected that the present government would take measures to reform the CBI, establish its independence and make the agency accountable to Parliament, considering that last year the BJP slammed the Congress for misusing the CBI. Unless it wants to be accused of the same, the BJP-led government must display the political fortitude required to initiate key reforms to the CBI.





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