With the former Gujarat Minister of State for Home Amit Shah in judicial custody in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is now focussing its efforts on sewing up the loose ends of its probe and defending itself as allegations over its ``misuse’’ fly thick and fast.
The CBI will now further examine the senior police officials, chargesheeted in the case, as well as some high ranking Gujarat police officers who have come under the cloud of suspicion for their role in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. After this, informed sources said, the CBI by next week will seek police custody of Mr. Shah and confront him with the statements of the police officers and other evidence gathered by the CBI during its probe.
A rattled opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fuming over arrest of Mr. Shah, considered close to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, is sure to keep the issue alive in Parliament which begins its Monsoon session on Monday.
Even as the BJP leaders raise their pitch in attacking the CBI and its alleged ``misuse’’ by the ruling party at the Centre, they would do well to remember that such charges against the premier investigating agency have been levelled in the past from time to time.
A former Director of the CBI who did not wish to be quoted was of the view that being a Home Minister of a State, Amit Shah, should have responded to the summons and appeared before the agency. He felt that BJP was ``unfairly criticising’’ the CBI which has a right to call any body for further probe if it was in possession of some material facts.
``These were summons under Section 161 of the CrPC and was only a fact finding exercise. The minister should have given his version and explanation failing which the agency filed a chargesheet before the court. Mr. Shah should have gracefully cooperated with the agency which took up investigation on the directions of the Supreme Court. The court even rejected his anticipatory bail ,’’ the former CBI chief said. He pointed out that even Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had appeared earlier this year before the Supreme Court-appointed and monitored Special Investigation Team (SIT) which is probing the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat.
He reminded that it was the same BJP which had appreciated the role of the CBI in cracking the murder case of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya in 2003. The agency had at that time faced almost similar allegations from Vithalbhai, father of Haren Pandya, who had accused the Chief Minister Narendra Modi of being behind the murder of his son. An embittered Vithalbhai had even contested elections against BJP stalwart L. K. Advani and lost.
About seven years ago, CBI faced similar allegation by the Congress and others during the NDA regime when they slammed the ruling coalition for ``misusing the CBI’’ in getting conspiracy charges dropped against the then Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani and others in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
In July 2003, the Opposition had wanted a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the alleged ``misuse of the CBI’’ and Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee had moved the motion in the Rajya Sabha on the misuse of the CBI to subvert the process of law in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
CPI (M) leader in the Rajya Sabha Nilotpal Basu had pointed out that Babri Masjid demolition case was the one wherein the ```accused and the prosecution are one and the same’’' and hence there was a conflict of interest.
It was during the NDA regime that an acting CBI Director was not confirmed and transferred out in January 1999 because he had dared to order raids on Reliance Industries Limited and CBI sleuths had reached the top floor apartment of RIL chief Dhirubhai Ambani.
However, in Gujarat which was shaken by the anti-Muslim riots in 2002, the CBI investigated the Bilkis Bano case and taken it to logical conclusion. On another front, the agency is still grappling with some of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases. Clearly, everything is not right with the administration of the criminal justice system and those from the political class and those with deep pockets manage to subvert the system and escape the process of law.
A report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee way back in 2000 wanted the Government to ``take measures to infuse professionalism in the working of the CBI.’’
``If it is impartial and independent, the CBI will be stronger than the FBI. If not, it can be worse than Delhi Police,’’ a former Union Minister who was also a member of the Standing Committee on Home Affairs, had remarked then. Over the past decade, the image and reputation of the CBI as an independent and impartial investigating agency has come under a shadow. In cases with political ramifications, the CBI has faltered and often taken up the probe on the directions of the Court. And where it has shown courage, like the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, its motives are sought to be questioned by the BJP as its Gujarat leaders have started to feel the heat of the probe.
Speaking privately, serving and retired CBI officials, admit that political bosses asked it to take up cases that had little substance and cited the example of Jain Hawala case where the agency implicated a number of politicians. The Bofors case, Fodder Scam, JMM Bribery scandal and Babri Masjid demolition case are among those where CBI had been woken up from slumber either by the judiciary or media.