By Praful Bidwai
02 Aug, 2010
The Bharatiya Janata Party periodically behaves as if it has come unhinged. This typically happens on trademark issues of faith, which pit it against the rest of the political spectrum barring the Shiv Sena.
Examples are the Babri Masjid, where it insisted, despite lack of historical evidence, that a temple was destroyed; making Saraswati vandana compulsory in schools; rewriting textbooks along communal lines; and defending Mr. Narendra Modi for the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat.
Now, the BJP has come unhinged on another issue: governance in "Hindutva laboratory" Gujarat. It's shielding Junior Home Minister Amit Shah for plotting the 2005 murder of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, a petty criminal, his wife Kauserbi, and eyewitness Tulsidas Prajapati. Mr. Shah brazenly evaded arrest for two days after the Central Bureau of Investigation charged him last week.
The BJP claims that the "partisan" CBI framed Mr. Shah at the Centre's behest. But the BJP has often demanded CBI investigations into recent scams. Besides, the Gujarat government has admitted to the Supreme Court that Sohrabuddin was killed in a fake encounter.
It's the Supreme Court, not the CBI, which initiated the Sohrabuddin investigation. The CBI used evidence from the Gujarat police to conclude that Mr. Shah plotted the killings.
After the chargesheet was filed, Mr. Shah should have faced arrest and trial. He was tasked with defending the rule of law, but brazenly violated it and defied constitutional legality.
No party, barring the Shiv Sena, has stooped as low as the BJP in shielding a gravely indicted leader. Mr. Shah's defences are expected to be demolished by "encounter specialist" and former Deputy SP N.K. Amin who witnessed the crimes in question and is turning approver.
Consider the bare facts. In November 2005, the Gujarat police abducted Sohrabuddin --a small-time extortionist and money collector for Mr. Shah and Vanzara. They called him a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative who planned to assassinate Mr. Modi.
Gujarat DIG and "encounter specialist" DG Vanzara and SP Rajkumar Pandian killed Sohrabuddin in cold blood because he had become inconvenient for Vanzara's extortion racket. Branding him a terrorist would help glorify Mr. Modi. Eyewitnesses Kauserbi and Prajapati were killed later.
The CBI says it has unimpeachable evidence of Mr. Shah's complicity in these killings, including records of his cellphone conversations with Vanzara.
The charges against Mr. Shah may be inaccurate, even false. That can only be established in his trial. But it's indisputable that he organised the transfer of Vanzara and other policemen to stage "encounters," and ran a large-scale extortion racket with Vanzara and company.
According to the CBI, many people paid them millions in bribes to stage fake encounters or get trumped-up charges dropped. Mr. Shah also covered up the Rs.1,030 crore Madhavpura Bank fraud by a notorious stockmarket scamster, Ketan Parekh. Gujarat's Criminal Investigation Department had found that Mr. Shah helped Parekh jump bail for a Rs.2.5 crore bribe. It recommended a CBI investigation.
The BJP's hysterical pro-Shah campaign has again proven it the Odd Man Out of Indian politics. Its Hindutva project is uniquely sectarian -- it rejects India's multi-religious, plural and secular character -- and it unreasonably claims that it's a victim of the system.
The BJP's appetite for contrived victim-hood is limitless. When faced with reasoned criticism from secularists writing in the English-language press, the BJP for decades accused it of visceral hostility.
It nurtures victim-hood even when unleashing violence or calumny against the religious minorities, which it terms invaders and aggressors. There's an intimate connection between manufactured victim-hood and violence, seen as "well-deserved" retribution.
That's why the BJP defends "Sadhvi" Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt-Col Shrikant Purohit and Abhinav Bharat activists, all involved in the Hindutva-inspired terrorist network responsible for explosions in mosques/dargahs in Hyderabad and Ajmer (2007), Malegaon (2008), and possibly, the Samjhauta Express (2007).
At the heart of this well-ramified network are current and former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members committed to a Hindu rashtra, including Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sunil Joshi, Pravin Mutalik and Dayanand Pandey. They made, transported and planted explosives targeting ordinary Muslims.
The CBI believes the network murdered Mhow-based RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi in 2007 just when investigators were closing in on him.
This network is more dangerous than the jehadi outfits that killed innocent people in "retaliation" for the persecution of Muslims since the 1993 Mumbai blasts because of its Hindu majoritarianism and infiltration into the police.
This network must be ruthlessly punished. The BJP, RSS and their cohorts defend it and obstruct its prosecution. This defence is as condemnable as the BJP's pro-Shah campaign.
The BJP knows the case against Mr. Shah would eventually implicate Mr, Modi. It's Mr. Modi who executed the police transfers that Mr. Shah recommended.
Mr. Modi is indispensable to the BJP. He's its longest-serving chief minister and the number one leader after Mr. Advani.
Astonishingly, BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad and senior leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj rant that Sohrabuddin was a terrorist. Even if this is true, it can't justify his non-judicial execution. Civilised societies put criminals on trial, they don't summarily kill them.
Justifying non-judicial killings in "extreme" or "exceptional" cases is a slippery slope. It means granting the police impunity and condoning murder. No citizen can be safe in such a society. The BJP must answer if that's the kind of society it wants.
Deep at work here is the BJP's notion of democracy as a mere instrument of power, to be used through elections. This view undermines the content of democracy -- rule of law, human rights and constitutional freedoms -- and is incompatible with a civilised social order.
The BJP is increasingly isolating itself from the aspirations and concerns of the Indian people, including the middle class, its sole (and shrinking) constituency.
As it gets Modi-fied, the BJP forfeits its claim to being a party which abides by the law of the land and the ground-rules of democracy. Such a party can only have a bleak future.
Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist.
Source: Tha Daily Star, Dhaka, Bangladesh