The accusations against the BJP's new president

Amit Shah in Ayodhya after praying at the disputed Ram temple site. PTI
09 July, 2014

Two months after steering the BJP to a colossal electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh—key to their majority in the Lok Sabha—Narendra Modi’s close confidante, Amit Shah, was appointed BJP president today, succeeding Rajnath Singh who held the post for the past two years. Shah’s career has always been closely linked to that of Modi’s, though he largely worked in the shadows while Modi grew increasingly prominent. His appointment as BJP president suggests that Modi, through Shah, now controls both the government and the party they belong to.

In this extract from ‘The Organiser’ in The Caravan’s April 2014 issue, Poornima Joshi tracks several troubling incidents to which Amit Shah’s name has been linked.

Narendra Modi was appointed the chief minister of Gujarat in October 2001. Over the course of the following years, he and Amit Shah worked to sideline their political rivals. Any leader with the slightest potential to challenge Modi was either shunted or otherwise fell out of Modi’s way.

“Shah is the only one Modi has relied on and, together, they may have retained power, but they destroyed the BJP in Gujarat organisationally and ideologically,” the former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela told me. He added that the authoritarian manner in which the government and the party are run “is not what we aspired for when I was in the RSS. I knew Shah’s character, conspiring and destroying opponents by any means possible from the time he joined the party.”

Sanjay Joshi, an RSS pracharak who had orchestrated Keshubhai Patel’s 1998 election victory, was booted out of the state and sent to Delhi, just as Modi had been five years before. Patel, Vaghela and Suresh Mehta all left the party at various points. Haren Pandya, at one time a plausible political rival to Modi, was shot dead in his car in 2003; the crime remains unsolved.

In June 2010, a tearful Shah performed his mother’s last rites. He later told a friend in Delhi that he was grateful his mother did not live to witness his subsequent incarceration on murder charges. Shah’s ailing mother died on 8 June; he was arrested on 25 July.

For almost twelve years, Modi and Shah ruled Gujarat in perfect coordination; almost no conflict was ever reported between them. Behind the public projection of Modi’s claims to be the source of unprecedented development in the state, it is believed that the two men dominated through intimidation and force. During this period, thirty-two officers of the Gujarat police have been jailed for their involvement in fake encounter killings that were allegedly carried out at the behest of Shah. The Supreme Court has set up a special monitoring committee to probe twenty-two fake encounter deaths in Gujarat from 2002 to 2006; in four of these years, Shah was Gujarat’s home minister, and in charge of the state police. This includes the three cases in which Shah himself has been arrested and formally accused: the killings of the gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife, and the subsequent murder of a witness.

It also includes the case of Ishrat Jehan and three of her acquaintances, who were killed by Gujarat state police early on the morning of 15 June 2004. Shah has not been charged in this case, which is being tried by a special CBI court in Ahmedabad. On Wednesday, 26 March 2014, the Gujarat high court advocate Mukul Sinha filed a petition on behalf of one victim’s father, requesting that the court arraign Shah and senior Gujarat police officer, KR Kaushik. According to the petition, Shah and Kaushik were “directly involved in the conspiracy, planning, directing and execution of the heinous crime of committing murder.” Despite “strong and sufficient credible evidence” from two chargesheets, the petition reads, they “have not been arraigned as accused in order to help them to escape being tried and prosecuted.”

The petition cites the statements of two accused police officers who claim that DG Vanzara, the now incarcerated deputy director general of police who has admitted to carrying out the attack (as well as many similar killings), said in their hearing that the murders had the approval of the “safed dadi” and the “kali dadi” (the white beard and the black beard)—well-known code names for Modi and Shah within Gujarat’s Crime Branch. According to the statement of a third accused police officer, Vanzara said that “he had the approval of the Chief Minister and the MOS (Home).” The petition then goes on to detail call records that show Vanzara and Shah spoke on five dates relevant to the planning and execution of the attack. One call took place just before 11 pm on the eve of the killing; another occurred forty minutes after the murders. According to a resignation letter written by Vanzara from jail, Modi was his “god,” and he and his fellow officers “simply implemented the conscious policy of this government which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from the very close quarters.”

Then there is the case of the brothers Kuldeep and Pradeep Sharma, who once occupied prime positions in the Gujarat government. The brothers have been out in the cold since Kuldeep, in his capacity as additional director general of police, submitted a report to the Gujarat chief secretary Sudhir Mankad alleging that Shah took a bribe of Rs 2.5 crore to bail out a conman who fraudulently withdrew Rs 1,600 crore from the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank. Kuldeep collected call records and flight details that supported the allegations and recommended that an enquiry be launched against Shah, who was also a director of the bank.

Soon after, Kuldeep was relieved of his police duties and relegated to the Gujarat State Sheep and Wool Development Corporation, an entirely inappropriate job for a police officer. He has since become an adviser to the central home ministry and lives in a state of perennial outrage, accusing the media of pandering to the Gujarat government, especially Modi and Shah. Pradeep was imprisoned from January 2010 to December 2011 on corruption charges that he claims are trumped up, and has been fighting in court to get his trial shifted out of Gujarat, where he believes he cannot get a fair hearing. (He was also recently in the public eye because of his proximity to the family of a young woman who was being illegally tracked by the Gujarat police.) As he recently put it to his brother, “We have been dumped by the state, the people and even by god.”

When I spoke to him this January, Shah dismissed the various accusations against him with the same clinical detachment he used to analyse the political situation in Uttar Pradesh. “If the CBI had anything on me, charges would have been framed by now,” he said of the fake encounter killings. “Why hasn’t it happened? I will tell you why—because they have nothing against me. I will be discharged.”

“My family is not affected by this vicious propaganda,” Shah added. “My wife trusts me. Who knows me better than her? I have done nothing.” (The friend of Shah’s in Delhi told me that Shah, his wife, Sonal, and his son, Jay, form a tight unit. “He is a family man with simple habits. The only link his wife Sonal has with what he does outside is a daily perusal of the newspapers to tell him, ‘There is nothing in the papers about us today.’”) He was also supremely confident that his constituency, Sarkhej, would elect him again, regardless of the murder charges: “You could call it arrogance. I would call it confidence in my people. They love me and know the truth. The CBI and the Central Government can do what they like—my people would still have faith in me.”

Shah went on: “All this”—accusations of fake encounter killings, illegal surveillance, and strong-arming detractors—“is part of a political conspiracy. Truth is my only shield.” He added that the “propaganda” was being spread by his opponents. (Kuldeep Sharma has joined the AAP, and Pradeep Sharma’s lawyer is the AAP national executive member Prashant Bhushan.) But despite Shah’s claims about a political witch-hunt, the CBI has not exactly pursued his prosecution zealously; instead, it has fallen to the victims’ families to plead with the courts to arraign Shah on the basis of evidence that is already in the agency’s possession.

“So far as Gujarat is concerned, there is a conspiracy of silence,” Kuldeep Sharma said. “So many of us have been targeted for doing what we thought was our job—and the media, the IAS and IPS officers’ associations, and the so-called civil society has kept silent. You have a man accused of murder supervising an election and no one seems to think it is objectionable.”

An extract from ‘The Organiser,’ published in The Caravan’s April 2014 issue. Read the story in full here.

Poornima Joshi  is a former Caravan staff writer, and now the political editor of the Hindu Business Line.