How intellectuals sell their soul
BY KAMINI JAISWAL
It is vacation time in the Supreme Court. Most of the
lawyers and Honourable Judges are either out of town on a holiday or
tending to personal and social engagements. The pressure that a lawyer
practising in the Supreme Court undergoes is by now a well-known
phenomenon. It was on one such day last week that I received a call from
an acquaintance in Gujarat. The state holds a special place in my heart.
Apart from having many close friends, I obtained my postgraduate degree in
Law from MS University, Vadodara.
The call however disturbed the even tempo of last Sunday
as my interlocutor informed me about a piece written by one Gunvant Shah
in the Sunday supplement of the Gujarati daily, Divya Bhaskar. The
caller was himself confused since Gunvant Shah is a well-known and
well-respected literary figure in the state normally known for his
balanced writing. He read out certain portions of the article and since
there was a mention about Teesta Setalvad, whom I represent in the Supreme
Court of India, it became imperative to write this article in response.
A bare reading of the article entitled “Karmsheel Juttu
Bole Ke?” (“Does a sincere worker tell a lie?”) refers to Setalvad’s
father Atul Setalvad and calls him a man of principle. It then proceeds to
cite instances which, according to the author, establish that Setalvad
under the grab of being a sincere worker has been telling lies.
It is first important to go back into the family history
of Teesta as Gunvant Shah has already referred to her father. Very few
people may now remember that she is the great grand-daughter of Sir
Chimanlal Setalvad, an eminent advocate in the Bombay High Court during
the British Raj. Such was the eminence of Sir Setalvad that in the
aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the atrocities committed
during the imposition of martial law in the then undivided Punjab, he was
made a member of the Disorders Inquiry Committee which was appointed by
the British Government to go into the causes of the disturbances.
It is to the fullest credit of Sir Setalvad and another
Indian member, Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan, Bar-at-Law, Member for
Appeals, Gwalior State, that they had the courage to record a dissenting
note to the findings with regard to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the
imposition of Martial Law in Punjab.
Sir Setalvad’s son, that is Teesta’s grandfather, retired
as a senior counsel in the Supreme Court of India after being the first
Attorney General of Independent India. If it was the intention of Gunvant
Shah to establish that though sired by a principled father Teesta did not
uphold the same values, he should now fully realize that the family values
of this lady are far deeper and beyond any horizons than Gunvant Shah
could have ever imagined.
The communal colour of the article becomes apparent when
he makes it a point to say that she is married to Javed Anand and lest
readers may mistake the Anand surname as a Hindu one, he makes it clear by
suffixing ‘Begum’ to Teesta’s name. In a cleverer manner, he refers
to Javed’s own article published in the Indian Express (March 16,
2010) to make the point that within the Muslim community Teesta is
referred to as a ‘mujahid’.
Gunvant Shah is a respectable name in the Gujarati
literary scene. He is the author of many seminal works which are well
regarded and well read. Without any doubt he must realize that honesty is
of two types and that intellectual honesty is by far the most important
and superior to any other form of honesty which can be measured in rupees
and/ or paise. Therefore can Gunvant Shah honestly say that in citing the
above example it was not his intention to convey that it is because Teesta
married a Muslim that she is espousing the case of the victims of communal
riots, one of the most horrific that ever happened in India after 1947?
Does he realize that Teesta neither changed her name to adopt a Muslim
name nor converted to Islam?
The dishonesty of the author may have been intentional or
unintentional. I would like to presume it was the latter, else how could
he cite the example of Kausarbanu, a pregnant woman whose belly was torn
upon by a sword during the riots and about whom relying on the evidence
recorded by the SIT, Gunvant Shah proceeds to call Teesta a liar. I say
that Shah has made this statement by mistake because he perhaps does not
know the SIT on whose credibility he lays such a store by, stands
discredited in the eyes of apex court to the extent that two Additional
Director Generals of Police of the SIT, namely Shivanand Jha and Geeta
Johri have been directed to stay out of the same. The latter has already
been exposed for her deliberate failure in the investigation of
Sohrabuddin case now being investigated by the CBI. The second point
Gunvant Shah has completely forgotten is the Tehelka expose, which was
telecast in the last quarter of 2007 where the perpetrator himself has
admitted to the crime on camera.
The most unfortunate aspect of the article by this eminent
author is his reference to the Sohrabuddin case. He states: “24 (AK 56)
rifles, 27 hand grenades, 550 cartridges and 81 magazines were found”. He
further writes, “...so was this man a Sufi fakir?” The figures of
arms and ammunitions seized way back in 1995 from a village in Madhya
Pradesh can only have been given to him by the authorities of the
(Gujarat) state government. We may not however split hair on this issue,
what is important is the obfuscation of facts. If this was true, those who
supplied information to Gunvant Shah should reconcile the fact that
Soharabuddin’s role was that of a petty criminal, who neither supplied
these weapons nor used them but was part of a family or a gang to whom
these weapons were entrusted for safe keeping.
It is not the intention here to give Sohrabuddin the
benefit of doubt. He was tried, convicted and released. The law of the
land had taken its course. The point however is different. Is it the
contention of the Gujarat police that such a criminal should have been
liquidated in cold blood?
The initial FIR registered by the Gujarat police mentioned
that Sohrabuddin had come to kill Narendra Modi. The evidence now
available establishes that the encounter was a fake. Can Gunvant Shah
explain to the people of Gujarat how he views the motivation of a
politician in power who through at least six fake encounters (figures
could be actually as high as three times this number) has tried to paint
for himself a macho image to help him realize his naked ambition of
becoming the Prime Minister of India?
It is often said that perception is more important than
the reality, more so where public perception is concerned. In the
cacophony of “...Sohrabuddin, Sohrabuddin, Sohrabuddin...”, that innocent
woman Kauserbi (his wife) is completely forgotten. On that fateful night
in November 2005, when officers of the Gujarat police intercepted the bus
travelling from Hyderabad to Hubli and wanted to take away Sohrabuddin
alone, this loyal and courageous lady refused to let him go alone and
clung to him thereby forcing the Gujarat police to bring her to Ahmedabad.
The state has since admitted that she was killed.
Is it realized that extinguishing of this human life was
not even brought on record, even as another, one more, fake encounter? And
yet the state government opposed the transfer of the fake encounter case
to the CBI, contesting it tooth and nail for three years. On each hearing,
it sent the additional advocate general and the secretary to the CM to
remain present in the Supreme Court. Shah should have analysed this
reluctance on part of the Gujarat administration and opined whether it
amounts to obstruction of justice in one form or the other.
It may well turn out that this could be one of the most
horrendous cases this country has ever seen where a self-seeking political
executive has used unscrupulous elements in the police in a dastardly
manner. One year and two months later when it was realized that an interim
report was sent to Supreme Court in December 2006, prima facie
admitting that the killing of Sohrabuddin was a fake encounter, Tulsi
Prajapati, a crucial eye witness, was in gross misuse of the judicial
process brought on a transfer warrant from Udaipur and killed near Ambaji,
Banaskantha district, Gujarat.
Two points need to be mentioned here. In his article why
has Gunvant Shah remained quiet about the killing of Kauserbi and secondly
why has he remained silent about the similar cold blooded liquidation of
Tulsi Prajapati? The state government’s own CID (Crime) has arrested
several police officers including the superintendent of police, Vipul
Aggarwal in the said crime. If Teesta is a begum by virtue of her
marriage to Javed Anand, what is Tulsi’s religion? Muslim, as he
was a close associate of Sohrabuddin or Hindu, because his mother
is one Narmadaben?
Gunvant Shah is an author and I am a lawyer. We both
represent those sections of our society that are vital for the well-being
of a healthy democracy. Both speak and write in the public domain and
therefore it is critical for both to be sure of facts and the canvass on
which they are operated. It would be naive for anyone to presume that
Gunvant Shah was not aware of the entire circumstances. Therefore, it can
only be said that if he wrote an article of this nature that is under
discussion he has done a great disservice to the state by lending his name
to issues which are far more complicated and serious than his literary
background can even began to fathom.
I do not write in defence of Teesta, she can more than
take care of herself. This response is actually a call to all law-abiding
citizens to sit up and take notice of what is happening in the state of
Gujarat. If public spirited citizens and votaries of civil society are to
justify their existence in this country, they need to expose as vigorously
as possible, and preferably outside the judicial forum, intentional misuse
of state power to suppress crimes of serious nature. Let the citizens ask
why the state sent the chief secretary, home secretary and the DGP to meet
the director, CBI with regard to the criminal investigation of the
Sohrabuddin case as reported by several newspapers, to convey to the chief
of the Central agency that following the orders of the Supreme Court,
according to these worthies, is going against the public opinion in
This is an unprecedented move never heard of before. A
former DGP of Gujarat is already in the dock for obstructing justice. This
is an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court after three years of
deliberation. The state itself arrested 14 police officers of Gujarat and
Rajasthan. When the CBI arrested one more police officer, Abhay Chudasma,
DCP (Crime), there is an immediate uproar that it is going against
sentiments of the people of Gujarat. Is it not for the governor of the
state to take notice of the fact that the affairs of the government of
Gujarat are conducted under rules framed as per Article 166 of the
Constitution of India and therefore, by what administrative or
constitutional propriety and under whose instructions or with whose
connivance did the chief secretary, home secretary and the DGP proceed to
Delhi to meet the CBI director?
(Kamini Jaiswal is an advocate in the Supreme
Court of India.)