The Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters have hailed it as a vindication. Others have called it strange, worrisome and shameful.

On Tuesday, a special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation gave BJP president Amit Shah a clean chit in the murder cases of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauserbi and murder witness Tulsiram Prajapati, who were all killed in fake encounters in 2005 and 2006.

The court, under special judge MB Gosavi, said there was not enough evidence against Shah to put him on trial for involvement in the encounter killings.

The CBI court’s judgement, unsurprisingly, has been sharply criticised by opposition parties. While the debate about the credibility of the CBI rages on, here is a recap of the case that was hanging over Amit Shah’s head on Tuesday.

Who was Sohrabuddin?

Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati were said to be extortionists who were taking money from marble traders in Rajasthan and Gujarat. They were also said to be involved in smuggling arms, although it is the marble industry that allegedly wanted Shaikh killed.

Amit Shah – then the minister of state for home in Gujarat – was suspected to have a link with the marble industry in Rajasthan through Abhay Chudasama, a senior IPS officer who was known to be close to Shah and for whom Sheikh was collecting money.

In November 2005, when Shaikh and his wife Kauserbi were travelling by bus from Hyderabad to Sangli (in Maharashtra), they were stopped by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police, abducted and shot dead near Gandhinagar. Kauserbi was also allegedly raped by a sub-inspector before being murdered.

The Gujarat police first claimed that Sheikh was associated with Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that he had a plan to kill then chief minister Narendra Modi. A Special Investigation Team monitored by the Supreme Court, later found that they had been killed in a fake encounter.

Prajapati, meanwhile, was the sole witness of the murders. He was in police custody after the incident and was shot dead in another encounter in December 2006, with the police claiming that he was trying to escape from custody.

Evidence against Amit Shah

Among the first arrests made in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case were of deputy inspector general DG Vanzara and Rajasthan police officer Dinesh MN. The Crime Investigation Department obtained phone call records that revealed frequent phone calls between Vanzara, Dinesh, superintendents of police Rajkumar Pandian and Vipul Kumar and Amit Shah.

Detailed call records from September 2006 to January 2007 revealed that Shah had been in constant touch with Vanzara and Pandian during that short period of time around the Prajapati killing. The number of calls increased every time there were developments in the case.

As the Gujarat CID report pointed out, the frequency of these calls was “unnatural and uncommon in nature” because they were not a part of the minister’s official protocol. A minister of state does not usually talk directly with SP-level officers – Shah would ideally have to talk to the home secretary or the chief secretary, or the Anti Terrorist Squad chief.

The police officials involved in the encounter had been serving jail terms since 2007 and were only recently granted bail. After their arrests, however, the officer responsible for the case was transferred and the case was handed over to inspector general Geeta Johri, who was eventually criticised by the Supreme Court for not conducting a fair investigation.

The case was then handed over the CBI.

The case and investigations

In 2010, the CBI briefly arrested Amit Shah who had, by then, quit as the minister of state.  He was additionally charged with destruction of evidence and booked under the Arms Act. But he was out on bail three months later.

Shah had been arrested at a time when Ashwani Kumar was the director of the CBI. Kumar had approved of a note that spoke of the need to "fix" Shah and arrest him in the Sohrabuddin case.

In 2012, the case was transferred to Mumbai.

In September 2013, Vanzara – who was still in jail – wrote a long letter to the Gujarat government in which he described Amit Shah as an “evil influence” on chief minister Narendra Modi, who was state chief minister at the time. In the letter, Vanzara accused the Gujarat government (under Modi and home minister Amit Shah) of ordering the fake encounters and then deliberately ensuring that police officers remained in prison to save their own skin.

By 2013, the BJP had started its Lok Sabha election campaigns and under Modi, Amit Shah was put in charge of Uttar Pradesh. Throughout the campaign and right up to November 2014, Shah was granted exemptions from court appearances.

On December 30, when the CBI court finally came to a decision, it claimed that the frequent call records were poor evidence. The court claimed it is not unnatural for a home minister to interact closely with police officers in an age when “terrorist activities have increased”.

Shaikh’s brother Rubabuddin is evidently dissatisfied by the court’s judgement and is now likely to take the case up in the high court.