By all accounts, it’s been a great week for Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah so far. On Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition by activist Harsh Mander that asked for Shah to be tried in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Coincidentally, within a few hours of the judgment, Gujarat’s chief minister Anandiben Patel offered to resign on Facebook. As it so happens, Amit Shah – now exonerated of all charges in Sheikh’s murder – is reported to be the frontrunner to replace Patel.
Given that, for six years now, the controversy around the Sohrabuddin case has stuck to Shah, it bears recounting how he’s now been exonerated of the charges. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused Mander’s petition, saying that he did not have any locus standi in the case of alleged criminal Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was killed in an alleged fake encounter by the Gujarat Police in 2005, allegedly at the behest of Shah, who was the state's home minister at the time.
Sheikh's wife, Kausar Bi, disappeared on the same day Sheikh was killed. Arguing that Mander was not an aggrieved party, the court held that the case “would have taken a different colour even if Rubabuddin [Sohrabuddin’s brother] had filed this case”.
This is a curious Catch-22, given that Rubabuddin has gone on record claiming that has not gone through with legal action against Shah since he had been threatened. In an interview with journalist Suhas Munshi, Rubabuddin said, “They just killed someone I knew and was close to. They killed this man in cold blood, and this was a warning to me. I can’t tell you anymore.”
An eyewitness to the Sheikh murder, Tulsiram Prajapati was killed in 2006, with Supreme Court claiming in 2010 that “his death evokes strong suspicion that a deliberate attempt was made to destroy a human witness”. As a result, in 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation was asked by the Supreme Court to inquire into all three murders, with Shah being a prime suspect.
In a sudden twist, though, a CBI court in December, 2014 dismissed the case against Shah, arguing that there was not enough evidence for a trial. The CBI took the highly unusual step of not challenging this decision in a higher court.
So damaging was the Sohrabuddin case for Shah that in 2010 he was jailed for it. He was also banned from entering Gujarat till 2012, with the Supreme Court fearing that he would influence the case. As a result of this, Shah was unable to hold any ministerial posts, even though it is widely held that he is now the most powerful person in the Bharatiya Janata Party after Narendra Modi himself.
All that is now a thing of the past. Starting with the CBI’s decision to not file an appeal against Shah’s clean chit to the Supreme Court refusing to reopen the case against him on Monday, Shah seems to have put the Sohrabuddin encounter firmly behind him. This, coupled with Anandiben Patel’s shock resignation, has placed him firmly as frontrunner for the post of Gujarat’s chief minister.