The Big Story: Justice in crisis

What sounds like a topic more relevant for prime-time television debates and press conferences by Opposition parties: a slightly offensive cartoon betraying the elitism of a political party or a Bollywood movie about a fictional queen? Or perhaps the claims made by the family of a judge presiding over a case involving the president of India’s ruling party about the mysterious circumstances of his death and allegations of corruption in the judiciary?

The reports on these allegations published by The Caravan on Monday and Tuesday raised enough questions to have swamped the news cycle. The articles are based on the statements of the family of Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, a judge presiding over the Mumbai special Central Bureau of Investigation court that was hearing the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a wanted criminal from Gujarat, was allegedly killed by the police in a staged incident in 2005. The CBI claimed that the officials responsible for the conspiracy to murder Sheikh included Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, who was then home minister of Gujarat.

Loya was transferred to the CBI court in the latter half of 2014 after a previous judge had moved out, right after he had demanded that Amit Shah turn up in court rather than constantly asking for exemptions. Loya himself had initially allowed Shah not to show up. But when the BJP leader was in Mumbai not far from the court and still did not appear, Loya on October 31, 2014, asked why Shah was not in court, and set the next date for December 15, 2014. On December 1, Loya was dead. His family was told that he had suffered a heart attack while travelling for a wedding.

His family has alleged in The Caravan article that the circumstances of his death were murky, though they claim that they were told at the time not to make their concerns public. They mention many details that have given them cause for suspicion, from the time of death to the condition of Loya’s body to the fact that his mobile phone was returned to them two days later by a worker from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Caravan has even posted videos of the family making charges of corruption against a senior member of the judiciary. According to The Caravan, the family asked for an inquiry commission to investigate Loya’s death, but nothing came of this.

This is explosive material and, at the least, requires further investigation from others in the media as well as demands for accountability from other political parties. The details here are directly connected to the very nature of the case: that the state machinery was allegedly misused to ensure favourable political outcomes.

It is true that there are many questions about the matter that are yet to be answered, but the blanks can be filled in only if the matter is investigated by the media and if politicians demand accountability. Some parties, like the Congress, may be fearful of an issue like this playing havoc with their electioneering plans for Gujarat. But that is no excuse and it certainly doesn’t explain why the Left and other parties have not picked up the issue.

Most of the media has also been silent on the charges, perhaps out of fear of taking on the politician some believe to be the second-most powerful man in the country. Failing to consider the allegations of Loya’s family will be to succumb to the atmosphere of fear that the BJP administration has sought to create in its attempt to ensure that no individual or organisation questions its official narrative.

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