Special CBI Judge Justice Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin murder case in which Narendra Modi’s lieutenant Amit Shah and several top Gujarat police officers were implicated, died suddenly at a Government guest house in Nagpur on 30 November 2014 – two weeks before the next hearing in the case. Within a month of the death of the 48-year-old Justice Loya, his successor had discharged Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin murder case. Justice Loya’s predecessor, who had been tough on Shah, had been transferred just a day before a hearing date he had fixed in which he had required Shah to be present. Justice Loya too had shown every sign of diligence in the case rather than leniency towards Shah.
Now, three years on, the late Justice Loya’s family members have raised several disturbing questions about the circumstances of his death. His sister has alleged that before his death, Justice Loya had received threats to his life, and had also been offered a bribe by none less than a serving chief justice of the Bombay High Court, to pressurize him to give a favourable judgement in the Sohrabuddin murder case.
His family members have cited several suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. They say he was very fit, with no history of cardiac problems, so they doubt that he died of a sudden heart attack. They claim that his body, when it was returned to them, had bloodstains on his clothes that were not mentioned in the post-mortem report. They ask who the mysterious person was who has signed every page of the post-mortem report claiming to be a Nagpur-based ‘paternal cousin’ of the judge (he had no such cousin.) They ask why there are so many large variations in the accounts of the actual time of his death. They ask why an RSS activist Ishwar Baheti, was the one who was giving Justice Loya’s family members information about the plans to transport his body and claiming to be coordinating everything? Why was Baheti the one to return the judge’s cell phone to the family, and why was the phone wiped of all data, including an SMS warning him to “stay safe from these people”?
At the time of Justice Loya’s death too, Sohrabuddin’s brother, the complainant in the murder case, had raised questions about Justice Loya’s sudden death that was so convenient for Amit Shah. The serious and disturbing questions raised by Justice Loya’s family members also serve as a reminder of the murky circumstances of the Sohrabuddin fake encounter. Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi had been abducted by Gujarat police officers.
Sohrabuddin had been killed and his death disguised as an ‘encounter’; while Kauser Bi, a witness to his abduction, had been raped, killed, and buried. Tulsiram Prajapati, another witness to the abduction of Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi, had repeatedly told the court that he feared for his life; he too was killed by Gujarat police officers. Gujarat police personnel themselves have borne witness to these killings. Moreover there are phone records showing Amit Shah, then Gujarat Home Minister, in close contact with the accused police officers at the time of the killings.
The suspicions being raised by his family members about the manner and timing of Justice Loya’s death are a chilling reminder of the many murky and murderous crimes that cast shadows on the Modi-Shah duo during their reign in Gujarat. In 2013, DG Vanzara, one of the Gujarat police officers accused in the murders of Sohrabuddin, Kauser Bi and Tulsiram Prajapati, had publicly implied that the fake encounter murders were part of a “conscious policy” of the Gujarat Government headed by Modi, which had yielded rich political returns for Modi by helping him don a “halo of Brave Chief Minister”; and that the Gujarat Government had been “inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from the very close quarters.”
As Amit Shah, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria, and a series of senior Gujarat police officers implicated in these murder were discharged one after another by courts, the CBI has, true to its reputation as a “caged parrot,” failed to challenge these judgements.
Will the questions raised by Justice Loya’s family members about his death ever be answered? Will the fake encounter victims of Gujarat ever get justice? Or will the perpetrators be able to use political power, money, threats, and violence to bury truth and justice and get away with murder?
Democracy- and justice-loving people of India will always keep these questions alive, until the perpetrators are brought to book.