BJP president Amit Shah, the closest aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was on Tuesday cleared of ordering police to carry out the extrajudicial killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife and his friend when he served as home minister of Gujarat almost a decade ago.
“I am of the opinion that the inference drawn by the CBI is not accepted in totality and he (Shah) cannot be charged as an accused,” special CBI judge MB Gosavi said.
Sohrabuddin was allegedly abducted and portrayed as a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist killed in a police shootout on November 26, 2005, in Ahmedabad. Wife Kausarbi was murdered three days later.
A year later, key witness Tulsiram Prajapati fell to police bullets at a village in Gujarat, prompting Sohrabuddin’s brother to file a complaint that the killings were staged.
Shah's lawyer SV Raju said his client was acquitted because of lack of evidence and accused the Congress of using the CBI as a tool to implicate the BJP chief in the case.
The investigation was handed over to the CBI following allegations that Shah was running an extortion racket with police officers and Sohrabuddin, a petty gangster, while holding the home minister’s position in Gujarat. Shah and Sohrabuddin fell out and police snatched the goon from a bus with his wife in 2005, the CBI said in a chargesheet.
Kausarbi’s body was later found in the village of one of the policemen, the CBI report said.
Complainant Rubabuddin’s counsel had argued in court that Shah was in frequent touch with police officers S Rajkumar Pandyan and DG Vanzara, currently in jail in connection with the case, and he tried to influence the investigation.
Phone records show Shah had multiple calls with the accused officers during the operation and was pivotal to the conspiracy, the CBI said.
But his lawyer contested that call records between November 2005 and December, 2006 have been brought on record but those before and after were left out. “There is no law which says that a home minister cannot talk to police officers. It’s his job.”
The trial had undermined the government's promise to usher in a new era of clean politics, though the Gujarat administration admitted all three murders were staged. Shah was made BJP chief in July as he awaited his trial, two months after helping Modi deliver his biggest election victory.
Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin said his family would challenge the ruling in the Bombay high court, while the CBI said it would study the court order before taking further steps in the matter.
The Congress on Tuesday hit back at the ruling BJP by accusing it of exerting pressure to extract a ruling in favour of Shah. “The CBI is now chained, caged and totally immobilized ... it needs a much deeper inquiry,” said party spokesperson Ajoy Kumar.
(With agency inputs)