Lies pile on and the tapes keep rolling
by Sandhya Jain on 17 Dec 2013 4 Comments
More than two years before the ruckus over the alleged illegal surveillance of a young woman architect caught the imagination of the virulently anti-Narendra Modi media, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to admit a petition by former Bhuj Collector Pradeep N Sharma against the Gujarat Government and Chief Minister.


After hearing counsel for the petitioner, the Chief Minister and the State of Gujarat, Justices Aftab Alam and RM Lodha issued the following order on May 12, 2011, “Mr Colin Gonsalves, learned senior counsel appearing for the petitioner states that he does not wish to retain the averment made on page F of the synopsis in its present form and the elaboration of that statement as contained in paragraphs 15 to 25 of the Writ Petition. In this connection, he states that he will file a supplementary petition making suitable amendments to those averments which tend to cast an unintended and wrong information in their present form. Mr Gonsalves added that neither he nor the petitioner has any intent to make the faintest allegation of any personal impropriety against the Chief Minister”.


Accordingly, writ petition (criminal) no. 93 of 2011 was not admitted and there the matter rested until suddenly, in recent weeks, web portals Cobrapost (again in the news for its unmatched ability to raise funds for entrapment) and Gulail carried sensational news about the Gujarat Chief Minister and former minister Amit Shah as an exclusive investigation (read plant). They tactfully issued a ‘statutory warning’ that they could not authenticate the voices on the audio tapes they were airing, though the tapes suggested certain illegalities and improprieties. The BJP spokespersons accepted guilt; television channels had a field day sexing up the story and committed sections of the print media were quick to follow.  


The scurrilous insinuation took a back seat briefly on account of the drubbing the Congress received in four northern states. Meanwhile, having achieved the desired publicity for his innuendos, Pradeep Sharma filed a fresh petition on November 23, 2013 wherein he merely condensed the allegations made in the impugned paras 15–25 rather than remove them as promised in 2011.


The story around the original allegations with new releases of tape recordings (transcripts of which are utterly banal) is now being revived with a vengeance because of the need to deflect attention from Sonia Gandhi’s sharp reaction to the Supreme Court verdict on Article 377, which has startled the Congress rank and file. There is also need to divert the public mind from Congress’ rout, and take advantage of the fact that the BJP is easy to destabilise.


Essentially, Sharma’s petition boils down to the claim that firstly, the State Government is persecuting him because he is the brother of Kuldeep Sharma, retired Addl. Director General of Police, CID-Crime, and currently adviser in the Union Home Ministry. Secondly, that Sharma was covered by the intrusive vigilance over a female landscape architect in 2009. He had employed her for a reconstruction project in Bhuj when he was Collector in 2004, and even introduced her to the Chief Minister.


According to the new petition (yet to be admitted), Sharma wants four cases pending against him with the State Crime Branch to be transferred to the CBI. But, instead of discussing the cases in which he is seeking relief – presumably cases of corruption during his tenure as Bhuj Collector – he uses his petition to malign the Chief Minister with a host of insinuations.


There is coy mention of an incriminating video which Sharma claims he has not seen. But in the impugned paragraphs of the 2011 petition he clearly states he came across an unseemly video clipping of the landscape architect and had discussed this on both his mobile phones (with whom is not clarified). Sharma takes refuge behind the conveniently-timed Cobrapost and Gulail postings to reiterative his slander and gleefully cites the fact that the BJP has accepted that the surveillance of the young woman (and Sharma himself) was done at the behest of the Chief Minister, to support his slanderous innuendos against the latter.


Thereafter, in paragraph 15, Sharma produces a portion of an alleged transcript to show he was once surveilled a whole night to ascertain the nature of his relationship (with an unnamed person). Giving a political twist to his case, he says his brother Kuldeep Sharma helped expose the alleged fake encounters of Tulsi Prajapati, Ishrat Jahan and Sadiq Jamal, and that is why he (Pradeep Sharma) was allegedly victimised by the State Government.


Sharma furnishes copious documentation from the Ishrat Jehan fake encounter case – lists of files in two pen drives allegedly furnished by ACP GL Singhal as evidence of a high level conspiracy to kill Ishrat Jehan and her companions; various confessional statements of GL Singhal after his arrest in the case, wherein Singhal claims he knew about the conspiracy, had serious differences about it, but was kept in the loop by DG Vanzara (which seems odd).


There are several pages of transcripts of alleged conversations between Amit Shah and GL Singhal, which do not name anyone directly. The conversations cover the alleged fake encounter of Ishrat Jehan, and the alleged surveillance of the landscape architect during her association with Pradeep Sharma. It is difficult to say what they can prove in a court of law.


None of this has any bearing on Pradeep Sharma’s cases before the State Crime Branch, which he wants transferred to the CBI, possibly in the hope that his brother who is employed with the Union Home Ministry might be in a position to help him with. The tapes are a red herring to tar the reputation of the Chief Minister and a flagrant breach of the 2011 commitment by Sharma and his counsel to, “file a supplementary petition making suitable amendments to those averments which tend to cast an unintended and wrong information in their present form...”


Yet the new petition is blatantly defamatory. It speaks of the current quality of journalism in the electronic and print media that a story with no evidentiary support could receive so much coverage. It will end in a whimper like the Tehelka sting against then Defence Minister George Fernandes, which the once-complicit media has chosen to gloss over, though it has been happy to excoriate a government agency for the false accusations against ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan.

Pioneer, 17 December 2013

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