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The Shameful Persecution of Teesta Setalvad

The news recently carried a statement made by the CBI to a special court about someone being a threat to national security. As a citizen of India, who would you consider a threat to national security?

Did you say terrorist? Not many would disagree with you. Regardless of the name of the  religion under which terrorism masquerades to kill innocent people, a terrorist is just that, a terrorist. You must have been concerned therefore, when you read that a courageous woman public prosecutor was being pressured by an officer of the premier National Investigation Agency to go soft in her prosecution of terrorists in the case in Malegaon which had killed many innocents. Your concern would have mounted by the subsequent reports that 14 prosecution witnesses in the Ajmer Sharif case had turned hostile. Yet they have not been charged with perjury. Most of them are RSS workers. One is a Minister in the Jharkhand Government. He had defected to the BJP and was rewarded.

What is common in these cases? The acts of terror were all committed by groups acting in the name of Hindutva, in which links with top leaders of the RSS have been alleged.

But these are not the people who were being referred to as a threat to national security by the CBI.

Or, as a law-abiding citizen, you may think that if those mandated to uphold the law act like criminals, who can feel secure? In that case, you would be really concerned at recent developments when police officials who are accused in several cases of encounter killings, all of them in Gujarat, have not only got bail but been reinstated in their jobs, even as they are being tried in cases of murder. One of them is now the Additional DG of Law and Order; another has been rewarded with the post of the Superintendent of Vigilance. All the witnesses in their cases are police personnel subordinate to them. The then Home Minister of Gujarat was also an accused in the case. He was in jail for several months. Recently, the CBI Special Court exonerated him.

It was said by the learned judge that he accepted the arguments of the accused, the then Home Minister, that the 343 phone calls made by him to one of the police officers involved in the encounter killings, and the 38 calls to another in the period before and after the encounter killings, was part of the way he functioned! The CBI has not appealed against this bizarre judgement. Of course it may have something to do with the fact that the then Home Minister is now the President of the BJP.

So it was not the accused in encounter killings, all out on bail, who the CBI was referring to as a national security threat.

Could the CBI be referring to the killings of witnesses in the unfolding murder cum corruption scam in Madhya Pradesh? At least 30 mysterious deaths of witnesses or accused have occurred, but the Home Minister Rajnath Singh backs Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to say that there is absolutely no need for a CBI inquiry. It takes a public interest petition in the Supreme Court to which the Court responds by ordering a CBI inquiry.

For the CBI, the threat is none of the above. For the CBI, the threat to national security is Teesta Setalvad, relentless campaigner for human rights and in particular for the rights of the victims of the Gujarat genocide.

Shame on this Government for its double standards.

In the most recent case against her filed by the notorious Crime Branch of the Gujarat Government, Teesta has been accused of taking money from the Ford Foundation in violation of the Foreign Contribution Rules Act (FCRA). The Gujarat Government started an investigation into these charges. Teesta fully cooperated with the investigation, giving 25,000 pages of documentary evidence in her defence. Even as the investigation was proceeding, the Crime Branch referred the case to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Rajnath Singh, who found no reason for a CBI inquiry into the Vyapam case, who apparently did not urge  the CBI to file an appeal against the bail to policemen accused of cold-blooded murder, immediately ordered a CBI investigation into Teesta’s case. Within a few days, the CBI conducted a 12-hour “raid” in Teesta’s home. The CBI spokesperson in Delhi implied that “incriminating documents” had been found. In fact, as the panchnamas which are available in the public domain show, they took the same documents which Teesta had already given to the investigating team.

Teesta’s work is not a threat to national security, but it does pose a threat to those who want to escape culpability for the communal murders and violence in Gujarat. Because of her work and that of her team, including her husband Javed Anand, 120 persons guilty of murder and violence have been convicted. With her support, Zakia Jaffri, the widow of Ehsan Jaffri, the Congress leader burnt to death in 2002, is fighting for justice to bring to book the top leaders involved in instigating the violence including Narendra Modi. She has thus become the target. If she had compromised, if she had given up the cases, she would not be facing the kind of constant harassment and mental torture that she is today.

Her personal accounts have been frozen. Her passport has been seized. The aim is clearly to send a strong message to those who dare to oppose the leaders of this Government and their policies: you are either with us or you face the consequences. They want to take her into their custody. They want to humiliate, defame and intimidate her today so that tomorrow other voices of dissent can be prevented. It is also a blatant misuse of power to follow a vindictive agenda.

Members of Parliament cutting through political lines have criticised the vindictive nature of the official hounding of Teesta Setalvad. They have demanded that the harassment be ended. It is a sentiment and demand widely shared by Indians across the country and the world.

(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)

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