Social activist Teesta Setalvad and husband Javed Anand are facing the heat from the central government over the alleged issue of embezzling funds and violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)

Edited Excerpts from an Interview 

What is the truth in allegations against you of embezzling funds procured from Ford Foundation for constructing a Museum for communal harmony?

None of the allegations made by the Gujarat police Crime Branch are true. Some of them have been recently brought by the powers that be to the cbi. The Gujarat crime branch is headed by those very police officers whose professional conduct is under scrutiny in the ongoing Zakia Jafri case in the Gujarat High Court. We have provided documentary evidence (running into 25,000 pages) to investigators. There is no chargesheet, just intimidation, harassment and vilification in the public domain.

The original complaint by some of Gulberg victims was about 4.6 lakh collected for a dream project, the Gulberg Memorial, that had to be dropped because of steep rise in land prices. The said money is still lying unutilised in the accounts. This entire chain of vindictive actions began and was aggressively pursued by the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch — many of whose officers have recently been let off in the ‘extra judicial killings’ post 2002. The vendetta began in 2013 (January) when our accounts were illegally frozen; then desperate attempts to take us into custody failed In February 2015, the Gujarat Police Crime Branch arrived at our home within minutes of a high court order refusing anticipatory bail. When this ploy did not work, the Gujarat Home Department wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs FCRA Division and a spate of inspections ensued. All this is being driven by those who are irked at the concrete results we achieved post 2002. They were further enraged when all attempts to ‘silence us’ failed.

The authorities have accused you of using money procured from foreign donors to carry out anti-national activities, and also called you “threat to national security”. Please comment.

It is a shocking insult to the Indian Constitution and our republic that work for justice and peace building is considered anti-national. It is certainly antithetical to the ideology of the proto-fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that is the bedrock of the present regime.

We have broken no laws. Section 3 of fcra, 2010, bars certain ‘persons’ (political parties and its office bearers, government servants and those associated with registered newspapers and those involved in the production and broadcast of news) from receiving foreign donations.

However, the very next section, that is section 4 which is subtitled ‘Persons to whom section 3 shall not apply’ states: “Nothing contained in section 3 shall apply to the acceptance, by any person specified 3 in that section, of any foreign contribution where such contribution is accepted by him, subject to the provisions of section 10- (a) by way of salary, wages or other remuneration due to him or to any group of persons working under him, from any foreign source or by way of payment in the ordinary course of business transacted in India by such foreign source.”

Sabrang Communications and Publishing Pvt. Ltd Co. which published the monthly ‘Communalism Combat’ signed a Consultancy Agreement with Ford Foundation in 2004 and 2006 “to address the issues of caste and communalism” through a clearly defined set of activities which had nothing whatsoever to do with Communalism Combat or remuneration to Javed Anand or Teesta Setalvad towards discharging editorial/managerial functions. The Consultancy was signed by Sabrang Communications only after advice from eminent legal counsel that such an agreement was covered under the exclusion stipulated under Section 4 of the Act and therefore the consultancy fees (not grant or donation) received would not be in violation of FCRA 2010. Ford Foundation in fact deducted Tax Deductible at Source (TDS) with every instalment of consultancy fees it paid to Sabrang Communications. The activities undertaken and the expenses incurred were in accordance with the agreement. Activities and Financial Reports were submitted annually to the satisfaction of Ford Foundation.

Do you suggest that after Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government, it’s now the Modi-led central government targeting you for pursuing the legal battle related to Gujarat 2002?

The genesis is important. This began on 4 January, 2014 with the first baseless fir against five of us accused of so-called embezzlement of funds related to the Gulberg Society.

There was only 4.6 lakh collected for the Gulberg museum. So the entire investigation should have been into that 4.6 lakh. The Gujarat Police was from the beginning overreaching. All the crores that the media talked about, which was information fed by the police, was money collected for legal aid or other activities of the two trusts.

Etched in memory Setalvad was instrumental in bringing the culprits of the Gulberg massacre to justice. Photo: AFP

One of the motives of this fir was public vilification, so that our supporters and riot survivors lose faith in us. We got transit anticipatory bail from Bombay and then went to session’s court in Ahmedabad, where we were refused bail.

All the allegations made by the Investigating Officer were on affidavit, without documents. From March 2014 to February 2015 when anticipatory bail was refused, we rebutted those allegations with 5,000 pages of documents. We also rebutted allegations regarding use of my credit card, etc. I can live as I want, I can have a glass of wine, and I’m damned if I am going to deny it. But it’s from my personal income.

After the SC relief, we have filed another 21,000 pages. So totally we have filed 25,000 pages regarding our accounts which the Gujarat police have no business to receive. Please understand the kind of invasion of privacy and the kind of overreach of this investigation.

On 10 March this year, the Gujarat Home Department writes to the FCRA.

The complainant in this case is the Gujarat government. The mha or fcra are not doing it independently, but at the behest of the Gujarat government.

It is no wonder that we received the notices. We have fully cooperated; we believe there have been no violations by us. The motive is clearly to keep us embroiled in these legal tangles, to paralyse our work that uphold India’s Constitution and challenges the very ideological frame of this government (driven by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s commitment to a Hindu Rashtra) and to keep the mob(s) that support this ideology gleefully content.

The MHA began with examining the records of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and Sabrang Trust, now they are training their guns on Sabrang Communications. Ours is a typical, classic case of the State and its organs being used as an outlet for vendetta of the vilest kind. Now that our bail application is due to be heard on 7 July, all sorts of diversionary tactics are being used. It would seem that this government has a clear-cut agenda which it is following. Then the CBI is sent straight from Delhi to raid our home and offices. This is despite the fact that we pro-actively wrote to the CBI on 30 June , 2015 (including to the Mumbai Economic Offences Wing) offering full cooperation!

Then why the high-handedness? Is it a coincidence that officers like YC Modi (responsible for the botched-up Haren Pandya investigation under NDA-1 when he was in the CBI) and AK Sharma, former Joint CP Crime Ahmedabad (responsible in snoopgate and the Ishrat Jahan killing cover-up) are being inducted into the PMO ? And then they act like the private army of politicians!

You have mentioned that one of the reasons for recent raids at your residence in Mumbai by cbi could be the upcoming hearing of a 2002 riot-related case, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also an accused. Please elucidate. Also brief us on the recent legal developments in that case.

The Zakia Jafri criminal revision petition in hc should not be confused with the Gulberg case which deals with the 69 people killed there along with Ehsan Jafri. This petition attempts to look at criminal or administrative culpability for all the incidents during the Gujarat riots of 2002. So in that sense it is a very historical legal endeavour.

It began with the criminal complaint Zakia Jafri filed with our assistance on 8 June, 2006. When an fir was not registered, we went to the high court seeking directions for it to be registered. The hc rejected our petition so we went to the Supreme Court.

On 27 April, 2009, the sc handed over the investigation of this case to the same sit that had been appointed in the other cases in which we were involved, with the condition and caveat that non-Gujarat officers should look into it. That investigation took place in 2009. I recorded my statement in July 2009. The only documentary evidence we had then were the affidavits of ips officer Rahul Sharma (who studied cell phone call records of bjp and vhp members as well as police officers during the 2002 riots) and of many other police officers filed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. We also had annexure to ips officer RB Sreekumar’s affidavits — more important than the affidavit itself because he actually made public the State Intelligence reports. In criminal law terms, these are not the opinions of a person but actual documentary evidence.

Why do you think cbi will act on the behest of Central government against you?

My political activism began in 1975 when I was a Class 10 student and my father told me to forget about my exams and fight the Emergency. The issue was not about which political party, the issue was authoritarianism in a democracy. The build-up to Emergency took place two years before it happened, and the first was the attack on the judiciary, the supersession of three judges. I see that atmosphere building up today.

I think the Congress and the UPA had authoritarian tendencies, to control, and so does the NDA. The only difference is that the NDA is backed by the RSS ideology which would like this country not to be a Constitutional and Republican bedrock but be a Hindu Rashtra. What’s happening with the HRD ministry, on issues of education, culture, FTII, it’s there for us to see.

There is authoritarianism where parties would like to have control over investigating and prosecuting agencies and there is ideological takeover of the state, which is what the RSS and the NDA are trying to do. Both need to be equally contested.

The same thing applies to the CBI. When the hawala or other cases happened, the cbi had a certain image; it was seen to be independent.

They were also better times when politicians were not so brazen about misusing it. Let’s not forget the cbi comes directly under the pmo, not under mha, but under dopt.

Quite apart from our case, it’s important that a central agency is held accountable to Parliament, not to the government.

As a human rights activist working with the victims of 2002, what difficulties have you faced so far?

I would say that the detailed responses above are illustrative of the extent to which a vindictive regime can go. The Gujarat state through its police has since 2004 lodged a vilification and intimidation campaign against me and my organisations in various courts and filed about half a dozen applications making baseless allegations against me.

Now this has intensified and extended to my family. Central agencies have been roped in with the change of dispensation at the Centre. Meanwhile we (CJP/Teesta) have been consistently exonerated of charges of tutoring of witnesses:

♦ Registrar General BM Gupta’s Report of August 2005.

♦ Sardarrpura Special Court (Trial) Judgement of 9.11.2011

♦ Naroda Patiya Special Court (Trial) Judgement of 29.08.2012

♦ Best Bakery Special Court Judgement (Trial) of February 2006 & Appeal dated 4.7.2012

How has all this affected your legal work related to 2002 violence?

It is exhausting, draining and a huge challenge. So far our spirit has not been broken. The support had been tremendous.