A judge hearing a high-profile case involving a top politician died in 2014, but the judiciary, media, political class and civil society have been more or less silent. It’s a frightening sign of the times

BJP national president Amit Shah, who is now a Member of Parliament, was earlier named in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. In 2012, the Supreme Court moved the trial from Gujarat to Mumbai because it was “convinced that in order to preserve the integrity of the trial it is necessary to shift it outside the state”. The apex court also issued a directive that the case, which was before a special CBI court, should be heard by the same judge from the beginning till the end, presumably to shield the trial from political pressure.

In mid-2014, the first judge presiding over the trial was transferred shortly after he reprimanded Shah, a former Gujarat minister, for never appearing in court. The new presiding judge, Brijgopal Loya, died because of an apparent heart attack between the night of November 30, 2014, and the early morning of December 1, 2014. Loya had also demanded to know why Shah didn’t appear in court. The judge who replaced Loya discharged Shah in the case and the CBI did not file an appeal.

About three years on, The Caravan magazine has come out with a report on questions surrounding Loya’s death. It has spoken to his family, people at the hospital where he was taken and other key figures. I tried to look at the report story from the most suspicious and sceptical perspective possible. The judge’s wife says there was inexplicable blood on his neck when his body was brought to them. She had recorded this in her diary at the time.

I disregarded this particular detail because this cannot be proved anymore. However, there are other details that can be verified.

One of the things that raise suspicion is the time of death. The postmortem pegged it at 6 am, but the family has said they were informed at 5 am. Sources at one of the hospitals where he was taken told The Caravan that he had died in the night itself. Loya was 48 years old and reportedly had no history of heart problems. His mobile phone was returned to the family after being wiped clean, save for one threatening message. But I don’t want to repeat the details of the story here. In fact, let me for a moment assume that any suspicion over his death is politically motivated. The report is trying to create a story out of nothing and it has come out weeks before the Gujarat elections.

But the theories imputing the motives of sensationalism and malice fail to explain the poor coverage of the matter in the media and the lack of interest among political parties. A judge presiding over a high-profile case concerning a powerful politician died. Wouldn’t one expect the media to follow and report every aspect of it? But Loya’s death never led to any kind of media frenzy.

Contrast this with the attention Sunanda Pushkar’s murder got in the press and still does. The judge’s death was covered sparingly. Today, only a few media outlets are still reporting about it. The only thing we hear these days is the controversy over the movie Padmavati. How did the media’s sensationalist urges disappear in the case of the judge’s death? It seems the media sensationalises an issue only when it is safe to do so, when the method acts as a veil for something people in power want to hide.

Some people claim there is politics behind The Caravan report. I would have taken this into serious consideration had any political party raked up the issue. No one has. I don’t think any serious politician believes that suspicions over a person’s death are going to hamper anyone’s political prospects in Gujarat. I am therefore unable to buy the political attack theory.

The Supreme Court, which takes suo-motu notice of the most bizarre things, has been silent over this. So, the press is more or less silent, the judiciary is silent and political class is silent. It is this terrifying silence which is moving me closer to believing the report. There has been no outrage, not even pretence for an inquiry, nothing. Some of the prominent intellectuals of the civil society would rather talk about a film than comment on the judge’s death. Total and complete failure of all institutional pillars.

Usually when one declares that the worst is happening, whether it’s a reference to a dear one’s health or to the state of affairs in the country, the immediate reaction is that the person is being alarmist. Even if the person is right, the response is that the patient/country has survived. The disinclination or reluctance to see the reality can be dangerous. It has happened before in several countries. It can happen again. I am going to make such a diagnosis today. The Republic as we know it is ill. This project that millions of Indians started together is faltering. The signs are there for everyone to see, if you want to see them and if the press wants to show them to you.

BJP national president Amit Shah, who is now a Member of Parliament, was earlier named in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case