The conspiracy of secrecy
The Kalikho Pul suicide note needs to be investigated at the topmost level
Mar 1, 2017
A RECENTLY unseated CM commits suicide. He leaves a suicide note naming top state and national politicians and some judges. The allegations are not probed. Some months later, tax authorities raid a lawyer in Delhi and recover a huge stack of unaccounted cash. He claims this money belongs to some influential ‘friends’ including relatives of a big judge. Around this time, the Supreme Court is hearing a petition demanding probe into diaries and papers recovered from raids that point to payments made by two business houses to top politicians across parties, including the current PM. The Supreme Court suddenly reverses its long-standing position on how such diaries should be probed. And when the widow of the CM approaches the Chief Justice for a probe into allegations against the judiciary, there is an unseemly haste to bury this case.
This could be the stuff of John Le Carre’s novel. But this is no fiction. The 60-page note left by Arunachal Pradesh’s former CM, Kalikho Pul, is doing the rounds for nearly a month now. Written in chaste Hindi, not uncommon for a public figure in this state of the North-East, this note was typed and signed on every single page by him. The note is dated August 8, the day he committed suicide. Ten copies of this note were found lying around his body. Beginning with a story of his journey from an orphaned child to the highest office in the state, the note ends with his advice to the younger generation of people from Arunachal. The original note and its English translation is available on the website of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms(www.judicialreforms.org<http://www.judicialreforms.org/>), an organisation led by very credible lawyers and public-spirited citizens.
Let’s first look at the facts of the case. In early 2016, Kalikho Pul, a Congress MLA for two decades, led an inner-party rebellion against the then Chief Minister, Mr Tuki, and formed the government with tacit support from the Central government. The unseated CM appealed to the Supreme Court. In a widely acclaimed judgment, the Supreme Court quashed the Governor’s orders and restored Mr Tuki’s government. Soon, another young politician, Mr Khandu, took over the reins and shifted his and his flock’s allegiance to the BJP. Left out, Pul committed suicide. The police concluded that this was because he was depressed. The then Governor, Mr Raj Khowa, recommended a CBI probe into the allegations made in Pul’s suicide note, but the probe never happened. Mrs Pul approached the Central government for inquiry into these allegations and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for an inquiry against the accused judges. When the Chief Justice turned this letter into a petition and sent it to the junior-most Bench, Mrs Pul’s advocate objected and withdrew the letter. She has now appealed to the Vice-President to intervene.
The note contains three sets of detailed and specific allegations. First, he names many of the major political players in Arunachal, including the current and former Chief Ministers, and provides details of the projects and schemes and the method through which they allegedly made big money. The pattern is familiar: diversion of rice meant for ration, contracts for fictitious public works, forged and false bills, and so on. But the level of details is unusual and would any day merit an investigation. The second set of allegations is about his own party, the Congress. He believes that his party has systematically and knowingly promoted the most corrupt politicians in his state. He names some of the top national leaders of his party and mentions the amount they allegedly demanded for governmental and political deals in his state.
The most sensational allegations relate to the highest levels of judiciary in the country. It names two former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court and mentions the amount they allegedly received for burying some proven cases of corruption. The note also details allegations of bribery involving two sitting judges of the Supreme Court in the case involving the dismissal of his government. Pul alleged that he was approached by relatives of these judges and asked for Rs 49 crore and Rs 37 crore in return for a favourable judgment. He refused these overtures that continued till the night prior to the judgment, but his opponents spent Rs 90 crore in ensuring a judgment to their liking.
We have no basis to confirm these allegations. While he comes across as a sincere, God-fearing person, we do not know if Pul was himself completely free of the vices he details in the note. The note does not provide any additional evidence that could establish quid pro quo. While the names of most politicians in the note are no surprise, at least two of the four judges named here enjoy good reputation in terms of financial integrity. Besides, the judgment on the restoration of the Arunachal Government was by all accounts a fair and bold judgment, yet we cannot take these allegations lightly. There are just too many details here for this to be a figment of someone’s imagination. Finally, this note is in the nature of a dying declaration that is and ought to be taken seriously.
Yet no investigation has been ordered. Despite the Governor, who recommended a CBI inquiry, having been removed, the inquiry was not ordered. Interestingly, no inquiry was ordered against national political leaders, though none of them belongs to the BJP or the NDA. And no step has yet been taken towards an independent probe into charges against the judges as per the procedure established by the Supreme Court. It is believed that post-demonetisation raids on two well-known lawyers may have yielded evidence that could help investigate this case. But from all accounts, it seems that evidence is being hushed up.
Is there more to the case than meets the eye? Is there something here that the government wants to suppress? Is there a connection between the suicide note and the Supreme Court’s unusual judgment on the Birla-Sahara diary? The PM has already said he holds janampatris of opposition leaders. The disturbing question is does his government also hold janampatris of some SC judges? These are difficult questions and one must not rush into half-baked answers. But answer we must, for this concerns the credibility of the institutions charged with protecting our Constitution. The court has laid down a procedure for inquiry against judges. It said the government should not have the power to harass judges by ordering an inquiry. The President of India must consult the CJI to set up such an inquiry. If the Chief Justice faces allegation, the President may consult other judges, presumably seniormost judges. In this case, since two former Chief Justices have been named, the Vice-President is the only constitutional authority left to ensure justice. One can only hope that the Pul case doesn’t become another Nagarwala of Indian politics.