Himachal cops arrested for custodial death of rape accused: Is there a political angle to the CBI probe?
On the surface, there is an apparent sense of justice having prevailed after the CBI arrested eight members of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that had been set up by Himachal Pradesh Police to probe the Gudiya (not real name) rape and murder case of Kotkhai.
These officials were arrested earlier this week for the custodial death of one of the accused Suraj Singh.
But things are not as simple and just do not end with their arrest. The main case about Gudiya remains unsolved and the arrest of the police personnel, that include an Inspector General Zahur H Zaidi and Deputy Superintendent of Police Manoj Joshi, reeks of a possible political underplay.
The arrests have come at a crucial juncture with the Assembly poll dates likely to be announced soon and there are many people airing the apprehension that the CBI will file a charge sheet against them after the poll schedule is announced. And it is anyone's guess who it will politically benefit.
The arrest came on the day when Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh proceeded to meet the Congress high command in Delhi and demand a free hand in running the electoral show.
The other policemen arrested in the case pertaining to custodial death of Suraj are Rajinder Singh, who was the Station House Officer of Kotkhai police station where the incident happened, Assistant Sub Inspector Deep Chand Sharma who was the investigating officer in the rape and murder case of Gudiya; Head Constables Mohan Lal, Surat Singh and Rafiq Ali along with and Constable Ranjit Singh. The eight police personnel are in CBI custody till 4 September.
It was on the night of 18 July when 29-year-old Suraj Singh, a labourer from Nepal who was among those arrested in the rape and murder case, died in custody. The police claimed that he was killed by the main accused Rajender Singh.
This had a multiplier effect on the ongoing uproar in the case and resulted in a mob burning down the Kotkhai Police Station.
The CBI probe into the matter contradicts the police theory with constable Dinesh Kumar reportedly turning CBI’s key witness. He is learnt to have disclosed that Suraj was not in his cell at the time of his death. He had reportedly been taken for interrogation and was brought back in a critical condition.
There are multifarious aspects to the case at this point of time. The first is the confusion as a majority of the people are mixing the two cases of rape and murder on one hand and the custodial death on the other. It needs to be pointed out that the arrest of the eight cops is in the latter.
“There is a lot of confusion among the medium and lower rung officials in the state police as well. A large number of them are getting things cleared that these are two separate cases and different charge sheets will be filed in them,” pointed out a serving police officer.
While no one is opposing the bringing in of the CBI to investigate the two cases, but questions are being raised.
“Our problem is that once the case goes to the CBI we think it has gone to the highest impartial and transparent institution. One thing is apparent that while the police bats for the state government, the CBI bats for the Centre. The CBI claims to have made the arrests based on solid evidence which might be true. But this is an unprecedented instance in Himachal where senior police officers of repute have been arrested in such a sensational, high-profile case. The people have been left flummoxed. Till the day Suraj died, both IG Zaidi and DSP Joshi were heroes of the local media and over night they turned villains. The CBI never bothered to arrest police officers in Gujarat when there was such an uproar on the series of alleged fake encounters,” said a senior media person based in Shimla.
Senior CPM leader Rakesh Singha has a very balanced view on the developments. He says that since the state government stood totally exposed over the manner in which it botched up the investigations in the Gudiya rape and murder case, there was no other option but to bring in the CBI. The situation that emerged was that of being caught between the devil and the deep sea.
“It is the delay in the investigations pertaining to the custodial death of Suraj that is creating doubts.
I can crack this custodial death in 12 hours. You (the CBI) re-examined the dead body, had a second post mortem done, had access to the police station as well as to the deceased's wife Mamta. Why is this investigation being done in phases? Are you waiting for the Election Commission to announce the poll dates ?” he asked while speaking to Catch.
“With a strong medico-legal evidence against them, the CBI is justified in arresting the police officers. Previously the law was that the agency had to seek permission from the state government to arrest its police officers. But all that has changed following various court rulings. As far as the issue of such arrests having a negative impact on the morale of the state police is concerned this has been an ongoing debate for centuries,” former Director General of Police (DGP) in Himachal Pradesh TR Mahajan pointed out.
One thing is evident that the rape and murder of Gudiya and its subsequent fall out are going to be raised in every political rally in the run up to the state Assembly polls due to be held in November.
The people remain unconvinced on the arrests made by the SIT in the case and continue to believe that the real culprits with high connections were let off and are yet to be nabbed.
It has been the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh who has borne the brunt of the public outrage, mainly on account of the reportedly 'insensitive statements' made by him on the developments in the case. Since the arrests were made on the day when he went to Delhi to meet the party high command to seek a free hand in running the party affairs, his case has gotten weakened further.
“Since he also has the home portfolio with him, he will be the one taking the brunt once again when the charge sheet is filed against the police officers. It is commonly being apprehended that this would come once the poll campaign hits the peak,” said another senior media person based in Shimla.
“Both Zaidi and Joshi are officers of repute who are sharp and intelligent. I am not saying that they are innocent. But if the charges against them do not hold in court, their careers would get a major setback while the political games would have been played long before that,” said a political analyst based in Shimla.