If a man is on the run, people will think he’s guilty, no matter how innocent he may be. If a political party in Opposition runs for cover, the public will think it has no hope, no matter what its potential.
By all accounts, Gujarat’s erstwhile minister of state for home Amit Shah disappeared on Thursday after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) listed him in a chargesheet for a fake police encounter. That immediately gave the impression that he was on the run.
The rest of the nation seeing him run may not even care for the facts of the case anymore; but allow us to briefly go over what we know.
In 2005, Gujarat police arrested one Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife. Branded as a terrorist, he is said to have died in an encounter. The police also arrested an eyewitness, apparently killing him in self-defence. When Sohrabuddin’s relative moved the Supreme Court, a conspiracy came into the picture: Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) allegedly wanted him dead. In January, the court asked CBI to probe this.
That brings us to the present day, now that CBI has placed Shah in the midst of this conspiracy. Chief minister Narendra Modi announced Shah’s resignation on Saturday. Shah himself resurfaced on Sunday: Confident that a court of law would uphold his innocence, he surrendered himself with all the seemly propriety of a constitutionalist. If that’s the case, where was he last week?
Shah’s innocence is for the courts of law to decide. But public morality, the court of public opinion, demands appearance of innocence—key in a 24-hour news environment where others jump to conclusions. It’s incumbent upon and prudent for an elected official to resign as soon as he’s indicted. Lalu Prasad remained a Union minister earlier this decade despite a chargesheet against him, perhaps mocking India’s rule of law more than any politician ever has.
Shah claims he received CBI’s summons on Saturday. But even before that, the BJP leadership was busy posturing. It cancelled a Friday lunch with the Prime Minister, and shouted that a Congress conspiracy was afoot. But perhaps that’s the only reaction we can expect of a party that betrays its philosophical shallowness by shutting down the country purely to protest a government price hike.
Has the BJP mismanaged l’affaire Amit Shah? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org