New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a plea seeking a probe against several politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly receiving payments from the Sahara and the Aditya Birla groups.

“We find no reason to initiate a case," said a bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy.

The apex court’s order gives the named politicians, including Narendra Modi, a clean chit, crucially just ahead of elections and at a time when the prime minister has made corruption the centrepiece of his party’s campaign.

Common Cause, a non-profit organization led by activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan had moved the apex court in a public interest litigation seeking a probe by a court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the allegations. The allegations were based on material purportedly seized during searches by the income tax department at the offices of the two companies in 2013 and 2014. Modi was then chief minister of Gujarat.

“No democracy can function when allegations are cast against constitutional functionaries without cogent evidence," the bench said in its order on Wednesday.

The court termed the seized documents as ‘loose sheets’ which are inadmissible as evidence in court. “The process of law can be abused very easily to achieve ulterior motives if this is allowed," the court said.

Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan appearing for the petitioner claimed the seized documents were sufficient to file a first information report. “We are only asking that a case be filed. Further evidence can only be gathered by an investigating officer," he told the court.

In at least two earlier occasions the court had said that the evidence advanced by the non-profit was insufficient. On 14 December, chief justice J.S. Khehar (then chief justice designate) had recused himself from hearing the case after Bhushan alleged that he could be influenced as his elevation as chief justice was pending.

The seized documents include hundreds of e-mails and diary entries with details of several alleged payoffs to politicians, government officials. Apart from Modi, the seized documents contain references of several leaders who allegedly received payoffs including Sheila Dixit and Salman Khurshid of the Congress. The documents also refer to payments made to officials of the ministry of environment and forests.

With assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab , Goa and Manipur due in February and March, the court’s ruling is also a setback for the Congress party as vice-president Rahul Gandhi had raised the issue soon after the winter session of Parliament.

“Battle of fixing accountability of Narendra Modi will be decided in people’s court, instead of hiding behind technicalities. Simple issue is whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi took money from Sahara and Birla groups or not. He needs to answer it as this is an issue of answerability before 125 crore Indians and doesn’t require a certificate from any court," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a statement.

The BJP was quick to seize on the apex court’s ruling.

“We have seen on these Sahara entries on which the court had given an oral observation that these are fictitious papers and how certain leaders from the opposition, especially Rahul Gandhi, tried their best to play politics. But today the court has shown them. It’s a big slap to all those who are trying to play politics," said Sambit Patra, BJP spokesperson.

Political analyst say the ruling of Supreme Court will help Modi in the election campaign. “When the Supreme Court gives a ruling, it acts as a morale booster. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to portray himself as a crusader of corruption and black money and this ruling will help him," said A.K. Verma, Kanpur based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College

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