Note: This post has been published by Blogbharti, which features "voices from the Indian blogosphere". The rider, however, continues: no part of this text may be published or reproduced, wholly or in part, without prior consent of the author.
This is my last entry as an Undertrial: in the twilight hours of the last day of May 2007, a trial judge at Raipur acquitted me of the charge of conspiracy to commit murder; the more than four year long ‘winter of discontent’, which was heralded by the ouster of my father’s government in early December 2003 and rapidly followed by a series of even more unfortunate events- Papa’s suspension from the party, a near-fatal accident that has left him confined to a wheelchair, the Medusa-like multi-headed Inquisition presided over by the Central Bureau of Investigation, my arrest and trial, to mention a few- came to a bitter-sweet end; and I was suddenly, magically Free. The feeling, even after the passage of ten days, is yet to sink in.
During this period, I had come to think of myself as- and also, think like- the protagonist of Franz Kafka’s novel Der Prozess (The Trial), Josef K.: like him, I too hadn’t the faintest idea of the crime I was being tried for; not only had I not previously known of the existence of the gentleman I was charged with ‘conspiring to murder’, but the presumption implicit in this charge, that I would risk my life- more importantly, my Family’s hard-earned Goodwill- to kill a political nobody in such a reckless & foolhardy manner, not only projected me as a morally-depraved monster but also, more than anything else, insulted my intelligence. Unlike the perpetually doomed K., however, I didn’t end up at the guillotine, murmuring to myself, “Like a Dog.”
Life, it seems, has something else in mind for me. What precisely, I cannot say. It will be some time yet before I can fully embrace my new-found Freedom.
Before I part, I reproduce here excerpts from the last days of my Jail Diary.
May 28, 2007
The Heat makes it impossible for me to leave the relatively-temperate sanctuary of my cell. At times, I feel like I’ve always belonged here: (with due respect to the psychedelic band, Pink Floyd) another brick in these endlessly whitewashed walls. Yet: by what dark & artful sorcery, my existence came to be organic to- indistinguishable from- this panoptic space, I cannot say. Was it Fate; or a force much more sinister, more deceptive?
Looking back on events- blessed as I am now with an anachronistic & altogether futile benefit of hindsight- I can pinpoint the precise moment when things began to change, and life went into ‘the soap-operatic mode’. It happened seven years ago, at the fin-de-siecle. Not too long after the publication of Ms. Arundhati Roy’s solitary literary masterpiece, our lives were enchanted- duped?- into imitating her art: ‘the arrival of Sophie Mol,’ which dominoed into a series of cathartic events that constitute the plot of her novel, mirrored the suicide of Anu, my only sibling. However, unlike Ms. Roy, I can offer no explanation- no image, no metaphor, no psychoanalysis- for what she did. For apart from her magical (albeit increasingly incomprehensible) poems (perhaps, in the end, she was compelled to invent a language of her own, realizing the insurmountable ‘structural constraints’ of the existing ones to describe what she felt?)- spirally-bound into a collection cryptically titled ‘Aitia’- she has left behind little else.
Prior to Anu’s sudden & inexplicable death, I envied people with ‘the interesting lives’. In those truly wonderful Days of Innocence, I hadn’t quite realized the full import of an ancient Chinese euphemism: in the carefully ordered Confucian-ethic, “may you live in interesting times” was the worst way of slighting one’s enemy without sounding rude. Not so anymore: this life, I wouldn’t wish for my bitterest nemesis. O, what wouldn’t I give for things to be boring, mundane and uneventful once again?
But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself? The judgment is still three days away (if somebody doesn’t throw a spanner in the interregnum, for instance getting a Stay from the High Court). There are, as I see it, only two possible outcomes: one, I am acquitted of all charges; or two, I get locked in for life. In the latter instance, there isn’t much one can do- except hope against hope that justice, though delayed, will not be ad infinitum denied. Quite frankly, I haven’t thought about what I would do in case of the first, more happier, outcome. Life without this Trial is something that will take getting used to…The past four years have been nothing else. To have looked beyond it, and imagined an alternative existence sans the Case- would be tantamount to blasphemy.
This afternoon, Mummy complained that I’ve always prioritized friends over family. [Typical of her to have cited this as Bai’s ‘observation’ as opposed to her own.] While this isn’t entirely correct, the fact is that I do tend to place an asymmetrical degree of trust in them. It is innate to my nature, part of who I am.
More than anything else, this Case has demonstrated that this tendency isn’t in my best interest: all the principal prosecution witnesses called to testify against me- Rohit, Reginald, Raj Singh, Siddharth- were after all ‘mon amis’. In the past one year of my half-freedoms- the twilight existence of a bailed-out undertrial- I remedied this the only way I could: replaced my former set of friends with a new, smaller and more mutable set; also, the level of intimacy reduced considerably.
Apart from him, the two strongest- most unshakeable- persons implicated in this case along with me are: Abhay Goyal and… Not once have I seen them worried, such has been their faith in me: their only concern has been for me, to the extent that they don’t seem to care what happens to them[…]
In any event, the state of the evidence, as it now stands, is that the prosecution has failed to prove that these boys were ever in Raipur, let alone at the site of the murder, at the time of the incident; the only ‘worthwhile’ testimony is against me, that of Reginald- ‘the unkindest cut.’ By God’s Grace- what else could it possibly be?- his testimony stands discredited by the passports of Rohit, Michael and Arjun- all of who were aboard a flight to London when they were alleged to have participated in a meeting at the hotel Green Park on the night of May 21st 2003, convened to plot this wretched murder. How this obvious yet undeniable fact could have escaped the attention of the nation’s premier ‘implicative’ agency, the C-B-I, is beyond me: it is nothing short of an Act of God; a Miracle.
Given all this, there is very little- indeed, nothing- on record for the judge to pass a sentence of conviction against any of us. Infact, the only worrying thing effecting the outcome is the perverse ‘trial by media’ this Case has been subjected to, in which I was proclaimed guilty even before the matter came to court. As Mr. Surendra Singh, my Counsel, says, “if only […] would rise one inch and see beyond the media-hype, then there’s no Case at all.” […]
Be that as it may, as any trial lawyer knows only too well, it takes very little to pass a sentence of conviction, always the ‘safer’ option for any trial judge, who prefers to leave the tricky business of acquittals to the appellate courts. The best that can be said of the way we have faced the Trial is this: we have made it extremely difficult for the trial judge to pass a sentence of conviction. To claim anything more at this juncture would be overtly optimistic, even naïve.
Two persons whose constancy I must acknowledge are: the meticulous SNT and the energetic Rahul Tyagi; in many ways, they’ve complemented each other, one’s careful circumspection tempering another’s daredevilry. In the six months from December 2005 to May 2006, when it was not possible for Papa and Mummy to be here, SNT played the role of a surrogate-parent, a proxy lawyer and an astute media manager, all rolled into one. In more ways than one, he held the act together. Rahul, meanwhile, was busy [being more than a lawyer, a friend]. I feel blessed to have persons such as them to be fighting my battles for me, more often than not, at the frontlines. Another achievement of sorts of my past year of half-freedoms, was to get these two opposite- and often opposing- poles to come together, atleast in the presentation of Abhay’s anniversary gift (!).
As far as the legal defense is concerned, I could not have hoped for a better, more qualified and dedicated ‘dream team’. Mr. Surendra Singh has gone way of his way to take full charge- and responsibility- of this Case, especially after Mr. SC Dutt’s indisposition (due to a predicament of the knee): there is no doubt in my mind that I’ve been his numero uno priority these past two years; and much more than a client, he has always treated me as family, ever ready to drop everything he’s doing to come to my rescue at the shortest notice. He is first person we- Papa and I- call whenever there is a crisis; and his word is final, even overriding Papa’s. The best possible acknowledgement of the manner in which Mr. Singh conducted the Trial came from his arch-rival, the temperamental but loving Mr. Dutt, when the latter told me that even he couldn’t have handled the case any better way. A talent like him belongs not in sleepy Jabalpur; but Delhi.
He has had superb assistance in the form of Mr. SK Farhan, who knows more about the Case than anyone else (including me). He is not only the finest litigator in town- possibly the state- but also, an elder brother to me. […]Mr. Hashim Khan [was] excellent when it came to cross-examining a particularly difficult prosecution witness [although we missed him when he went for forty-one days on Hajj. Ofcourse, last but not the least, notable mention must also be made of Pratul Shandilya, who has been thorough at maintaining records, supplying citations, and drafting- the perfect legal concierge, a man of all seasons. Indeed, there is very little that escapes him.
May 29, 2007
I am not as worried- anxious, tensed, nervous- as I had imagined myself to be in these circumstances. Infact, this morning, I was pleasantly surprised- indeed, gratified- to note that Dr. Vinayak Sen- a human rights activist, who is being unjustly incarcerated under the draconian ‘Chhattisgarh Public Safety Special Act’ for the sole crime of speaking against the state government’s slaughtering of innocent tribals on the pretext of ‘Salva Judum’- seemed far more concerned about my plight: in response to my incessant queries, he politely suggested that ‘it might be better to discuss things after the 31st.’
Contrary to expectation, SJ- the visible mask of my several unseen but powerful beté-noirs- hasn’t moved the High Court seeking a stay on the judgment; perhaps, he has access of ‘information’ I myself am not privy to, in which case there is every reason for me to be scared- Also, there’s a very distinct possibility that they might pull some trick of out of their hat at the very last instance- the formidable ‘element of surprise’- doing things when we least expect them to- like, when they got the Supreme Court to cancel my bail. But strangely enough, as I said earlier, I am not unduly worried. I just want the whole thing to be over and done with- pronto, double-quick. It’s the waiting that is killing me.
Why am I not worried?, I ask myself. The reason has nothing to do with ‘the things of this world’; instead, it is because during the past thirty days that I’ve been in jail, I’ve found the only thing that matters: GOD. I know that He loves me; and that this Love forms the basis of His Plan for my life. All other things really don’t matter so much. Moreover: what can I possibly gain by worrying? It is precisely in this respect that my present ‘state of mind’ differs from Mummy’s: she tends to be optimistic, always wishing for the best; I am more inert, realizing the absolute futility of worrying about things one can’t do anything about.
Ah, there’s a power cut; and I must prepare to battle the menagerie of my nocturnal cellmates: bedbugs, mosquitoes and the sly Cat, who has taken to attacking my dinner every time I turn sides. And speaking of turns, the Diary will have to wait its-
May 30, 2007
I don’t want to think about tomorrow. Raipur is full of rumors of all sorts.
Instead, my thoughts are on Papa. It’s almost as if I can feel his anxiety, infinitely more terrifying than mine. I’ve requested Pradeep (Choubey) Uncle to go to him to Khairagarh, where he is campaigning for the bye-election. Mummy too should be with him. Both will be more ‘useful’ there than here-
I have spent much of the day talking to people- convicts, the jail superintendent and my lawyer, Mr. Farhan- who can help me discern the modus operandi of judgment-proceedings. From what I gather, we are to be taken out of jail only after 2 p.m., and presented before the Judge at 2:30. The police-administration too has been instructed to take ‘extra’ precaution to ‘ensure public peace and law & order’; consequently, about 200 armed personnel will be deployed all over the court premises, about 100 shall constantly guard us (equally, to prevent us from the possibilities of harm- an assassin, maybe?- as well as fleeing), and close-circuit surveillance cameras would be fitted at all entry-exit points. In addition, all roads leading to the court are to be barricaded. This reminds me of the time- two years ago- when I was first arrested and produced before a magistrate’s court at Raipur. Mr. Farhan says that should the Judge ask me “do you have to say anything?”- well, that means that I am to be sentenced. Now, these are words I’m hoping- Praying- not to hear tomorrow, atleast not from the learned Judge.
Also, somewhere at the back of my head: I have been trying, subconsciously perhaps, to elicit information about the first-day in the life of a convict: the other possibility that I should be prepared for; but which I’d rather not worry too much about.
Another thing that worries me is ‘the trial by media’: already, on the eve of the judgment, certain sections of the press- no doubt, prompted by the state government’s DPR- have begun posing the question, “Will Justice be Done to the Deceased’s Son?” More than anything else, it is the Raipur-based media which only too willingly fuelled the course of my investigation; transformed it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Mr. VC Shukla- and his then-emotionally charged ‘puppet’, Satish- named Papa and me in that so-called second FIR, the media had already pronounced its verdict: guilty as charged. The only thing the CBI- and Mr. Kaul- were expected to do- indeed, did- was to ‘manufacture’ evidence to prove that charge. And by no stretch of imagination, has this manufactured-evidence, running into thousands of pages, stood the test of the Trial; more than any other agency, I maintain that God, my Savior, has seen to that. As Mr. Surendra Singh noted during his argument, “the One who Saves is above the one who Implicates.” Indeed, after this four-year harrowing experience, the CBI, for me, stands for the Central Bureau of Implication.
A LITTLE NEMESIS?
As far as Satish, the deceased’s son, is concerned, I ‘empathize’ with him: the loss of one’s progeny is irreparable, and had I been in his place, I wouldn’t have done things differently. But only if I genuinely believed in the complicity of those named as accused. For some reason, I doubt that this is the case with him. All the lies he has said in court just to drag Papa’s name into this; twisting words, conjuring events that never happened. [Not surprisingly, neither of his late father’s closest friends and business partners- Mr. Rajendra Tiwari and Mr. Gauri Shankar Shukla- have supported his lies; the only corroboration to his wholly-absurd testimony comes from a Dr. Anil Verma, who is Mr. VC Shukla’s principal lackey and son-in-law.]
At times, I felt like telling him: “look, your father, much as I sympathize with him, wasn’t worth killing!” I mean how many people had heard of him before his post-mortem, posthumous celebrity, of which he- Satish- has been the single biggest beneficiary. At a Delhi party given by Mr. Sangma in honor of a visiting Nepalese royal, he went around introducing himself to some parliamentarian-friends of mine as the guy whose father was ‘killed by Amit Jogi’. Needless to say, they found it in extremely poor taste. Infact, the moment I got bail from the High Court in May last year, he went scampering to Delhi pleading that he be given some kind of ‘a post’ to protect him from me (!)- consequently, he has become something in the NCP’s youth wing.
Even more intriguing is the fact that this persistent litigation against me has become his principal source of revenue: indeed, I have reliable information that a large part of his ‘legal costs’ are reimbursed in part by a Maharasthra sugar-baron, and in part by ‘the CM House’ at Raipur…I’ve no doubt that should the Trial court decide to acquit me, Mr. Jaggi, Jr., would be only too happy to file a revision before the High Court- a not-so-implicit threat that his Delhi-based lawyer, Mr. Siddharth Luthra, made to the trial judge week before last- for the twin reasons of (a) keeping himself relevant politically; and (b) keeping the funds coming. Neither would his ‘battle’ be confined to the courts. In every election that my family has contested- and won- he- and his mother- have personally put up posters appealing to the electorate no not vote ‘for my husband’s/father’s killer’. They did so in Mahasamund (April 2004), long before the CBI implicated me in its chargesheet; and again in Rajnandgaon (March 2007), where his party- the NCP- had decided to support the Congress candidate. Needless to say, we haven’t seen fit to respond to such frivolous allegations- frivolous not only in our eyes, but as successive results showed, also in the eyes of the people of this state- for the simple reason, that they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.
In short, Satish Jaggi has happily allowed his shoulder to be used by our several enemies, both within and outside the Congress party, to take potshots at us; that he has proved remarkably successful in the past- especially at Delhi- has merely emboldened them to redouble their efforts in this direction. A source very close to him has informed me, on the condition of anonymity ofcourse, that the hon’ble chief minister of this state has promised him [a large fortune] to continue his efforts.
Given all this, am I expected to sit quiet?[…] No: I know for a fact that I have been prosecuted maliciously by the CBI for murdering a person whose name I hadn’t heard of before, a political nobody: it has coerced witnesses into recording false testimony; it has tried to bribe persons in court to turn approvers, a tape-recording of which conversation forms the basis of an ongoing complaint case; and it has deliberately withheld vital information from the court, especially those pertaining to Rohit’s passport entries, and thus metamorphosed from ‘prosecutors’ to ‘persecutors’, no different from Mr. Jaggi, Jr.. I also have a more than fair estimation of the ‘people in high places’ who let all this happen. I wanted to get this all out in the open in my Defense but was advised against it: in any trial, it is for the prosecution to prove its evidence; not for the Defense to disprove it. Now that that stage has come and gone, can I forget the agony that I- and my parents- have been subjected to; this below-the-belt politics of the worst kind?
Frankly, I don’t know what I would do; but one thing is for certain, I will no longer be a passive recipient of my enemy’s onslaughts. Yes, I will wait for God to show me the way. He is Merciful precisely because He expects us to be merciful to others: ‘love thy enemy’; ‘turn the other cheek’. If that is His Wish, then so be it.
Once again, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. In any case, a decision may only be taken only if I am acquitted- and that is something no one- except God and the Judge- can now know. I, on the other hand, will have to wait fourteen more hours-
EPILOGUE- THE JUDGMENT
Session Trial No. 329/2005, Sheet No. 226, Page No. 451, Para-462:
"As soon as Satish Jaggi came to know about murder of Shri Ramavtar Jaggi by bullet shot, he gave this information to State President NCP Shri Vidya Charan Shukla who reached Mekahara [hospital] immediately. He (Shri Shukla) got good opportunity to take revenge. Hence he reached thana Maudhapara with his supporters and started demonstrating with the intention of taking revenge on his opponent and got lodged a report against Ajit Jogi & Amit Jogi through Satish Jaggi."
My Convicted Co-accused
The passage of a fortnight has done little to numb the memory of my acquittal: life, it seems, would never be the same again, marred always by a constant realization of its alternative. Of 29, why was I singled out for this privilege?
It is my considered opinion that the legal evidence, as it exists, cries out for an across the board discharge; it proves nothing. My case, then, is distinguishable from my other co-accused in only this aspect: while the evidence against them is not proven; the evidence against me stands undeniably disproved. It is, as I see it, a matter of degrees, which ought not to make a qualitative difference; under no circumstances, can it account for this unfortunate, but in my belief, altogether remediable speciation. Here, I should like to put on record, my rebuttal to an editorialist, which pontificated that any extending of moral support to the other convicted co-accused (beyond which, there is precious little I can do anyway), is proof of my complicity; in other words, its author wishes, apparently for my own sake, that I join him in condemning them. I find his advise wholly absurd, if not outrightly silly.
As the law now stands, the admission of a criminal appeal against a judgment of a subordinate court is in itself a continuation of the trial; and while the sentence itself may not be prima facie suspended, it obliges every civilized human, assuming ofcourse that the pontiff-editor qualifies as one, to accord paramountcy to a presumption of innocence until all successive avenues of appellate justice have been duly and fully exhausted. Surely, for instance, he ought to be aware of the staggeringly high proportion of trial court convictions, which are set aside by higher courts of appeal; and till the time that happens- or doesn’t- the benefit of doubt must, under civilized norm, be extended to all co-accused even- and especially- if their punishments have already commenced: for what if, after a goodly span of seven years, an appellate court holds that they were in fact, innocent? Not that this would in any way irk our blessed editor’s conscience (in any case, an oxymoronic notion), for by then, I’m certain that he, like most of us, would’ve moved onto another, equally if not more sensational, story.
Like everybody else, I’ve seen the evidence; I’ve also come to understand the extenuating circumstances under which a lot of that evidence has been manufactured by my persecutors; in the past two years I’ve acquired, both as an undertrial as well as a student, a certain knowledge of the practical and theoretical dimensions of criminal law; as such, there is nothing in my mind- or for that matter, on record- that causes me to disbelieve the continued profession of innocence by my co-accused, allowing of course for all the above-mentioned possibilities that the Law of the Land affords them; and ultimately holding that, while justice may well be delayed, it will not, in the final analysis, be denied to anyone, however great or small.
On 21st July 2008, 25 of the 28 convicted-accused in the Jaggi Murder Case were granted bail; the High Court heard arguments on their bail-applications more than one year after they were convicted by the trial court, which is something of a record in itself. Not surprisingly, at least one Divisional Bench refused to hear the matter even though no case against me was brought before it.
A Second Post-script: