Recently, a judgment by High Court of Uttarakhand caused much political storm in the state. Hearing a bunch of petitions by a ‘journalist’, Umesh Sharma, for quashing FIRs against him, the court not only quashed certain FIRs but also directed Dehradun office of Central Bureau of Investigation to file an FIR within two days against Trivendra Singh Rawat, Uttarakhand CM , on corruption charges.
As expected, the opposition parties demanded that the CM should resign on the basis of this judgment. The government filed a Special Leave Petition in Supreme Court under Article 136 of the constitution and the Supreme Court questioned the quality of the judgment, calling it ‘drastic’ and surprising. It also stayed the orders of High Court to file FIR against CM.
The ‘case’ against Uttarakhand CM and the holes in story
Apart from the opposition some self-professed BJP supporters, members and leaders, in Uttarakhand and outside, claimed that the judgment of High Court was sufficient ground to remove the Chief Minister and he should resign. Most of them have been silent since the Supreme Court termed this order as “drastic” and something that took everyone “by surprise”. Supreme court ordered that the direction by HC to CBI to file FIR against the CM be stayed until further hearings. It is important to bring the whole story before the public, which sadly, most media houses have chosen to ignore.
- The allegation of corruption against CM pertains to a period when he was not a CM, or even an MLA. It is alleged that in 2016, during demonetisation, when T. S. Rawat was BJP’s state in charge of Jharkhand, a person named Amratesh Singh Chauhan had paid bribes to Mr. Rawat for a favor in Jharkhand. Allegedly, Mr. Chauhan wanted to be Chairperson of Jharkhand Go Sewa Ayog; and for that he and Mr. Rawat cut a deal that Chauhan will give Rs. 25 lakhs to Rawat as election expenses. In lieu of this, Mr. Rawat will use his influence in Jharkhand to ensure that he is made Chairman.
- According to the story, this money was routed through accounts of one Dr. Harender Singh Rawat and his wife Smt. Savita Rawat, who was claimed to be the sister-in-law of T. S. Rawat. The money was allegedly deposited in multiple accounts linked to the couple. The account details are also part of the story. It was claimed that whatsapp chats between T S Rawat and Amratesh Chauhan are proof of all these account details and transactions
- The story then says that Amratesh was not made chairman and he sought to get his money back from T. S. Rawat, who did not want to pay back. Thus he leaked the story to one Rajesh Sharma with all the details. The story somehow reached Mr. Umesh Sharma, our knight in shining armour, who brought these ‘facts’ to public notice through various means including press conferences and social media.
- The government then filed cases against him to muzzle the voice of this ‘journalist’ and ‘anti-corruption crusader’. After that, he filed case in High Court for relief.
Holes in the story
This story looks appealing to people fed on a diet of Bollywood, which loves to denigrate the politicians. But like any Bollywood movie, this story is riddled with numerous crater-sized plot holes.
Firstly, it is alleged that Smt. Savita Rawat is the sister of Sh. T. S. Rawat’s wife and this is the reason that money was routed through accounts linked to Smt. Savita Rawat and her husband. The fact is that this is simply not true. Savita Rawat is not only not the sister of CM’s wife, she is not even from the same village that of CM’s wife. This means that leave alone a close relative, she is not even a distant relative of the CM.
Secondly, the money alleged to have been transferred through certain accounts of the Rawat couple is non-existent. Uttarakhand Police officially investigated the transaction details of the accounts mentioned in the whatsapp chats and ‘expose’ by Umesh Sharma. It was found that no such transactions had taken place in mentioned bank accounts!
Thirdly, Amratesh Chauhan, who is supposed to have paid this money to T. S. Rawat denied having had any such chats or having paid any money. This he said in an FIR he filed in Jharkhand against Umesh Sharma for harassment and said that he abused and threatened Chauhan with dire consequences.
So, the whole story was created on the basis of a relationship that did not exist, transactions that did not take place and on behalf of a person who denied having anything to do with it. This was a clear case of conspiracy against the Chief Minister for some ulterior motives.
The alternate version of the story
The perusal of the judgment of High Court brings to light many facts that point to an alternate version of the story which is devoid of these plot holes and is much more plausible.
- According to the FIR filed against Sharma by his own employee, one Ayus Gaur, he had been tasked with conducting a sting operation against Chief Secretary and CM of Uttarakhand. He was to be presented as a representative of a firm that wanted some favor. He met some ” fake and dummy parties” and made some recordings but got cold feet later when he came to know that Umesh Sharma wanted to destabilize government. Apparently, the officers he reached were unwilling to accept bribes.
- Apparently, it is the modus operandi of Umesh Sharma to do stings on high and mighty in politics and administration. After that rather than publishing/broadcasting the sting operations, he extorts money from these people. This has been stated by multiple people including Dr. Harender Rawat, Ayus Gaur and Amratesh Chauhan.
- It is probable that someone sold some information to Umesh Sharma, including forged whatsapp chats and fake account details and a fake story to trap the CM of Uttarakhand. He tried to reach and blackmail the CM and when he could not do so, he made the details public thinking that it would destabilize the government and another person, possibly better suited to his own interests, will become CM.
- The only thing was that his information was completely wrong. In fact, he himself admitted this in the High Court. However, he pleaded that he believed the information to be true and that if anything, he could only be guilty of defamation.
The story of Umesh Sharma
Umesh Sharma’s rise in media world has been swift. Since being a small time journalist about 15 years ago, he now owns and controls several media outlets including R9 TV, Samachar Plus, Bangla Bharat, Marathi Bharat, Pahad TV, Crime Story and Parwat Jan etc. Apart from this, he also owns a news agency News Network of India and also has numerous interests in real estate, aviation and other businesses. His rise in Uttarakhand in such a small time period is a very interesting story in itself.
Originally from Delhi, Umesh had come to Dehradun in early 2000s and on the basis of some family connections, started a small real estate business and a news agency. With time and patronage of those in power, he slowly started spreading his business. In a few years, he had gained enough influence to apparently start land-grabbing in Dehradun. In a few years, he launched his channel Samachar Plus and allegedly became a “professional blackmailer”. Since then, he has started many new media portals and has become rich enough to retain high flying lawyers like Kapil Sibal and Shyam Divan, who argued for him in High Court of Uttarakhand. He was influential enough to get a Y class security from Uttarakhand government.
He first came in national limelight in 2016, when his video of negotiating a deal on behalf of dissident Congress MLAs with the then CM Harish Rawat was leaked. The deal involved ministerial berths as well as cash. In that episode, a case in CBI as filed and is under investigation. In fact, till date more than 25 FIRs have been filed against Umesh Sharma in five different states in serious offences under IPC for rapes, criminal conspiracy, land grabbing, fraud, etc and also under arms act, SC/ST Act, IT Act.
But Umesh was powerful enough to get Uttarakhand government to take three of these cases back! Some were quashed by the court and still about 20 cases against him are under various stages of investigation. These cases have been filed by different governments, both BJP and Congress. However, he reportedly has connections with important leaders of both the parties. The current government seems to be the first one in a long time, which does not seem to have favoured Umesh Sharma in any manner.
The High Court judgment sets a dangerous precedent
Now that we have seen the basics of the story, let us have a look at the case in High Court. All the elements of the story mentioned above were presented in the High Court. The case had been filed by Umesh Sharma against an FIR on him. Umesh Sharma claimed that the govt had filed multiple FIRs based on the same actions and this was wrong. He further said that he did not try to destablize the government and just stated facts as he believed them to be. He accepted that these were the wrong facts and conceded that at best a defamation can be filed against him.
The High Court quashed the FIR against Umesh Sharma, agreeing with his arguments. That much is understandable, even if debatable. However, what it did next is nothing but judicial overreach. It must be remembered that Umesh Sharma had not prayed for filing a case against Uttarakhand CM. In fact, the CM was not even a party to the case. However, the High Court, took the drastic step under Article 226 of the Constitution to order CBI to file an FIR against CM Trivendra Singh Rawat within a short period of two days.
The judgment moralizes at length about corruption in politics and even quotes Garhwali songs of Uttarakhand’s folk singer Narendra Singh Negi with translations to drive home the point that there is perception of corruption in politics of Uttarakhand. It then says that this perception cannot be allowed to remain and thus it is taking suo-moto action under Article 226! The court did not consider that Umesh Sharma had supplied wrong facts and did not even insist on appearance of Amratesh Chauhan in the court before giving the order.
It is a travesty of justice when a decision is given on the basis of perception and not on the basis of facts presented. There is perception at least among some sections of public that the judge who gave this judgment, Honourable Justice Maithani, was appointed to High Court after bypassing four judges, who were senior to him and had a good record, because of his proximity to high places in Delhi. Clearly, we could come to very wrong and unwarranted conclusions based on public perception. Honourable Justice Maithani seems to have fallen victim to this fallacy.
If this standard is taken for filing FIRs against public servants and ministers, the pandemonium can be imagined. Anyone could allege corruption or wrongdoing by someone he wanted to discredit and an FIR would be filed without ascertaining the facts of the case. Fishing expeditions against politicians, on the basis of mere hearsay, could forever tarnish their reputations and lower the confidence in democracy even more.
Politicians are the favourite punching bags for bureaucracy, judiciary, and media. All of these have vilified politics and politicians to become knights in shining armours in the public imagination. However, many cases indicate that these professions themselves suffer from the malaise of corruption. Discrediting all politicians and politics is increasingly being seen as the requirement for being called honest. However, while making pronouncements, one should also think about the consequences of one’s actions.
In a democracy politicians are here to stay and these are a reflection of our own society. Compared to people in media and judiciary, politicians have to be elected by people in a transparent process and are accountable to them. There is no doubt that many criminal and corrupt elements are there in politics, and judiciary should expedite their cases to rid politics of such characters. However, such judgments are the wrong way to go about it.
This post was originally published in HinduPost.
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