This is a story about a terrible travesty. Varun Gandhi, 33, has recently been in the news for two reasons. First, he has been exonerated of all charges in the hate speeches he allegedly made in the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Second, he has been made the national general secretary of the BJP, the youngest politician ever to be elevated to this post.
Now, an explosive TEHELKA sting investigation shows he is not entitled to either. TEHELKA’s investigation proves that not only did Varun make the venomous speeches he is accused of, he has compounded the original wrong by brazenly subverting the entire judicial process to get his name cleared. He has also indulged in anti-party activities, deliberately making his own party candidate lose an Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 so that a Samajwadi Party (SP) leader sympathetic to him could win and help him fix the cases against him.
The subversion of justice has been so blatant that all 88 witnesses in the cases have turned hostile. This is perhaps unprecedented in any criminal case in the world. Many of these witnesses have been caught on TEHELKA’s hidden cameras admitting they were coerced or bribed into changing their testimonies. They speak of how Pilibhit Superintendent of Police Amit Verma and other police officers threatened witnesses. In one instance, a witness claims he received a call directly from Varun’s office. The witnesses also speak of how the judicial process was turned completely on its head; how their testimonies were taken in the absence of the judge; how their statements were crafted by the lawyers and their thumb impressions or signatures taken; of how they were not cross-examined, often not even summoned to present their testimonies.
Startlingly, these accounts are strongly corroborated by key BJP and SP leaders caught on TEHELKA’s cameras. (In fact, BJP leader Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar— district vice-president of Pilibhit — gives the most devastating account of Varun’s actions.)
The investigation also found that Public Prosecutor MP Verma — tasked with upholding the law of the land and bringing the guilty to justice — and the court itself were suspiciously negligent in following due process in bringing the high-profile leader to justice.
For instance, 18 witnesses were examined in a span of just two days. They all turned hostile, but neither the public prosecutor nor the court raised any flags. They failed to object even when other witnesses gave blatantly contradictory statements. Further, when Varun refused to give a voice sample — crucial evidence for the prosecution’s case — the public prosecutor agreed to it without any objection. Several important witnesses were not even produced in the court because the public prosecutor himself filed an application saying there was no need for them to do so.
As an example of cynical political expediency — a willingness to bend every institution of democracy — the story could not get starker. Or darker. What also makes this story particularly significant is that it lays bare how easily systems are subverted by the powerful in this country.
Before the evidence, the backdrop: Varun Gandhi’s controversial political journey began in 2009 when he decided to stand for his first Lok Sabha election from Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh on a BJP ticket. As a Nehru-Gandhi scion, Varun should have been one of the natural inheritors of what is perhaps the world’s most illustrious political legacy. But his mother Maneka Gandhi’s famous spat with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had meant political anonymity for him.
In March 2009, that anonymity was rudely broken when visual footage of Varun spewing venom at Muslims in his election rallies erupted on national television. The country was astounded. Here was Jawaharlal Nehru’s great-grandson in a role absolutely antithetical to the idea of India his great grandfather had played such a pivotal role in establishing.
Millions watched as these hate speeches — captured by several people on their phones and cameras — were played on loop on television channels. At the Election Commission’s insistence, two cases were filed against Varun for inciting hatred and creating communal disharmony. He was arrested on 28 March 2009 and stayed behind bars for 20 days.
Another case was registered against him for the violence that took place during his surrender at the Pilibhit court. He was charged for rioting, damaging public property and attempt to murder. Yet, though thousands had heard his speeches at the rallies and millions had watched it on television, on 4 May 2013, the Sessions Court of Pilibhit acquitted him of all the charges in these three cases, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The illegal and immoral lengths Varun went to, to get these exonerations, have all been caught in TEHELKA’s sting investigation. But this was not Varun’s first brush with the law. He had picked the Pilibhit parliamentary seat for his first election because his mother Maneka had won several Lok Sabha elections from there. On 1 August 2008, on a tour through his constituency, Varun and his associates were headed towards Barkhera, a town 22 km from Pilibhit. On the way, Varun’s car got stalled in a pothole in a village called Jyorah Kalyanpur. While the problem was being sorted, Varun and his supporters got down and tried talking to people around. Most huts in the village were sporting flags of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (RKMS) and the Congress party. This displeased Varun and he enquired why this was the case. A local shopkeeper, Bharatveer Gangwar, replied that the flags were there because the RKMS was working for the people of the area.
Phool Chand ‘Acharya Ji’, a resident of the village and an eyewitness to the incident, recounts what happened after this. “Varun got angry with Bharatveer and said whatever had been done for the village had been done by his mother Maneka. Bharatveer replied that people supported RKMS leader VM Singh because he had fought for the welfare of the local sugarcane farmers. Varun did not like this and slapped Bharatveer. Varun’s supporters also started beating him. The villagers tried to stop them but Varun’s supporters had weapons and no one had to courage to stop Varun.”
At 6.30 pm on 1 August, Bharatveer lodged an FIR against Varun and his associates at Barkhera Police Station. On the other hand, an FIR was also lodged from Varun’s side by Yogendra Gangwar, the then BJP district president, at 9.10 pm. While the first FIR said exactly what Phool Chand told us, the second FIR said that Bharatveer had fired at Varun from a country-made pistol, looted 10,000 from him and fled with his associates while brandishing the pistol.
The police investigated both the cases, found the case lodged against Bharatveer as false and filed a closure report. In the case lodged against Varun, however, the police filed a chargesheet on 24 December 2008. This was the first criminal case filed against Varun in Pilibhit district.
By this time, Varun had understood that the Gandhi name alone was not sufficient to ensure his victory in the constituency. There were several reasons for this. In the delimitation exercise, many areas that voted exclusively for Maneka had gone out of the constituency. To exacerbate the challenge, Bahedi, which had a mixed population of both Hindus and Muslims, had come into Pilibhit constituency. Three of the five Assembly seats of Pilibhit had Muslim MLAs whereas the population of Muslims in the region was only 35 percent. Mindful of this, Varun seems to have decided the best way to ensure a victory was to polarise the election on communal lines.
This became evident in early 2009 as the campaign picked up pace. According to the locals, on 22 February, Varun declared himself as the only saviour of Hindus in the country at Ram Manohar Lohia Balika Inter College of Lalori Khera village in Pilibhit and started speaking against Muslims. This hate speech at Lalori Khera was mentioned in the election petition filed against him in the Allahabad High Court. Throughout the course of its investigation, TEHELKA was repeatedly told that before the 2009 General Election, wherever Varun held a poll meeting, he swore on the Gita that he would “cut off the hands and necks of Muslims”.
On 6 March 2009, Varun was supposed to address an election meeting at the Deshnagar locality of Pilibhit. He reached the venue at around 9 pm. Shariq Parvez, a local reporter, tried to record the speech but was forced by Varun’s supporters to turn off his camera. He could only record a few minutes. Varun told those gathered at the Deshnagar rally, “If you want to save the Hindu religion, vote for me. If a Hindu doesn’t vote for me, he would be betraying his religion.” He also warned, “See! These Muslims may say anything… every vote of theirs would go for that katua (a derogatory term for Muslims…) understand? Therefore, every vote of yours should go for Hindustan…”
In the meantime, Shailendra Singh, a local youth, recorded Varun’s entire speech on his cell phone. Shailendra says, “I had heard from several people that Varun was regularly giving speeches to inflame communal passions. Therefore I decided to record his speech. No one was allowed to make a video so I switched on the record button on my cell phone and kept it in my pocket.” (TEHELKA is in possession of this audio clip of around 28 minutes.)
The next day, on 7 March, Varun gave the same anti-Muslim speech at a locality known as Dalchand. He told the people that 13 Hindu women had been raped by Muslims over the past few days, yet the offenders were roaming scot-free. He also warned the public that the area had three Muslim MLAs, and if the trend continued, the area would turn into Pakistan. People needed to vote for him, he said, so he could establish a Hindu nation. (TEHELKA enquired about these rapes, but found no complaints or FIRs had been registered. This rumour about the rapes though had spread like wildfire and become a huge point of tension before the election.)
By this time, all of Pilibhit knew about Varun’s inflammatory speeches. On 8 March, a few reporters succeeded in recording his speech at Barkhera. It was this hate speech that a shocked nation watched in 2009. Several sadhus dressed in saffron were also present on the dais with him.
Taking serious note of the case, the Election Commission transferred the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate of Pilibhit and directed the district administration to take strict action against Varun. Two criminal cases were filed against him on 17 and 18 March for his inflammatory speeches at Dalchand and Barkhera.
VM Singh — a distant relative of Varun’s and the Congress candidate contesting against him — sent the Deshnagar audio clip to the Election Commission on 16 April. He also sent affidavits of four eyewitnesses — Prashant Kumar Rao, Mukhtar Ahmed, Kadir Ahmed and Shailendra Singh — who were willing to testify about Varun’s inflammatory speech at Deshnagar. But the police did not file an FIR in this case.
However, on 22 March, all three election commissioners passed a strongly worded order regarding Varun’s speech in Barkheda. They said, “The commission has seen the CD, not once but several times repeatedly, and is fully convinced and satisfied that the CD has not been tampered with, doctored or morphed as alleged by the respondent.” While admitting its inability to debar Varun from contesting the election till he was found guilty by a “competent court of law”, the Election Commission also observed, “in the considered opinion of the commission, the respondent doesn’t deserve to be a candidate in the present General Election…”
Although his legal troubles had increased, for the moment, Varun had succeeded in his political gameplan. His supporters started promoting him as a Hindu leader in Pilibhit. Slogans were plastered across the area, “Varun nahin aandhi hai, doosra Sanjay Gandhi hai” (He is not just Varun but a storm, he is a second Sanjay Gandhi).
Afroz Alam, a local resident and CPI(ML) worker, says, “Varun turned the whole election into a Hindu vs Muslim one. He would start his speeches by saying ‘If any Muslims are present, they should leave. I don’t need the vote of any Muslim.’ His supporters also began spreading rumours. Everywhere it was said several Muslim boys had raped a Hindu girl in the adjoining village, or that some Muslim boys had beaten a Hindu youth. Several times during the night, people on 10-12 motorcycles would go around brandishing sticks and torches and making a lot of commotion. The next day it would be rumoured that they were Muslim bandits.”
Though he was on a winning streak, worried about the criminal cases against him, Varun filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court asking the cases to be quashed. The court dismissed his petition on 25 March 2009. Afraid he would be arrested any moment, Varun decided to score a political point by surrendering. To prepare the ground for his arrest, he gave instructions to his supporters to organise a massive crowd in front of the court on 28 March.
The Pilibhit court almost waylaid this carefully planned spectacle. It said since the cases had not reached it through any formal medium yet, it couldn’t send Varun to jail. A new plan was hastily formulated. The then BJP district president Yogendra Gangwar filed an affidavit in the court saying that since two criminal cases had been filed against Varun, he wanted to surrender and should be sent to judicial custody. (TEHELKA is in possession of this affidavit). Clearly, Varun did not want his preparations to go waste.
This devious strategy was corroborated on TEHELKA’s hidden cameras by Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar, the BJP district vice-president and a confidant of Varun’s who had arranged his Barkhera rally. Here’s what Gangwar had to say: “I had received an instruction from Delhi asking us to get a large number of people on the day of the surrender. I said I would manage it. The police was deployed in Ghaziabad and Noida. But the Gandhi family is the Gandhi family. People like you and me cannot even think like them. There is a bypass on the Moradabad highway, a convoy of nine vehicles left for Bareilly from there and one went towards Sitarganj. Ten more vehicles joined the convoy from there. When the convoy was stopped in Bareilly, Varun Gandhi was not in it. I got a call saying Varun had reached the jail gate.”
This crowd gathered by Varun indulged in violent protest. Several vehicles and buildings were vandalised or set on fire and stones were pelted with such ferocity that around 20 people, including five policemen, were injured. A case was registered against Varun and his supporters for this incident on 28 March itself.
As soon as Varun was arrested, his mother Maneka took command of his communal electoral campaign. On 28 March, she went to the district hospital to meet the injured and held a Muslim inspector to be responsible for the fracas. She said, “Around 45 injured people have been admitted to the hospital. Of these, 25 have been injured by a single police inspector whose name is Pervez Miyan.” Apparently this inspector was not even present when the incident took place and was posted about 20 km away at Barkhera.
Varun spent 20 days in jail. By the time he got out, he had become the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (Emperor of Hindu Hearts). He won a landslide victory in the election, outstripping his nearest rival by more than three lakh votes. The costs would haunt him later. Varun now had three cases against him for violation of the model code of conduct, breach of peace, threatening and fighting with locals, giving inflammatory speeches, damaging public property, promoting enmity and acts prejudicial against communal harmony, attacking the police and rioting.
If he had been convicted in these cases, Varun would have had to spend an extended time in jail. His political life would have taken a beating. Perhaps, he would have been debarred from standing for elections. But by 4 May 2013, Varun had managed the costs: he stood acquitted in all the three cases against him.
Before delving into how Varun got himself acquitted by the court, there is first the story of the political collusion between him and the SP. While she was chief minister, Mayawati had slapped a draconian NSA (National Security Act) case against Varun. But the SP’s victory proved very useful. In October last year, several newspapers in Uttar Pradesh reported that the Akhilesh Yadav government wanted to drop the cases filed against Varun. When this became public, many Muslim organisations and Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, protested strongly. Afraid of alienating its voter base, the SP government finally did not drop the cases against Varun but fast-tracked them.
Ashwani Agnihotri, the former president of the Pilibhit District Bar Association, says, “I have been practicing in Pilibhit for several years. I have never seen a case where as many testimonies were taken in a single day as in Varun’s case.”
Why was the SP government so favourably inclined towards Varun? TEHELKA’s investigation found Varun — the general secretary the BJP is counting on to bring it back to glory days in Uttar Pradesh — played an important role in defeating his party candidate Satpal Gangwar in the 2012 Assembly election so that the SP candidate Riyaz Ahmed could win in Pilibhit. (Ahmed is currently the Khadi and Village Industries Minister in Akhilesh Yadav’s government as well as the state president of the SP’s minority cell.)
TEHELKA is in possession of a damning audio tape in which Rizwan Malik, Varun’s media in-charge in Pilibhit, tells Mohammad Sadar, president of the BJP’s minority cell in Pilibhit, that they must ensure BJP candidate Satpal Gangwar’s defeat because Varun wants it done. Here are excerpts of the conversation between Malik and Sadar:
Rizwan Malik: Don’t ask me… I’m saying don’t ask me. Now whatever is possible, take the appropriate decision…
Mohammad Sadar: Like what? Say something.
Malik: Now what can be clearer than his, Varun Gandhi has said that Satpal should not win, Satpal should not get the votes; that’s it. He has to lose. Now you have to decide who will defeat him. Whoever is going to win, you start working with him, what can I say?
Sadar: Then it’s fine.
Malik: You understood everything?
TEHELKA tried to substantiate this by talking to Satpal Gangwar. At first, he was reluctant to talk, but he later accepted it was Varun who made sure he lost. To prove this, even he had an audio clip. This is an excerpt of TEHELKA’s conversation with Satpal:
TEHELKA: I just wanted to ask you about the video that the boy had recorded… which meeting was it actually?
Satpal: It’s not a recording of a meeting but of a telephonic conversation. It was said on the phone that support the BSP (BSP ko ladao…)
TEHELKA: BSP ko ladao or make sure it wins…
Satpal: Yes, make sure the BSP wins.
TEHELKA: Is Varun himself giving the instructions or is some close confidant of his giving the instructions.
Satpal: Varun Gandhi is himself giving the instructions.
Haroon Ahmed, who knows the politics of Pilibhit very closely, says, “The BSP was not in the fight. The Hindu votes were polarised towards the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. Satpal Gangwar could have won on the same grounds in the Assembly election. But, in this scenario, if the BJP’s vote share was divided with the BSP, it would directly benefit the SP. This was what happened and SP’s Riyaz Ahmed won the election. This is how Varun helped the SP government and they reciprocated by trying to withdraw the cases against him.”
In the most damning evidence, BJP district vice-president Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar — the man responsible for organising Varun’s Barkhera rally — corroborated all of this on TEHELKA’s sting camera. He candidly admitted the job of influencing the Muslim witnesses was given to Riyaz Ahmed. He also describes in vivid detail the venomous things Varun had said and how the police was used to coerce witnesses later.
It is important to note that Parmeshwari is clearly a trusted member of Varun’s team in Pilibhit. After Varun was made general secretary, posters across Pilibhit came up congratulating Varun. Parmeshwari features prominently in these posters next to Varun.
Here are some excerpts of TEHELKA’s chilling conversation with Parmeshwari:
TEHELKA: Was there some controversy in 2009?
Parmeshwari Dayal: There was some controversy… the truth was… whatever was printed was true.
TEHELKA: Did he say that?
Dayal: Yes, he said that… I was in charge of that meeting that became famous in Barkhera. Ten thousand people participated.
TEHELKA: There were 10,000 people?
Dayal: At least 10,000.
TEHELKA: That means it was a big meeting. So, what happened in the meeting?
Dayal: The truth was there was one group here of VM Singh (the Congress candidate). It was Varun vs VM. The code of conduct was in place. His men recorded the whole thing in the CD and gave it to the Election Commission. When the Election Commission uploaded it on the Internet, it became known the world over. And the opposite happened.
Dayal: He had said those things… it became famous… It would have been restricted to Pilibhit… whatever he said, he said in Pilibhit… But they recorded the whole twenty two and a half minutes (Dayal abuses)… and sent it to the whole world… The CD was made by VM Singh’s men… They gave it to the government… and he became famous…
TEHELKA: Then how was the matter resolved?
Dayal: Resolved? All the witnesses turned hostile.
TEHELKA: How did the witnesses turn hostile? Did the police…
Some extraneous conversation follows at this point. Then, Dayal continues.
Dayal: Varun Gandhi can stop anyone from getting a ticket… the same will happen in Sultanpur and the same here… his roots are that strong.
TEHELKA: So, the matter was settled in the court?
Dayal: Yes, all of them got settled… only one is left.
TEHELKA: How were the witnesses managed?
Dayal: Riyaz babu is a minister in the Samajwadi Party government… and Gandhiji has direct relations with Mulayam Singh… Mulayam had said to take back the cases but Bukhari from Delhi started protesting.
TEHELKA: Yes, he had asked for the case to be taken back.
Dayal: The minister from here, Riyaz… He was pressurised. He was told all the witnesses are Muslims, just resolve the matter quickly! So Riyaz got all the Muslims together one by one… I went on that court date.
Dayal: So all the witnesses were dealt with…
TEHELKA: And how did the Hindu witnesses turn hostile?
Dayal: They turned hostile under police pressure…
TEHELKA: Under police pressure?
Dayal: The SP (Superintendent of Police) used to call them over. There was one witness… the SP called him over and said, are you literate? He said he had done his PhD. He was a literate person. The SP asked him what his pay was; he said 25,000. The SP said, you must have got a good bride. He said, yes. The SP asked him if he loved his wife; he said yes. The SP said, you want to continue loving her or stop loving her? Then go and think about what you have to say in the court. You want to go back home or not? This is how it happened.
TEHELKA: Who was the SP?
Dayal: I don’t remember his name.
TEHELKA: Was he from Pilibhit district?
Dayal: Yes… several cases like this happened.
Dayal goes on to explain at great length how the meeting was held and how the godmen on the dais were paid. Then TEHELKA asks him another question:
TEHELKA: By the way, what controversial thing was Varun saying?
Dayal: He said this… Phool Babu was a minister with the BSP. There were some atrocities against the Hindus… snatching someone’s buffalo; getting it butchered… So he said, if any Muslim raises his hand towards a Hindu, cut off his hand. If he raises his head, cut off his head… He said Bisalpur has the biggest disease (referring to its Muslim residents). So first I would buy a factory over there, a petrol pump, then I would get it sprayed by a helicopter, and then I would get the basti vacated after setting fire to the place.
TEHELKA: He said that?
Dayal: Yes, he said that. The vendors here would not go to the Muslim areas.
Dayal: All of them stopped. They were so afraid… Whole Pilibhit was afraid. (He laughs).
It is important to mention here that Riyaz Ahmed is no incidental stranger to the story; he is an old associate of Maneka. When she had left the Congress and formed the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch, Ahmed was its secretary. Reportedly, it is he who introduced Maneka to Pilibhit. In his conversation with TEHELKA, he brushes off allegations of his own links with Varun’s case. However, significantly, he too admits there was a widespread management of administration, witnesses and the judiciary to settle the cases.
But, more on that later. First, read how each of the cases against Varun was made to disappear into thin air.
Case 1: Assault on Bharatveer Gangwar
Charges: Assault, criminal intimidation and threatening to Kill
Date of incident: 1 August 2008
FIR: 1 August 2008
Chargesheet: 24 December 2008
Under Section: 452, 352, 323, 504 and 506 IPC
As mentioned earlier, the first case filed against Varun in Pilibhit was for his assault on the shopkeeper Bharatveer Gangwar. This case was being heard since 2008. Now suddenly, it’s been closed. The process of disposing off the cases against Varun started last year in October-November. Some were managed in courts; others outside the court. The assault case was settled outside the court.
Why did Bharatveer, who had steadfastly been fighting Varun for four years, suddenly decide to reach an understanding? Bharatveer refused to speak to TEHELKA about this. His fear was unmistakable. However, his lawyer, Ashwani Agnihotri, had this to say: “The current Superintendent of Police Amit Verma called Bharatveer and told him to take back the charges. Bharatveer told him he would discuss the matter with me and get back. He tried ducking the SP’s call the second time, but when the SP called him the third time, he used the methods of the police and explained — or should I say threatened — Bharatveer. The SP told him if he did not listen, he would have to face the consequences.” According to Agnihotri, the SP told Bharatveer he would be sent to jail on some trumped-up charge.
Realising he was helpless, Agnihotri advised Bharatveer that if he wanted to settle the matter, he should get an affidavit from Varun to safeguard himself. Bharatveer had lodged an FIR and given his statement to an investigating officer. According to Agnihotri, if he turned hostile in court, Varun could file a defamation suit against him.
Subsequently, Agnihotri says a relative of Bharatveer’s went to Varun’s house in Ashoka Road, New Delhi, and got the affidavit. “The matter was settled only after we got this affidavit,” says Agnihotri.
TEHELKA has not been able to corroborate Agnihotri’s story through any other testimony on camera. However, the 2008 cadre IPS officer, SP Amit Verma, that the lawyer refers to also played an important role in disposing of other cases against Varun. Verma has been posted in Pilibhit since May 2012.
Case 2: Hate Speech at Barkhera
Date of Incident: 8 March 2009
FIR: 17 March 2009
Chargesheet: 11 July 2009
Under Section: 153(A), 295(A), 505(2) IPC and 125 Representation of People Act
Number of witnesses: 34
Varun’s speech at Barkhera was the most infamous. It was this speech that was telecast across most news channels. It had seemed inevitable that Varun would be punished — or at least censured — for this. However, all 34 witnesses in the case have been declared hostile.
Even a cursory glance at the statements of these witnesses exposes glaring discrepancies. For instance, several policemen deployed as security at Varun’s election meeting were made witnesses. Yet, many of these policemen gave ridiculous statements in court. Prosecution witness No. 13, Constable Kishore Puri, for example, told the court he was on security duty on 8 March 2009, but “he had no idea about any rally, etc.” Prosecution witness No. 11, Head Constable Hetram, also admitted he was on security duty that day in Barkheda but did not listen to any speech of Varun. Witness No. 10 Ramendra Pal; witness No. 14 Mathura Prasad; and several other policemen said similar things. But there was no protest from the public prosecutor.
This laxity is evident in other crucial aspects of the case. Varun’s voice sample was the most important link in the case. However, when he refused to give it, the prosecution did not object or insist.
In fact, things get even curiouser. The police had sent a video of Varun’s speech to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Chandigarh for verification. The police also sent one camera, one cassette, one cell phone and one memory card of a cell phone to the lab. CFSL Additional Director SK Jain found the videos on these devices to be the same, but he also wrote in his report that the videos were “not original”. However, he clarified the meaning of the words “not original”. According to him, something is deemed a “original video” when it is shot in one take. As there were cuts in this video, it could not be called original.
The cuts Jain mentions in his report could have arisen due to two reasons. First, stringers — as hinterland freelance journalists are called — sometimes record their videos in parts because they have a limited space for recording. The second reason for the cuts could have been that the videos were recorded secretly as Varun’s supporters were forcefully prohibiting any recording.
Importantly, the CFSL did not raise any doubts about the authenticity of Varun’s voice on the videos. However, Jain said in his report, “To identify and verify the parts of the speech, it is important to take a balanced sample of the accused person’s voice.” The final decision would have to be taken on the basis of a voice sample. But the prosecution failed to press for it.
Beside the CFSL, the news channel NDTV had also got the CD of Varun’s hate speech verified by Digital Evidence Legal Video Services, an independent forensic lab in the US. Its report declared the CD to be authentic and said there had been no tampering. NDTV submitted this report in the Pilibhit court for permission before the report was telecast. (TEHELKA is in possession of this report).
During the course of the hearing, Asad Hayat, general secretary of the Awami Council, a trust in Uttar Pradesh, filed a petition stating Varun’s voice sample should be taken and if he refuses, it should be held against him. Hayat also pleaded that news channels that had telecast the hate speeches be made witnesses in the case. This was rejected by the court because the prosecution that should have supported it actually protested against it saying Hayat’s petition was “worthy of dismissal”.
The prosecution filed one more application in court that strongly suggests it was working to acquit Varun rather than convict him. This petition filed on 18 February 2013 said that since Jain had already submitted his forensic report, there was no need for him to appear as a witness. This was a bizarre position to take as Jain was the only person who could clarify the significance of the ‘cuts’ in court.
In the same petition, the prosecution also requested the court to exempt District Magistrate Mahendra Prasad Agarwal and Rajendra Prasad Jain, the policeman who gave the Local Intelligence Unit report, from appearing as witnesses. How can the prosecution ask for any witness not to appear in court?
Such negligence coupled with the witness testimonies caught on TEHELKA’s sting cameras makes it shockingly clear how Varun subverted the law and silenced an entire system.
Here’s what happened with Witness No. 4, Ram Avtar.
Avtar was made an eyewitness by the police. It was his responsibility to support the prosecution case. But in his statement to the court, Avtar said there had been no election meeting by Varun at Barkhera and neither had he given any inflammatory speech.
When TEHELKA spoke to Avtar, on the other hand, he acknowledged on hidden camera that he was actually present at Varun’s election meeting at Barkhera and had heard his speech. In fact, he said Varun had also given anti-Muslim speeches at his village Dadiya Bhagat.
Here’s what Avtar told TEHELKA: “Even in my village, Gandhiji had said that there are three Muslim MLAs in the district, do you want to turn this place into Pakistan? If I become the MP, and any Muslim commits any atrocities like Phool Babu is committing, then I would cut off the hands of those Muslims.”
As for his turning hostile in court, he told TEHELKA, “Policemen came to take me for my testimony. First they said, take him straight to the SP’s bungalow. Then they said, both the government and the administration want the matter to be resolved, why should you bother? Why should you get caught in this mess? (Hum kyon lafde mein paden?) Politicians are involved in this (Netaaon wali baat hai).”
It must be emphasised here that these policemen — whose responsibility was to encourage and provide protection to the witnesses to tell the truth — were coaching witnesses to reverse their testimonies. Avtar and other witnesses recorded their statements in the court after such instruction.
This is the account of witness No. 6, Abdul Rehman.
Rehman stays near Barkhera and owns a tent house. The tent for Varun’s election meeting was booked from his shop. He was also made an eyewitness in the case. But when he gave his statement in court, Rehman said, “I did not go to the election meeting, I was at my shop. The tents were booked for the meeting, but were not sent.” The main reason why the police had made Rehman a witness in the first place was because his tents were used in the election meeting. But now the political wind had changed and the police did not want the truth told.
Rehman accepted in TEHELKA’s sting that tents from his shop had indeed been sent for the meeting. But clearly no one was interested in the facts of the case. Here’s what Rehman told TEHELKA on camera: “The lawyers were not asking anything in the court, what I had seen or heard. We were just made to stand while the lawyer was writing.”
Shockingly, he goes on to say, “The magistrate was sitting there and in front of him the lawyer was telling us to write ‘I was not present at the rally’, ‘I did not see anything’, ‘Varun did not say anything, nor did I hear anything…’ meaning to retract my statement.” Rehman also says that everyone had heard Varun’s speech but, driven by fear, nobody was ready to testify truthfully. He told TEHELKA, “Everyone is corrupt. A CD is recorded in front of you. It is playing in front of you and still you are denying and saying he (Varun) did not say that. Tell me, what testimony can anyone give in such a case?”
This sordid story plays itself out again and again with dismal familiarity.
Here’s what happened with witness No. 17, Mohammad Yameen and witness No. 18, Mohammad Raza. Both Yameen and Raza had been listed as eyewitnesses in the case. But like everyone else, Raza, a nagar adhyaksh with the SP, told the court he had not heard Varun’s speech or gone to his rally. On TEHELKA’s camera, however, he admitted he had received a call from Varun’s associates to shape his testimony in Varun’s favour.
He says, “I got a call from there (Varun Gandhi). Everyone was pressurising me. They said give your testimony, it would be beneficial for him. I said fine.” During this meeting with Raza, our camera stopped working in the middle so we decided to meet him again. In the second meeting, Yameen was also present. Like Raza, Yameen had testified that he was neither present at the election meeting nor had he heard Varun’s speech.
On TEHELKA’s camera, however, he explains the truth. “I will tell you,” said Yameen, “that day Varun Gandhi had given his speech. Several mahatmas (godmen) were also present. I was standing right there. As soon as he climbed the stage, Varun Gandhi said Jai Shri Ram… Then he said I want to tell my Hindu brothers that there are already two or three Muslim MLAs in the area and if you do not pay attention, Pilibhit will turn into Pakistan… Then he said if someone raises a hand towards any Hindu I would cut off that hand… He talked like that.”
When TEHELKA asked why they had not told the court any of this, both Raza and Yameen replied that no one was working properly in the case (“Koi bhi iss mamle ki pairvi thik se nahin kar raha tha”). In such a scenario, nobody wanted to make enemies. Yameen also corroborated that several police officers of the district, including the SP, had played a major role in getting the testimonies changed.
“The SP was involved,” Yameen told TEHELKA. “The SP had got the testimonies changed from all the witnesses. This is the truth but who can confront the government? Who can confront such a senior leader? We did not have any local support. When a senior officer like the SP says he wants the case resolved, what can anyone do?”
The story keeps getting darker. The police not only manipulated local residents but even journalists on behalf of Varun. This is what happened with witness No. 31 Mohammad Tariq.
Tariq was among the most important witnesses in the case. He was the reporter who, along with another journalist friend, Ramveer Singh, had recorded Varun’s speech at Barkhera. The whole case rested on Tariq. The police in its chargesheet had written that Tariq would prove he had recorded Varun’s speech on his camera. In his testimony to the court, however, Tariq accepted he had gone to Barkhera and recorded Varun’s speech along with Singh, but denied listening to the speech himself.
This took the ludicrousness of the proceedings to a fresh scale. How can anybody accept that a reporter who works on a story has no idea what his story is about? Tariq recorded Varun’s speech and sent it to his channel. The whole nation saw his footage. And now, here was Tariq claiming he had not heard the speech.
What is even more surprising is that both the public prosecutor and the court accepted this testimony without raising any objection. (Shariq Parvez, witness No. 30 in the case and himself a journalist, told TEHELKA on sting camera that Tariq had been paid 5 lakh to obfuscate his testimony. TEHELKA has no way of verifying this claim.)
Now, read the account of witness No. 34, Ramveer Singh.
Singh, a reporter with Sahara Samay, had recorded Varun’s speech along with Tariq. When the prosecution asked him if the police had taken any CD from him, he said they had not. Besides this, Singh — an eyewitness who had recorded the entire speech — was not asked further questions.
Singh, however, accepted on hidden camera that he had indeed heard the speech and recorded it with Tariq. “Everyone was sold out,” he told TEHELKA, “everyone including the prosecutor. They only asked me one question, ‘Did you give the CD?’ I had actually not given the CD to the police; I had given it to the channel, the channel had given it to them.”
If Singh had been asked even one more question, it would have become clear that he had given the CD to his channel who had given it to the police. But clearly nobody in the court was interested in the truth. After his fleeting examination, the public prosecutor requested the court to end the prosecution evidence.
(Parvez again told TEHELKA that Singh had been demanding lakhs of rupees to throw his testimony. Finally, he cut a deal with the SP and was gifted a Maruti Wagon-R car as a bribe to speak in favour of Varun. TEHELKA was unable to corroborate this claim independently. Ironically though, when we had carried out our sting on Singh, it was fairly dark and his face was not very visible. But at one point, a mechanic came in with his Wagon-R car and its headlight illuminated Singh’s face and it got captured in our camera.)
But set aside what witness No. 30 Shariq Parvez told us about others. Here’s what he told us about himself.
Parvez was the third local journalist to appear as a witness in the case. The police had listed him as a witness in both the Barkhera and Dalchand cases. In its chargesheet on the Barkhera case, however, the police wrote that “Shariq would prove he had recorded Varun’s speech at Deshnagar on his cell phone.” This was bizarre.
Why was the police trying to prove the Deshnagar case in its Barkhera chargesheet? (It’s worth remembering here too that despite audio clips and affidavits of the Deshnagar speech being sent to the Election Commission, the police had failed to register a case.) At any rate, Parvez turned hostile in court and said he had not recorded Varun’s speech at Deshnagar.
In its order acquitting Varun, the court noted Parvez’s testimony as follows, “He was not present in the meeting. On 7 March 2009, he had not made a recording of Varun’s speech in Deshnagar on his cell phone. During examination, he had said he had not recorded the audio clip. His statement is that he had not gone to the meeting and had not recorded any audio clip, therefore his testimony is not trustworthy.”
This was even more bizarre. While giving its verdict in the Barkhera case, why was the court quoting Parvez’s statement on Deshnagar and mentioning the date of the Deshnagar incident as 7 March instead of 6 March?
Here’s what Parvez told TEHELKA on camera. “I was constantly getting calls from the administration. The PRO of the SP himself called me and told me to give my testimony in a particular way.” A little later, he says, “RV Singh (Ramveer Singh, his fellow journalist) opened up only when SP Amit Verma talked to him.”
Parvez goes on to allege several things. For instance, he told TEHELKA, “MP Verma, the public prosecutor, told me that everything is done. I understood they were managing everything from the top.” Parvez then goes on to make specific references of bribes paid to the public prosecutor and judge. Yameen had told TEHELKA something similar: “The police inspector told us that we have managed the judge, we have managed the public prosecutor, the government is also with us.”
TEHELKA is refraining from printing the exact allegations as it has no way of verifying them. However, disturbingly, no less than Riyaz Ahmed — a sitting minister in the UP government and the Pilibhit MLA — tells TEHELKA exactly the same thing.
TEHELKA: When we saw the footage, we had thought it would be an open-and-shut case. Of course, you have been observing things more closely from the ground.
Riyaz: Yes, I was a candidate.
TEHELKA: Yes, you were a candidate. So, haven’t any questions come up around here that how did these cases get buried?
Riyaz: See, I’ll tell you…
TEHELKA: Yes, do tell us.
Riyaz: See, the first thing is that many of the witnesses were their people. Second, they obliged everyone. They paid 10 lakh to someone and 5 lakh to someone else. Someone took 11 lakh, someone took a big car. In one way or the other, everyone received something.
TEHELKA: You mean the witnesses?
Riyaz: Yes, the witnesses. But they even went to the extent of obliging the judiciary in a big way.
TEHELKA: You mean the Pilibhit court?
Riyaz nods in affirmation.
TEHELKA: Was the administration also involved?
Riyaz: Yes, they too were obliged.
Case 3: Hate Speech at Dalchand
Date of incident: 7 March 2009
FIR: 18 March 2009
Chargesheet: 11 December 2010
Under Section: 153(A), 295(A), 505(2) IPC and 125 Representation of People Act
Number of witnesses: 15
The Dalchand mohalla of Pilibhit, where Varun had held an election meeting, is dominated by the people of the Valmiki community. Varun had been speaking of Muslims at all his election meetings as a disease to be eradicated. Here too, he spoke along similar lines, “When the time is right,” he said, “this disease will be eradicated. I’m not a general, I’m a politician, but a Valmiki would become a general and eradicate this disease.”
The FIR in this case was filed 10 days after the incident. TEHELKA’s investigation found the police had listed witnesses in a completely arbitrary manner. They carelessly included people who had genuinely not heard Varun’s speech. The court’s order said no video of the speech was presented in the court in this case. And while the Barkher case had 34 witnesses; this had just 15. Hence, from the very beginning, a very weak case was presented before the court.
Yet, the pattern of subverted justice played itself out even here. The legal process was manipulated, false witnesses were produced, a mockery happened in the name of testimony and the judgment went in favour of Varun.
Both the Barkhera and Dalchand cases were being heard by Chief Judicial Magistrate Abdul Qayum. In the Dalchand case, all the witnesses TEHELKA spoke to, revealed a startling fact. The judge was not present in court on the day of their testimonies. The police presented such false witnesses that there were glaring discrepancies in their statements but no justice could be had because the judge himself was not present.
Whenever a witness is presented in a court, it is the responsibility of the judge to ensure the witness is not under any duress. Statements made in the presence of the police have no legal validity as there is always a doubt that the police could have used coercion to extract a statement. Therefore, under Section 164 of the CrPc, only testimonies given before a judge is considered legally relevant.
In the Dalchand case, according to the four witnesses TEHELKA spoke to, even this elementary justice could not be had because the judge was not present.
Take a look at the testimony of witness No. 1, Vijay Pal, the prime witness in the case.
Pal’s testimony reads, “There was no election meeting of Varun Gandhi in Mohalla Dalchand on 7 March 2009. I did not step out of my house, I did not hear Varun Gandhi’s speech, neither did he give any speech against the Muslims.” There are stark discrepancies in this statement. Firstly, an election meeting did take place there; this is why the FIR was filed in the first place. Secondly, if Pal had not gone to the meeting and not heard Varun speak, how could he know whether Varun spoke against Muslims or not? This is what Pal told TEHELKA over the phone.
TEHELKA: Did you meet the judge in the court?
Vijay Pal: No, not the judge, the testimony took place in front of Peshkar sahab (the Reader).
TEHELKA: The judge was not present in court?
Pal: No, the judge was not present.
When witnesses are testifying against an influential person, it doubles the responsibility of a judge to ensure they are not under any duress. The seriousness with which the CJM of Pilibhit was conducting this case became increasingly evident with every new person TEHELKA spoke to.
Here’s what witness No. 4 Riyasat told TEHELKA.
TEHELKA: What happened in the court?
Riyasat: When I reached, they asked me to get my photograph clicked. I told them I was coming straight from the field and had only 40-50 with me. The rickshaw-puller charges 20, the photograph cost 20, so how would I go back? The policeman said he would pay for the photograph, but I refused. I took money from my elder brother and had my photo clicked. I gave them three copies. They attached my picture to the file. They did not ask me anything else. No witness got a chance to go inside.
TEHELKA: You mean no witness went inside the court?
Riyasat: No, all the papers were already there. Just the photographs were pasted on them.
TEHELKA: All you did was put your thumbprint on it?
Riyasat: Yes, I put my thumbprint and came back.
TEHELKA: Did the judge ask you anything?
Riyasat: No, the judge had been on leave for three days. I had gone to the court thrice and come back. My time and money was wasted. Finally, I went again on the 20th.
TEHELKA: Was the judge present when you gave your testimony then?
Riyasat: The judge was present, but it was lunch time. We all came back after putting our thumb impressions.
TEHELKA: None of you met the judge?
Riyasat: None of the witnesses met the judge.
TEHELKA: There was no conversation?
TEHELKA: Did you give your thumb impression in front of the judge or outside the court?
Riyasat: In front of the peshkar (Reader) who sits.
TEHELKA: In front of the peshkar?
TEHELKA also heard about the absence of the judge from witness No. 2, Pratap.
TEHELKA: Did the judge ask you anything?
Pratap: No, the peshkar (Reader) and ardali (orderly) were there.
TEHELKA: The judge was not there?
Pratap: The judge was not there.
Witness No. 5 Nafees also corroborated that the judge was not present.
Hence, without being present in court, without hearing all the witnesses, without even having them questioned in front of him, magistrate Abdul Qayyum exonerated Varun Gandhi on 27 February 2013 in the Mohalla Dalchand hate speech case.
Reading all of this, even a child would know the due process of law has been brazenly subverted in clearing Varun’s name. In fact, it is hard not to be dazed by the extent and scale of it.
At the very least, this expose begs the question: should these cases not be sent back for retrial? And how should those involved be punished?
But the story still doesn’t end here. Varun Gandhi’s ‘Operation Cover-Up’ left no piece unturned.
Case 4: Inciting riots, assault on the police and destroying public property
Date of incident: 28 March 2009
FIR: 28 March 2009
Number of witnesses: 39
On 4 May 2013, Varun was exonerated in the last case against him, in which he was accused of rioting, assault and attempt to murder. This exoneration came towards the end of TEHELKA’s investigation so we could not pursue it extensively. However, merely scratching the surface of the case makes several problems evident. For one, BJP leader Parmeshwari Dayal Gangwar’s account captured on TEHELKA’s cameras proves the hyper-charged crowd that gathered during Varun’s surrender was pre-meditated. As he told TEHELKA, he was “instructed” to marshall a huge crowd there.
But what follows is even starker. Besides Varun, nine other people had been listed as accused in the case. The number of witnesses was 39. Yet, though Varun has been acquitted and all the witnesses have turned hostile, the trial against the other accused is still in the initial stages.
Ashwani Agnihotri, a senior advocate from Pilibhit, explains, “If there are more than one accused in a case, usually, their trial is conducted together. An accused can be separated from the others only if he is absconding and not appearing in court. But Varun Gandhi was given this special privilege by the Pilibhit court.”
The manner in which testimonies for this case was recorded is similar to the two earlier cases. Here too, around 10 witnesses were produced in court on the same day. All of them turned hostile. But no questions were raised.
Varun is now perhaps unique in the history of the Indian legal system. He had three cases against him with 88 prosecution witnesses. Every single one of them has turned hostile. Just this is enough to raise suspicions. Surely, the higher courts need to take note of it. It’s not just Varun’s reputation that is at stake, but the whole idea of credible courts.
When TEHELKA contacted Varun, he said he did not want to respond to the story.
The idea of India is based on several cardinal plinths: the idea of plurality and equal rights for all its citizens are perhaps the two most sacred of those plinths. Varun’s hate speeches violated this in deep and wounding ways.
But his elaborate cover-up went a step worse. The idea of democracy is predicated on the rule of law. In trying to clear his name by subverting the entire judicial process, Varun crossed an even greater line.
Today, he stands acquitted in all the cases. Major political responsibilities have been given to him and the BJP is considering him as a future tall leader. But are Varun’s acquittals merely the story of an accused getting away with a crime? Or will these cynical exonerations strengthen the foundation over which similar crimes can prosper in the future?
If the perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots had been brought to book, perhaps the carnage of 2002 would have been less vile and rampant, if not stemmed altogether. The political patronage given to the perpetrators of 1984 gave rise to people like Babu Bajrangi and Maya Kodnani. If Varun had been meted proportionate punishment in time, perhaps Akbaruddin Owaisi would have learnt to hold his tongue.
Like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Varun’s inflammatory speeches could have proved disastrous. Parmeshwari Gangwar, a close associate of Varun, said on TEHELKA’s hidden camera, “The vendors would not go to Muslim-dominated areas in Pilibhit, they were so afraid.” Ramveer Singh, the reporter who recorded Varun’s communal speech, says, “The things he said in Barkhera were very dangerous. There is a Muslim locality close by with at least a 1,000-1,500 Muslims. If they had thrown stones from their rooftops, a 100-200 people in the market could have died.” Ram Avtar told TEHELKA that the villagers had even begun making preparations to kill Muslims. “The intelligent people of the village did not agree with this, but many illiterate people said this politician is good. We are Hindus; he is saying the right thing. So, the villagers started making preparations to kill Muslims.”
It is a happy trick of fate that the ugly spark that Varun Gandhi had lit did not turn into a flame. But the sad truth is, he has shown yet again that rather than walk the hard path of true leadership, Varun is willing again and again to sacrifice the very ethos of this nation merely to further his political ambitions. A poor way to reclaim a lost legacy.
Story translated from Tehelka Hindi by Saif Ullah Khan