The Sahara-Birla papers, mostly referred to as Sahara Papers, are back in the news. Sure, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi would have you believe he is breaking news with ‘revelations’ on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but this is old stuff really.
What one can, however, credit Gandhi with is getting TV news to wake up to it (spare a thought for Prashant Bhushan who filed a complaint on it back in November and subsequent newspaper reports on it). Thanks to Gandhi, for the past two nights, the Sahara Papers have been prime-time news across channels, with anchors posing questions on what exactly they contain, whether they are authentic and so on. Ever ready to help our friends in the TV news and you, the reader, here’s our lowdown on the so-called exposé.
A tranche of papers that supposedly has evidence on big corporations bribing a host of netas across the political spectrum. Nope, it’s not Subrata Roy’s personal diary, in which he pens his thoughts, before going to bed. Although that would have been fun to read, much like his book.
Yup. In October 2013, raids were conducted by Income Tax (IT) authorities and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the corporate offices of Aditya V Birla Group. Raids were also conducted on offices of Sahara India Group in November 2014. The Sahara Papers are basically computer printouts with purported details on (bribe) money paid off to some of the biggest names in India’s power circles, including ministers and judges.
According to some entries in the documents seized, payments were allegedly made to a “Gujarat-CM”. One entry stated, “Gujarat CM- 25 cr (12 done-rest?)”. The Opposition believes this Gujarat CM is the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he was indeed chief minister at the time. However, when Birla Group Executive President Shubhendu Amitabh was questioned, he said that “Gujarat CM” meant Gujarat Alkalis and Chemicals.
The documents recovered in Sahara raids reveal cash payments to different people on different dates and places — these were signed by the IT officer, two witnesses and one Sahara official. Among these documents, there was one entry in which the payments were referred to as, “cash given at Ahmedabad, Modiji”, another document states, “cash given to CM Gujarat”. These payments were supposedly made between 2013 and March 2014.
It’s hard to say and it definitely merits a probe. Going by the Supreme Court (SC), these documents are not enough to “arouse its conscience” to order one. On November 25, the SC bench of Justices JS Khehar and Arun Mishra refused to order a probe into Sahara-Birla papers. The observations made by Justice Khehar included: “Are you relying on Sahara’s documents? They never have genuine documents…anybody can make a computer entry…”.
SC, then, asked Common Cause, the organisation that has filed a petition in the court, to produce “better’ material in the next hearing on December 14, where the SC again cautioned the NGO for producing unsubstantiated documents and said, “This is becoming very abnormal for us. What we told you (petitioner)… give us smallest material. We will deal with it… How will a constitutional authority function if you are going to make such allegations? We don’t see even the smallest material to substantiate your accusations.”
The bench told Prashant Bhushan, who is heading the petition for Common Cause, that he was casting aspersions that can lead to false perceptions.
Bhushan, who has been at the forefront of demanding an investigation into the matter, feels that no agency controlled by the government would carry any credibility in this matter because the names of top people in the government are mentioned as major recipients of these alleged pay-offs.
Notably, he says, the Sahara papers also mention payment of Rs 15 crore to the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) office. “It is clear that this document showed bribery of several influential persons by the Sahara group and it ought to have been shared by the IT department with the CBI & SIT on black money, since the matter was not limited to income tax violations but included bribery, corruption and black money,” he said.
Bhushan also filed a petition in the apex court alleging a “cover-up” following the raids. On October 25, 2016, he sent a complaint to all investigating agencies and two retired judges heading the Special Investigating Team (SIT) on black money.
According to an Indian Express report, when an SIT official was questioned on allegations of a cover-up, he said, “We have been informed that while the Birla case is going through the usual course of assessment and appeal, part of the documents recovered during the raid on Sahara India could have been fabricated. In any case, this is not in our jurisdiction and thus we have not made any fresh intervention.”
Reportedly, the documents that have been doing the rounds in New Delhi for the last few months suggest the name of not just the “Gujarat CM” but also Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Chief Minister (CM) of Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh, CM of Chhattisgarh, Shaina NC, the treasurer for BJP in Maharashtra and former CM of Delhi, Sheila Dixit.
However, according to a latest report, the purported “Sahara Diary”, now in SC, names more than 100 leaders across the political spectrum as recipients. These include those from at least 18 parties including BJP, Congress, Janta Dal (United), Rashtriya Janta Dal, Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, Bharatiya Kissan Union, Shiv Sena and Lok Janshakti Party .
Yes. One of the first reports was by investigative reporter Josy Joseph carried in The Hindu. The next day,Indian Express published a report by Ritu Sarin and Pragya Kaushik, according to which a voluminous appraisal report running into “thousands of pages” on papers pertaining to Sahara had been prepared for IT investigation.
There was also a report that The Caravan and The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, editor of EPW. He states in the report that he first learnt about the existence of these documents on 28 July, 2016 from Member of Parliament and well-known lawyer Ram Jethmalani during an informal conversation. Jethmalani had repeatedly claimed that the documents were “explosive”. In November this year, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raised the issue in a special session of the assembly.
However, it seems the television media did not find any of this worthy enough to merit a prime-time discussion until Gandhi waved some sheets of paper at a political rally.
With the authenticity of the Sahara Papers in question, the court is set to consider hear the matter again on January 11. As they say, justice will now take its own course.