The CBI raids at the office and home of Testate Setalvad in connection with the case against her — she allegedly accepted foreign donations without government clearance — are an instance of disproportionate action that invites suspicions of political motivation. Earlier this month, the CBI had registered a case after the Gujarat government last year claimed that Setalvad and her publishing firm, Sabrang Communications and Publishing, violated FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) regulations while receiving $2.9 lakh from the Ford Foundation. Setalvad has denied the allegations and called the CBI raids “shameful political vendetta” and “a continuation of the persecution and witch-hunt first launched by the Gujarat police in 2014”.
Setalvad’s accusations draw attention to the singular determination with which the Gujarat government has been pursuing cases against her and her organisations, after one of them, the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), set up soon after the 2002 Gujarat violence, got involved in the riot cases in an effort to expose the complicity of the government. Over a hundred persons, including a serving minister, have been jailed for their role in the communal violence. The cases continue to be fought in courts in Ahmedabad and in the Supreme Court. Setalvad and the CJP have diligently kept track of them, arranging legal and financial support for survivors. The CBI raids against Setalvad now come at a time when the final hearing on a petition filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of the late Ehsan Jafri, the Congress MP who was killed by a mob in Ahmedabad, is set to begin in the SC.
The government’s determined pursuit of Setalvad — the CBI has acted with greater alacrity against her than it has shown in a plethora of cases that were arguably more deserving of its labours — provokes a question: Would the government machinery scrutinise the books of Sabrang as closely or read the legal fineprint back to the CJP if Setalvad were not involved in the cases of Gujarat 2002? When a government that was so indifferent for so long to entrusting the Vyapam scam to a Central agency, promptly calls in the CBI against the activist, it must be seen as troubling.