- Through sheer grit and strife, and after five long years of struggle and rejection, the journalist/author has successfully resurrected the story of what he says was a dastardly political murder.
“Tell the truth and Shame the Devil.”
That is the screaming yet inconspicuous subtitle on the cover of “Who Killed Judge Loya?” a book that holds the potential to set off a veritable cyclone through India’s political landscape, and yet has been similarly inconspicuous on the literary and political segments of India’s mainstream media.
Written by investigative journalist Niranjan Takle, the book is based on two articles he had published in the news magazine The Caravan, in November 2017: the stories that first broke to the public the explosive details on the mysterious death of Justice Brijgopal Harkishan Loya.
Loya was the judge presiding over the CBI special court hearing the case of the alleged staged encounter death of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005. The prime accused in the case was Amit Shah, the current Home Minister of India. Judge Loya died in the early hours of December 1, 2014, while away from home, in Nagpur, on an unplanned trip with two fellow judges. The official explanation for the 47-year-old’s demise was “coronary artery insufficiency” (heart attack). Takle’s meticulously researched blockbuster stories proved to a stunned nation that the death had all the markings of a dastardly political murder.
The facts in those Caravan articles should have shamed the devil. But they didn’t. Cocooned in the impregnable armor of absolute power, the devil refused to be shamed.
The power that has such a stranglehold on the Indian judiciary that four senior judges of the Supreme Court felt compelled to hold an unprecedented press conference on January 12, 2018 (two months after the Caravan stories by Takle broke), as all of India watched, abuzz with anticipation.
The power that drove a teenage son who, just two months after the death of his father, wrote in anguish, “There is a threat to our lives …If anything happens to me or my family members, Chief Justice Mohit Shah and others involved in the conspiracy will be responsible…”, to stating – while clearly under duress — in a chaotic press conference (two days after that historic Supreme Court event) that he does not have any suspicions of foul play in his father’s death.
The power that makes a mockery of judicial proceedings even in the apex court of India, that hears petitions on this “very serious matter” for three months, never questioning the “bonafides of the petitioners,” and then in one fell swoop releases a final judgment rejecting all petitions calling them “politically motivated, an assault on [the] judiciary and in criminal contempt.”
The power that has rendered Niranjan Takle persona non grata among journalistic circles. That the same brute power was unable to stop Takle from publishing this book is a testament to the author’s integrity, persistence and absolute single-mindedness.
Through sheer grit and strife, and after five long years of struggle and rejection, Niranjan has successfully resurrected the story – and what went into the making of it — for posterity, in this powerful work.
As the author takes the readers along on his journey, uncovering a cascade of shocking truths in the face of stifling and often violent attempts to keep them buried, we start to understand the unbearable travails of an honest journalist in contemporary India.
In the author’s own words, “Above all else, [the book] is a tragic tale of an esteemed judge who was silenced before he could speak, of a family coerced into compliance and of people who have lost complete faith in human beings, let alone the government.”
Living up to Takle’s introduction in the arresting prologue as a “tell-all,” the book chronologically covers “the machinations that influenced the Sohrabuddin trial, the death of Judge Loya, the acquittal of Amit Shah, [the] uncovering of the real story, [and] its reporting and the subsequent fallout.” It also includes additional details and “stories that [were] saved for a rainy day” making this real-life political whodunit all the more thrilling and unputdownable.
The book begins with an unexpected encounter with a member of Loya’s family who casts doubts on the official cause of Loya’s death. The ensuing conversation, that intriguingly sows the seeds of the author’s quest, happened on a June morning in 2016, 18 months after the death of Judge Loya. Nagging questions bubble up in the reader’s mind: Why this delay of 18 months for queries to be raised? Particularly in relation to the death of a powerful judicial figure like Loya? Doesn’t even a judge’s family have confidence in the Indian judiciary system to provide them with justice? What hope then, does a common Indian have? What explains the silence of his judicial colleagues? That paralyzing chill the reader feels at the very beginning lingers with us right through Takle’s gripping narration – and reminds us why he warns us in Allen Ginsberg’s words: “Be careful, you are not in Wonderland.”
The truth is laid bare for all to see, from the clever cover design to the intricately researched details inside. Takle records in his book the events, his research and the evidence with painstaking detail and accuracy, fully worthy of his acclaimed journalistic caliber and integrity. And yet, there is never a moment where the narration flags or the details become too dense for the average reader. In fact, he has even included a chapter dedicated to “the Evidence, Explained” that helps his readers cut through the medical and legal jargon. This thorough yet easy penmanship makes the book an exceptionally interesting read for both the political junkie who is familiar with the “Judge Loya story”, and to the novice who had never paid attention to it before. The book affords a staggering and uncensored peek into the nuances of Indian politics — “the political wills, the political compulsions” — and its fearsome underbelly of terror and socio-religious conflicts that collide to determine the lives and livelihoods of Indians.
Takle ends his book with “Judge Loya’s tale is told, and so is mine.” Indeed, the story is told. And how.
In an age of pervasive misinformation and news blackouts, Niranjan Takle’s explosive story with his keen attention to accuracy and an engaging narrative style is surely a must-read – for Indians, and indeed all citizens of this increasingly turbulent world.
Jessy Skaria is a Texas-based physician, translator and independent researcher.