By Ragini Shree
Jaipur: Considered among the most conscientious man in Rajasthan’s political circles, Gulab Chand Kataria was astonished when he received two threatening letters in March 2011.
The letters, from an anonymous sender, threatened to kill Kataria if he did not stop following Azam Khan, a witness of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.
Khan was shot at on 14 September, 2010, in Udaipur town but the attack turned out be staged by Khan himself. The Udaipur police nabbed Khan’s friend Iqbal who claimed Khan persuaded him for the staged shootout with an aim of gaining limelight and getting protection cover from the CBI.
It was Khan who had reportedly told the CBI that Sohrabuddin was killed after a deal between the then home minister Kataria and marble traders of Udaipur region. Kataria, presently Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, has been on the radar of the CBI following Khan’s statement. The top investigative agency questioned Kataria thrice thereof, last being in June 2012. Kataria, who often drove in a Maruti Alto to state assembly, was sure of getting clean chit in the case and always claimed to “cooperate in investigations at any level”.
Now when CBI has included Kataria’s name in a supplementary chargesheet in the encounter case, neither politicians nor common people in the state is ready to accept the theory that Kataria was involved in the crime.
"It is possible that marble traders might have approached Kataria, who was home minister, seeking protection from extortionists led by Sohrabuddin. Being home minister Kataria must have talked to his counterpart in Gujarat but that does not mean the former endorsed encounter” said a veteran journalist, who has been watching Kataria since the struggle days of the leader.
It is unlikely that Kataria was involved in the crime, said the scribe on condition of anonymity. Questioning the very timing of this development, he said, if Congress government was trying to draw political mileage by pleasing minority people it could backfire. Congress may annoy other communities in this way,” he said.
"I will not comment until I see the chargesheet,” is all Kataria told the media. He has started scanning legal options in the matter. A teacher-turned-politician, Kataria is a known Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) man and is BJP MLA from Udaipur constituency. He has been close to RK Marbles and other marble traders of Udaipur division who fund the political leaders in the area. The bureau has also included name of Vimal Patni, director of RK Marbles in the chargesheet.
One of the biggest marble traders of the state, RK Marbles, has a wide network in several states including Gujarat. The 500-page supplementary sheet of CBI claims Sheikh had demanded Rs 24 crore from Patni due to which he was eliminated. The investigations charge Kataria for having introduced Patni to the then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah. Shah has faced arrest in the same case. Kataria and Patni have been asked to appear before a court on June 4 in connection with the case.
An avowed detractor of former BJP state president Vasundhara Raje, Kataria has always found support from her in this matter. Raje has criticised the CBI action terming the charges to be “false, fabricated, and baseless”.
However, there is a politically correct situation here. Raje is speaking for Kataria for the simple reason that one of her staunch loyalists Rajendra Rathore is also on the CBI’s radar in the Dara Singh fake encounter case. Rathore was arrested in April 2012 but was later absolved of charges by a local court. Though the matter is in the Supreme Court, Rathore has still not been given a clean chit.
Kataria has always been at loggerheads with Raje ideologically. Their differences reached peak when Kataria proposed a Lok Jagran Yatra in May last year. He had to call off his yatra after Raje threatened to resign from primary membership of the party. She felt yatra was planned without consulting her.
In fact, the opposition BJP has every reason to term the development a conspiracy as it has taken place when the state is heading towards assembly elections about seven months later.
“CBI is trying to implicate Kataria on directions of Congress. It has become habit of Congress to use CBI to settle political scores. Earlier Congress tried to implicate Rajendra Rathore. Actually Congress is resorting to such measures sensing its defeat in coming assembly elections,” said a former minister in the previous BJP government.
The BJP leaders led by Raje met at the head office on Wednesday evening to chalk out a strategy to handle the situation. The leaders decided to protest and at the same time provide all possible support to the leader in distress.
Kataria, who became MLA for first time in 1977, is considered a good speaker and takes up issues of public interest in the state Assembly. He remained an MP from 1989 to 1991. On the organisational front, Kataria remained party’s state president from May 1999 to June 2000.
Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a native of Madhya Pradesh, was killed in an encounter on November 23, 2005. His wife Kausar Bibi was found dead a few months later. Sheikh’s accomplice Tulsi Prajapati was also killed by the Gujarat police in an encounter on December 28, 2006. A number of policemen, including IPS officers, are lodged in Gujarat jails in
connection with the case.