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SC Insider: With most out on bail, does Raja enjoy Tihar, is he safer there, or why else is he holding back?

Not quite Tihar
Not quite Tihar
Supreme Court Insider: From the start of the trial in the 2G spectrum scam case, the prime accused and main conspirator, former telecom minister A Raja, started a silent protest.

Six witnesses have so far entered the box to depose before Judge OP Saini in the trial.

But Raja and his lawyer, Sushil Kumar, declined to cross-examine all of them. Judge Saini recorded this in the court’s order as: “Refused to cross-examine the witness despite opportunity being given. It shall be treated as nil.”

Some of us believe Raja has lost his chance to cross-examine the first six witnesses.

Non challans

Raja doesn’t care. Or at least he appears not to. Instead he moved an application before the court, which says that he will not participate in the trial until the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) explicitly declares that it has finished investigating him.

The CBI is still pursuing various leads on telecom-related prima facie dubious deeds – Loop and Essar, the Marans and Aircel, and now into the activities of the NDA regime of 1999-2004 – none of which show Raja’s involvement.

Silence is Raja’s protest. He believes the CBI might still bring fresh or additional charges against him. So he decided wilfully not to participate in the trial.

Raja’s lawyers claim they don’t want to open up their defence to the prosecution. After all, if Raja starts cross-examining witnesses, the CBI could exploit prior knowledge of his strategy and push for a conviction in the case.

Raja’s lawyer, Sushil Kumar, calls this a violation of the basic principles of a criminal trial. Kumar said to Saini and to the Supreme Court that it is unfair to his client for charges to be framed and evidence to be recorded, while the investigation is still alive.

However, nobody seems to care. The nation is in a no-nonsense mood about anything connected with corruption; Raja, in most peoples’ eyes, is sitting at the top of the heap of dirt that smells real bad. Even the courts are not granting him relief by asking the CBI to explicitly declare that they’re done probing Raja.

Unbailed and unable?

Raja is the only one who has not yet applied for bail. Eleven out of the 14 accused have already been granted bail – the latest being Shahid Balwa yesterday, promoter of Swan Telecom.

“He’s not going for bail, because he knows he won’t get it,” chuckled one defence lawyer when we chatted, speculating about why Raja was not interested in leaving Tihar.

“If the courts are denying everyone bail in this matter, there is little chance he will get it,” he explained at my bewilderment (this was before the Delhi High Court gave Kanimozhi and four others bail, even before the Supreme Court freed the five top businessmen from Reliance, Unitech and Swan).

The other 13 accused have used every trick in the Code of Criminal Procedure to move courts and seek all kinds of relief, besides bail itself: whether it was to be admitted to hospital (as in the case of Reliance’s Surendra Pipara), to attend a meeting (where Gautam Doshi wanted to be present at Sterlite’s AGM in Tuticorin), or to use an iPad in jail (Shahid Balwa was said to have asked for this).

They have not made it easy for the prosecution to swiftly engage with the court and run away with the trial.

In recent weeks, Raja has offered least resistance to the CBI and the court, when compared with the rest of accused, including in terms of legal firepower – he didn’t bother bringing his best lawyers out at every juncture, and on some days he stood up and argued himself (he is an advocate too).

The trial is expected to run for a year or two (they’ve only examined six out of possibly hundreds of witnesses).

Last week, Raja told reporters in the court that he was waiting for his “leader” (Kanimozhi) to get bail before he would apply. Now that Kanimozhi is no longer in Tihar jail, all eyes are on Raja.

The whispers in the corridors of Delhi are that Raja is happy staying in jail.

The question no one seems to be asking is: Does Raja perhaps think his life is safer behind Tihar’s walls?

Supreme Court Insider was a fly on the wall at one of Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s parties in October and likes the Supreme Court and what goes on its corridors.

Insider’s apex court colleague is Court Witness who writes Supreme Court Postcards also tweets at @courtwitness1.

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