Politics over fake encounter

The last thing one needs is the politicization of the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter, a case that is already so muddied by allegations and counter allegations, by either the BJP or the Congress. The case throws up two pertinent questions that need to be addressed in different ways. One is the legal aspect. The other is to resolve the question whether governments of the day can distort facts of such cases available at their disposal, influence investigating and intelligence agencies and reshape an argument to score brownie points and nail down their political adversaries. To the second question, the answer would be an emphatic no. However, ever since this fake encounter in which one woman named Ishrat Jahan was killed along with three other men, the investigations have been murkied and confused through hearsay, rumours, media reports and changing affidavits. This has not served the cause of justice but perhaps suited short political gains of some.

The most recent but of politicking over the case involves former union home ministry P. Chidambaram, under whose tenure in 2009, two affidavits in the case were made – the first one relying on news reports was later amended as there was no evidence of Ishrat Jahan being an LeT operative, as claimed in the first one. The union home minister is well within his right to amend affidavits submitted by union home minister pertaining to such cases if there are reasonable doubts raised about the original affidavits. No abuse of authority can be claimed on the simple changing of affidavits as there is as yet no evidence linking atleast Ishrat Jahan to any of the terror modules. The UPA government, however, can be questioned on why it dragged its feet in the case by trying to politicize it instead of allowing the law to take its own course against the cops accused of staging an encounter and killing the four persons including Ishrat Jahan in cold blood.

It failed to file a charge-sheet in the first 90 days and tried to use the testimonies of the accused to nail the BJP leaders. It did not give sanction for prosecution even though legally that was not required in a case of fake encounter. The political link between the accused Gujarat cops involved in the staged encounter and the top brass of BJP leadership in Gujarat is likely but legal processes cannot and should not be subverted on pure political whims. That bit of politicization by UPA is now being paid back by the BJP in a far more brazen manner by getting testimonies of discredited people to create far more confusion, politicize the case and save the neck of the alleged cops. This is not only ugly but sets a dangerous precedent. The only need is for a debate on why political parties should be allowed to politicize legal cases that are being pursued in courts. 

As far as the legal aspect of the case is concerned, it is difficult to prove Ishrat Jahan’s connection with LeT or any terror operative on basis of recent statements by former union home secretary G.K. Pillai, Headley or anybody else. Placing trust on Headley’s submissions, where his answer to a related question is simply ‘I have heard the name Ishrat Jahan’, amounts to emphasis on hearsay. Legal systems operate on basis of evidence and would not eventually place much weight on the testimony of a double agent turned approver, also someone who is still named as one of the master-mind in the 26/11 terror attack. Another police officer who is speaking about Ishrat Jahan’s alleged terror connections is himself an accused in the fake encounter. It is no less easy to place any reliance on Pillai, who now works for Adani group of Industries who are seen as close to prime minister Narendra Modi. Questions need to be also asked as to why Pillai has chosen to break his silence, though as union home secretary he could have asserted himself if he felt that Chidambaram was abusing his power and authority in changing the affidavits.

He did not speak in the last six years since he retired. What is it that makes him more knowledgeable now about a case when he has no access to the related files? At one level, it becomes immaterial whether Ishrat Jahan could be connected in some way to terror modules or not. The case in court pertains to a staged encounter killing and no Indian law permits any accused to be killed in custody without a trial. By all credible accounts the killings of Ishrat Jahan and her three companions were extra-judicial killing through a staged encounter. Forensic and ballistic reports available gave strong indications that the encounter was staged. Even Pillai, while raising doubts about the affidavits, has stuck to his story about IB luring the four into a trap and then killing them. No further road blocks should jeopardize the interests of justice in this case, through politicking or through deflecting attention towards the identity of the slain persons on basis of statements of people whose testimonies cannot be deemed credible enough.