NEW DELHI: The vexed Ishrat Jehan case, is being buffeted about by politics, with the chaos clearly intended to move it away from the core issue: were the three men, and one 19 year old girl trapped and killed in cold blood, or not? And if so, who was directly responsible for the entire operation?
There is a great deal of information out there in the public realm, including taped conversations of police officers in Gujarat about the signing of the affidavit, the report of the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Gujarat High Court, the CBI charge sheet and more. The case implicating BJP top brass is being contested in the courts, although this has not been without controversy that breaks out from time to time with a ferocity that is intended to be confusing and unnerving.
Usually the heat is generated by remarks raising extraneous issues, with the knowledge that ‘masala’ always intrigues 24 hour TV news channels who then chew on every byte, often losing focus of the entire issue, the central points, and the reams of evidence and information that has been collated and submitted in court.
IPS officer Satish Verma who was part of the three member SIT team has said very categorically now that there was no information to pin Ishrat Jehan as a terrorist. “Our investigation has found that Ishrat along with three others had been picked up by the Intelligence Bureau days before the encounter. In fact, there was no intelligence input with the IB that a woman would be accompanying the alleged terrorists. There was no input on Ishrat. These people were kept in illegal custody and then shot dead.”
The young girl was killed with three men alleged to be Lashkar e Tayaba operatives in an encounter in Gujarat on June 15, 2004.. The SIT and CBI have completed the investigation, the case is before the Gujarat High Court. And clearly so important is this case, that even 12 years later efforts to muddy the waters, to polarise, to create opinion outside the courts has not stopped.
Verma told the Indian Express, “what is happening here is that this bogey of nationalism and security is being raised to discredit a poor and innocent girl so that an environment can be created for a favourable outcome for those involved in this crime. The Home Ministry has refused sanctions to prosecute IB officers even though courts have held thst in fake encounters, there is no requirement for sanction.”
Verma, said that it was not possible for Ishrat Jehan to have been trained as a LeT bomber given the short duration of time she was away. “We have noted all the times she spent away from home and it was not enough to be trained as a fidayeen, “ he said.
He refuted Pillai and Mani’s claims in the interview saying that the latter had no direct knowledge of the case.
Having said this , a quick look at the latest controversy triggered off by the remarks of a former Union Home Secretary G.S.Pillai, quite unexpected and out of the blue as it were. Pillai is now a Director with the Adani Ports and Special Zones with its website introducing him at some length. Gautam Adani, is very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and is a flourishing businessman from Gujarat.
Pillai, who retired in 2011, has made two important remarks in his interview to the media: 1.”Mr Chidambaram, who was then the home minister, had asked for the file from the joint secretary, saying that the affidavit needed to be reworked. Only after the affidavit was revised, as directed by the minister, did the file come to me.” This is the subject of the raging controversy generated since, as it clearly hints that the second affidavit had been tampered with by the then Minister directly.
To this Chidambaram has since said, “”As a minister I accept full responsibility for the affidavit and it is disappointing that the former home secretary who is equally responsible wants to distance himself from that now,”
2. Again from Pillai: “Yes, it was a trap and it was a very successful operation… you are using the sources of LeT, people who think they are LeT, to be able to pass on information… It is always better to know when your enemy is coming in rather than wait for collateral intelligence where someone plans something without your knowledge,.” This feeds into the evidence that the Gujarat police knew about the arrival of the three men and Ishrat Jehan, that a trap had been laid,and it was not a sudden encounter. The Gujarat High Court is currently investigating whether the four had been first captured and then killed in cold blood, or not.
Pillai’s remarks were followed almost immediately by a statement from, a former under secretary (Internal Security),RVS Mani in the Union home ministry that he was tortured by Satish Verma and used as a “rubber stamp” by the then UPA government. He said that he had signed the affidavit because he “was given an order to go and file it.” He says that he was tortured with cigarette butts.
To this Chidambaram has said at a AICC briefing, ““I am saying so. I say it that as minister, when it was brought to my notice that the first affidavit was ambiguous, it had been filed without my approval and it was being misinterpreted, it was my duty to correct the first affidavit. So, we filed a supplementary affidavit after consulting the Home Secretary, the Director of Intelligence Bureau and other officers. That second affidavit clarified what the real intention was,” said Chidambaram.Congress President Sonia Gandhi has backed him.
To put it mildly, it is a high voltage case given the persons involved with closure defying the dead and their families for over 12 years now. It has followed a roller coaster path with every piece of evidence being debated more outside the courts than within. The current controversy has now pitted a Home Secretary against his own Minister at the time; a police officer against government officials; even as the BJP battles it out with the Congress in and outside Parliament.