NEW DELHI -- In the past week, two bureaucrats, who served in the Home Ministry, have made revelations which suggest that the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government played fast and loose in dealing with terrorists to score political points.
On June, 15, 2004, Ishrat Jahan was shot dead by the Gujarat Police, which said that the 19-year-old woman and three of her male aides--Javed Sheikh, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana--were operatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist organization based in Pakistan. While Jahan was a resident of Mumbra near Mumbai, Sheikh, born Pranesh Kumar Pillai, hailed from Kerala. Johar and Rana were Pakistani citizens.
A huge political battle broke out subsequently with the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose government was in power at the time in the state, claiming these four persons had terror links and they were killed in a shootout with the police, and the Central Bureau of Investigation saying the killings were staged.
The political tussle between BJP and the Congress Party over Ishrat Jahan's killing has remained alive since then, with the Congress using the case to allege that the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are not beyond resorting to extra judicial encounter killings, and the BJP arguing that the Congress' line in the case is an example of its minority appeasement and its low priority for national security.
The case is now back in the news in a big way.
It all began last week when former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told Times Now in an interview that his boss, the then home minister P. Chidambaram, altered a court document which described Ishrat Jahan and her aides as LeT operatives.
Chidambaram removed all references to Jahan's alleged terrorist links to the LeT in a revised affidavit which was submitted by the Home Ministry to the Supreme Court in 2009, Pillai alleged.
"One affidavit said these people were LeT operatives and in the other affidavit that aspect was deleted. I really won’t know why it was deleted," he told Times Now. "It was done at a political level."
The original affidavit submitted by the UPA government, based on information provided by the Intelligence Bureau, said that these four persons were part of an LeT sleeper cell in India.
Backing Pillai's claim, former Home Ministry under secretary RVS Mani, who is now serving in the Textiles Ministry, has said that the revised affidavit was not drafted by the officials in the Home Ministry, but at the political level, and he was forced by the Central Bureau of Investigation to sign the second affidavit.
In an even more shocking claim, Mani said that he was tortured by Special Investigation Team (SIT) chief Satish Verma, an officer of the Indian Police Service in Gujarat, to implicate state officials of the Intelligence Bureau in the fake encounter case.
"Satish Verma was head of the unit of SIT and he was helped by two three cronies who were all engineering evidences," Mani told Times Now. "On 21st June, 2013, yes, Satish Verma burnt me with his cigarettes."
On 21st June, 2013, yes, Satish Verma burnt me with his cigarettes
Mani had raised some of these allegations in the past as well, and had also claimed that he was told by the CBI-SIT team that the Parliament attack of 2001 and the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai were orchestrated by the government to strengthen anti-terror legislation.
"During the course of recording of the statement, there were differences between the facts in my knowledge and the framing of the same by the IG, SIT, Satish Chandra Verma," he said in a complaint against the IPS officer, The Indian Express reported in 2013.
Revelations by Pillai and Mani are serious, and suggest that Chidambaram altered the affidavit on Jahan to fit his party's stand against the BJP and Modi.
“There was a consistent campaign against Mr Modi that he needs to be framed, Amit Shah needs to be framed by hook or by crook. And the entire government machinery was abused. BJP demands that the Government of India investigate this. We are demanding that a fair inquiry be done on the entire flip-flop on the Ishrat Jahan case,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a press conference.
Last month, David Coleman Headley, who planned the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, told a Mumbai court that Jahan was an operative of the LeT. He had said it earlier in 2011 as well, to American interrogators.
While the Shiv Sena is calling for Chidambaram to be charged with sedition, the Supreme Court will hear a Public Interest Litigation seeking contempt action against the former Home Minister for perjury.
Responding to allegations against him, Chidambaram said that the second affidavit was "absolutely correct," and Pillai was "equally responsible" for it.
“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," Chidambaram said at a media briefing on Monday.
"Which part of the second affidavit is wrong? It is an absolutely correct affidavit and I, as a minister, accept responsibility for this affidavit and it is disappointing that the home secretary, who was equally responsible, wants to distance himself from that today," he said.
It is disappointing that the home secretary, who was equally responsible, wants to distance himself from that today.
Pillai's allegation comes at a time when the BJP and Congress Party are locked in a political battle over free speech, dissent, nationalism, and discrimination in universities, which was sparked by the death of a Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad, and the arrest of students from the Jawharlal Nehru University in a case of sedition.
The Congress Party is standing behind Chidambaram.
"Chidambaram ji has already explained. We have been targeted since we were in government," Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi said today.
BJP leader Nitin Gadkari said what Congress Party did in the Ishrat Jahan case was "anti national."
On Wednesday, Congress Party leaders including Digvijaya Singh attacked Pillai and Mani.
"These are the people who get wisdom after retirement. Do you know that Pillai now works with Gautam Adani," he told reporters.
Mani is still working with the Indian government as the deputy secretary of the Textiles Ministry.
On Monday, senior leader Abhishek Singhvi said that the Congress Party was opposed to extra judicial killings irrespective of guilt.
"Congress has never supported or opposed the guilt issue of Ishrat Jahan if established in a court of law or any procedure known to law. If IB had intellignce inputs, Ishrat Jahan would have been prosecuted. Entire Congress stand was that irrespective of guilt, a guilty person cannot be assassinated or liquidated without due process of law which is what happened in Modi's autocratic rule in Gujarat," he said.
Vrinda Grover, the lawyer of Ishrat Jahan's mother, has argued that the only question is whether her killing was staged.
Twelve years after her death, Jahan is back on the national centre-stage.
These are the people who get wisdom after retirement. Do you know that Pillai now works with Gautam Adani.
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