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Ishrat Jahan Case: A Study In Obfuscation

23/06/2016 8:40 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Supporters hold candles in front of a banner bearing the portrait of Ishrat Jahan during a protest in Ahmedabad on July 6, 2013. The protest was organised to demand justice for Ishrat Jahan, who was killed along with three others by the Gujarat police in a fake encounter in June 2004, and according to the Indian Central Beurau of Investigation (CBI) was not a terrorist. AFP PHOTO / Sam PANTHAKY (Photo credit should read SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

On 15 June 2004, Jishan Johar, Amjad Ali Akbar Ali Rana, Javed Shaikh, and Ishrat Jahan, travelling from Mumbai to Ahmedabad in a Blue Indica, were allegedly killed in an encounter at the deserted Kotarpur Water Works, following what the Gujarat police say was a car chase and shootout. With fresh information emerging about a botched enquiry, the Ishrat Jahan case has once again become the focus of media attention and political controversy. Whether or not the latest round of controversy has any substantial basis remains to be seen, but what the political squabbles have definitely achieved is diverting our attention from what the case is actually about.

Laying excessive emphasis on the missing documents means we are giving in to the age-old political blame game where real issues get sidetracked.

To put things into context, the fresh hullabaloo pertains to the missing documents related to the two affidavits filed by the then UPA government, which first established and then denied knowledge about Ishrat's alleged links with Lashkar-e-Taiba. The BJP has held fast to claims of foul play, and that the missing documents related to the affidavits were part of a concerted attempt to malign the image of Narendra Modi. No doubt, some procedural lapse, whether deliberate or unintentional, is evident. But laying excessive emphasis on the missing documents means we are giving in to the age-old political blame game where real issues get sidetracked. This has been a convenient tool of this government, and the one that preceded it -- digress and leave the public clueless about the actual facts of the matter.

To get the facts right, the CBI filed its first chargesheet in July 2013 against seven police officers of the Gujarat State Police, and a second supplementary chargesheet against four members of the intelligence bureau (IB) in February 2014, for staging a fake encounter, after coming to the conclusion that it was a joint operation involving the IB and Gujarat Police. The entire case, therefore, is based on allegations of cold-blooded murder, and links to any terrorist organization doesn't bear relevance in the outcome of the trial, except for delaying and diverting it amidst unnecessary controversy. The rule of law does not, under any circumstances, permit cold-blooded murder; and that is precisely what the CBI probe has concluded in Ishrat Jahan's case. So, if law and order has to prevail, and the citizens are to be reassured of justice, the accused have to go through a due process of trial.

[I]t is highly doubtful that the affidavits submitted by the previous government would amount to credible proof in substantiation, or denial, of the terrorist links of the victims.

While evidence linking Ishrat Jahan to LeT is highly doubtful, and bears scant relevance to the trial itself, it might give an interesting insight into how political bickering in India defies all logic and ends up delaying the due process of accountability. In reply to a writ petition filed by Ishrat's mother, Shamima Kauser, the Union Home Ministry on 6 August, 2009 filed an affidavit stating Ishrat was a "woman activist of LeT". This was, quite surprisingly, based on several newspaper reports on statements published in Ghazwa Times, a mouthpiece of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Two months later, in September 2009, the Home Ministry went on to admit, in a second affidavit, that the statements in the previous affidavit did not constitute valid "intelligence input" and inferences drawn from them were "needlessly misinterpreted".

These are the two affidavits in question that have brewed allegations of conspiracy. Well, the relentless trust put by the BJP on statements made by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, whether in their mouth-piece or in fake Twitter handles, should not surprise us. Only months ago, Rajnath Singh sent shockwaves by indicating terrorist involvement in the JNU fracas a few months ago. His statement was based on a tweet by "Hafiz Saeed", which was soon discovered to come from a fake account. One thing is for sure -- our political leaders think nothing of stirring up controversy by making irresponsible statements based on unverified sources. Even more unfortunate is that they don't seem to learn from their mistakes or understand the seriousness of the consequences of their reckless statements.

Ishrat Jahan's case is one of cold-blooded murder -- not only the CBI investigation but also the previous magisterial and SIT reports have come to the same conclusion.

In Ishrat Jahan's case, it is highly doubtful that the affidavits submitted by the previous government would amount to credible proof in substantiation, or denial, of the terrorist links of the victims. It should, however, be a matter of real worry for the citizens when their government blindly tasks itself to work according to the whims and statements published in mouthpieces of terrorist organizations. Nevertheless, to give the benefit of doubt to the government, any enquiry on the affidavits is welcome; but this should not come at the cost of accountability. To reiterate: Ishrat Jahan's case is one of cold-blooded murder -- not only the CBI investigation but also the previous magisterial report by KS Tamang and SIT report of Satish Verma have come to the same conclusion.

The important question to deal with is, if Ishrat Jahan's links are not relevant to the case, then what is? This is where the case comes out of the shadows of doubts planted by political camps. The ballistics and forensics reports examined by the CBI make it evident that the account of the shootout was nothing but a work of fiction. Starting from mismatching guns and bullets, to the trajectory of fired bullets, to the location of the bodies, to the nature of wounds sustained -- all clearly indicate that the encounter was staged. More importantly, the CBI probe revealed the victims were already "taken into illegal custody" by the Gujarat police and state IB days before they were allegedly killed in the encounter. If anything, this was murder based on suspicion and doubt; an outright denial of due recourse to legal provisions.

Ishrat Jahan's terrorist links are not the hurdle delaying the trial... The real hurdle is the government's refusal to let the CBI prosecute the four members of the IB.

It is, therefore, apparent that Ishrat Jahan's links to any terrorist organization are not really the hurdle delaying the trial, despite all attempts to give such an impression. The real hurdle is the government's refusal to let the CBI prosecute the four members of the IB. Also, the IB maintains that the very nature of their job requires them to be involved in intelligence sharing with the police, and they need some sort of immunity, especially when the police choose to act upon the shared information in ways that are not sanctioned by law.

This also links to attempts made by political camps to sway public opinion in their favour. By going back again and again to Ishrat Jahan's alleged terrorist links, which by the way aren't conclusive, the political camps manipulate public opinion in favour of such staged encounters for national security. The modus operandi, seen in the Ishrat Jahan case as well as the JNU row, is consistent -- first make flimsy and far-fetched claims, then bring out tenuous evidence, and finally sell fear through stooges in the media. The outcome is public opinion goes astray and accountability gets lost in controversy. This is exactly what has gone wrong in Ishrat Jahan's case. Twelve years after she was murdered in cold blood, and after the necessary investigations are finally concluded, justice still seems far away.

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