In another attempt to target the Gujarat government and especially, it’s Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has hastily and half-heartedly filed charge sheet in the ‘Ishrat Jahan and Others’ encounter case. It has chargesheeted seven Gujarat police officers charging them with ‘criminal conspiracy, abduction, wrongful confinement and murder’. As it was a foregone conclusion by the political masters of the CBI that the encounter was ‘fake’ and Ishrat Jahan was not a terrorist, there are hardly any surprises in the charge sheet. What is surprising and shocking is the way present central government is virtually ‘encountering’ the institutions of governance.
On the one hand, UPA government has proposed to give autonomy to institutions like CBI; at the same time it is pressurising CBI to pursue cases only of ‘political interests’. In the present case, the charge sheet filed is so haphazard that its nature itself creates doubts in the minds of any political observer about the intent. First of all, CBI has completely failed to establish the motive behind this so-called ‘fake encounter’, which is the most important aspect of legal proceedings. Even if we assume that Ishrat Jahan was not a terrorist (?), the charge sheet is completely silent on the other three whom Ishrat chose to accompany. If we take the claims made by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) based on the inputs provided by David Coleman Headley case and the declaration by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) seriously, then it is hard to believe that Ishrat and her companions were not terrorists. Though the mandate given by the court was limited to investigating the circumstances of killings, it was indispensable for the CBI to, at least, examine the antecedents of Ishrat’s accomplices. Surprisingly, in August 2009 the Ministry of Home Affairs of the same government had filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court describing the four’s alleged links with LeT. CBI does not take any cognisance of that.
The data provided by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in the name of which many human rights activists in encounter cases swear on, reveals that in 2004-05, the year in which Ishrat and others were killed in police encounter, 122 intimations were received from various States about killings in encounters. These included 66 intimations from the State of Uttar Pradesh, 18 from Andhra Pradesh, 9 from Delhi and 5 each from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It is amusing to see the manner in which lopsided and politicised cases like ‘Ishrat Jahan and others’ took precedence amidst the bulk of encounter cases mentioned above and the services of ‘neutral and trustworthy’ investigation agencies like CBI being blatantly misused. After the ‘Coalgate’ incident where Law Ministry had a joint operation with CBI to save the Prime Minster, this is another attempt supported by the Ministry of Home affairs to ‘fabricate the political hand’ in Ishrat Jahan and others case.
CBI apart, another important institution, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), is sabotaged in this process. The encounter case is the first instance in the history of Independent India where the IB has been implicated. Just because of objections raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, an IB officer is not mentioned in the charge sheet. With an overnight U-turn of the Home Minister on ‘requirement of sanction by the Ministry to name an IB officer’ clause, many questions are being raised about the tacit support received for the politicisation of the case.
In the process of settling political scores, the Central Government has not only ‘encountered’ the functioning of institutions like CBI, IB, NIA and NHRC but also compromised with long term national security. The morale of the investigation officers will be dented by making the case of ‘terrorist’ activity just another ‘communalised fake encounter’. There is hope that these loopholes will be addressed during the Court proceedings and the case will be eventually treated as a ‘terrorist activity’ case and all relevant aspects will be investigated. By the way, the Centre is poised to make an ‘encounter’ of the most important institution of Indian democracy, the Parliament, by bringing the ordinance on food security during the Monsoon session scheduled this month. The government should understand that communalising terrorism, compromising with corruption, mismanagement of disasters and encountering institutions of governance will not be compensated in elections by sowing of ‘food security’ seeds.