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CBI Charge Sheet hurls bigger questions

The CBI’s preliminary charge sheet in the Ishart jahan case has been a shocker. Not only it termed that much publicized encounter as ‘fake’, it also blamed Intelligence Bureau officials Rajendra Kumar, the agency’s then-station chief in Ahmedabad, and his subordinates MK Sinha and Rajiv Wankhede for participating in the kidnapping and custodial interrogation of the suspects. In addition, it claimed that the weapons later claimed to have been found from the bodies of the four victims and used to firm-up the police accusation they were terrorists were actually sourced from the Intelligence Bureau.

Another interesting part is that the CBI says that it does intend to investigate them further. That would put the Union Home Ministry into a bigger quandary. That in turn may, create more sticky situation for IB too. 

If CBI carries that threat into reality, then it would have to gather Intelligence Bureau documents and interrogate top officials-among them, then-Intelligence Bureau operations Chief Nehchal Sandhu, who is now Deputy National Security Advisor(DNSA) and then Intelligence Bureau Chief KP Singh. The ‘cagged parrot’ which had been left out to fly in the open at the direction of the Court, would do everything possible to establish itself as an entiry without being Yes Master. 

The Union government had filed an affidavit in 2007 saying the encounter was legitimate,and then backed out. In that case, it will have to explain on what basis it arrived at that first determination. It would also have to point out if Rajinder Kumar had kept then DIB in the loop or he was acting independently.

Incidentally, a section of media also reported today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had apparently informed the Intelligence Bureau (IB) that Ishrat Jahan was a Lashkar-e-Taiba suicide bomber. Following his arrest in September 2009, Headley had told the FBI that Muzammil, the so-called commander of Pakistan-based LeT terrorist group, had recruited Ishrat.Headley told interrogators from the National Investigation Agency that Ishrat, a resident of Mumbra in Thane, was recruited by top Lashkar commander Muzammil who was in charge of LeT’s operations in India till 2007.

The statement corroborates the version of Gujarat police as well as the Centre in what has turned into a controversial case because of doubts about the veracity of the police version. Also, Headley’s statement tallies with claim of Gujarat cops and the Centre that Muzammil had sent Ishrat and her accomplices to Gujarat on a terror mission as part of Lashkar’s plan to attack the Indian hinterland and target VIPs.

Headley’s visits to India for reconnaissance missions for Lashkar started in 2006, when Muzammil was Lashkar’s chief commander in India. Lashkar too had owned up Ishrat immediately after the encounter, with its Lahore-based mouthpiece ‘Ghazwa Times’ describing her as an LeT activist and taking umbrage at the action of Indian cops in removing her veil. In 2007, however, Lashkar, in its fresh incarnation as Jammat-Ud-Dawa disowned her, by issuing an apology to Ishrat’s family for calling her an LeT cadre.

Interestingly, however, National Investigation Agency (NIA) — which questioned Headley in 2010 — makes no mention of his revelations on Ishrat in its 119-page report.  Though the NIA remains tight-lipped on Headley’s Jahan disclosure, internal sources said the agency did not mention it in the report because it was hearsay.

If, Ishrat and Javed were killed along with two Pakistani nationals – Amjad Ali and Jishan Johar Abdul Ghani – both alleged LeT terrorists, on June 15, 2004 has not been questioned, then why questions could be raised only on Isharat Jahan ? Also, how Pranesh Pillai who was killed along with Ishrat became Javed Shaikh and started handling LET operations in India? Interaction with a lot of people in Gujarat brought in a few startling facts. Some of them may be difficult to prove on paper but by and large they are well known in local parlance and people do talk about these things in informal meetings and conversations.

IB Joint Director Rajinder Kumar studied from Delhi University and was ABVP activist there. He was also close to Arun jaitley and maintained very close links with a number of BJP officers. Is that how Arun Jaitley wrote a front page article in Dainik Jagarn and expressed his concen on compromising internal security in the name of CBI witch-hunt against IB?

Did Rajinder Kumar  really exceed his brief in this case? Was he acting as an agent of Modi or just following the leads on LET.? Did he have the permission of DIB to go ahead with thre encounter? Did he really arrange the weapons from his office and also participated in the counter as CBI charge-sheet says?

Had Kumar kept these people as “ ready fodder reserves for operation” as they were being kept in a guest house and interrogated way  since April 2004 while the encounter took place on 15th june 2005.?

It is also true that Nadendra Modi, in the aftermath of 2002, followed with a series of encounter killings of members of a particular community as a part of his ideology in three phases. It is an ideology built around identity and is thus inherently exclusivist. It encourages and heartily endorses the muscular, and masculine, approach to inter-community issues and in general problem solving. And yes, threat is an essential weapon in the promotion and sustenance of such ideology.

The first phase began with catching of criminals and  smugglers from Vadodara, Surat and Ahmedabad(where Muslims dominate) and theye were given third degree treatment by the police.

The second phase followed with petty criminals who were picked and severely thrashed and left of with broken limbs and bruises all over. The Muslim community in particular, faced the heat and started leaving Gujarat because of that fear psychosis.

The third phase began with a series of encounters between 2002 and 2006. There were incidents of at least 25 such “fake”encounters (12 of them are being investigated by the Court now). In this context, the Gaurav Yatra taken out Modi soon after the violence was like a chest-thumping exercise aimed at thanking people for the heroism they displayed during the riots, and the general approach of the administration towards the Muslims, the encounter killings throw up a pattern.

It is after 2004 NDA defeat in LS polls that Modi started projecting himself as the biggest sworn enemy of  Pakistan and the most virulent face of Hindutva to garner popular support.

Gujarat has had riots earlier too, instigated both by the Right wingers and the Congress and there is no reason to doubt that there would have been encounter cases before 2002. But never earlier was the pattern where the State and the system in the state  became distinctly visible centerpiece. In post 2002,era this pattern involved sustained cooperation among different elements of the state and forces from outside to promoting an ideological agenda. That is one of the reasons why the 2002 riots refuse to leave Modi alone.

The link between the Hindu nationalist agenda of the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government could be perceptional, but the state government has shown no particular urgency to dispel it. It beggars belief that a Chief Minister known for micromanaging all the affairs of the state would be unaware of the encounter killings happening under his nose.

It is also difficult to accept that the trigger-happy police officers were working on their own without any tacit permission from the political masters. There has to be connection between the two.

Again, the fact that so many police officials were involved – both in the execution of the actual operation and then the cover-up during investigations – provide the narrative a sharp ideological perspective.

What gives more credence to the ideological angle is the strong defense of the BJP of the Gujarat government in response to the charge sheet filed by the CBI. The party was quick to deflect attention from the question whether the extrajudicial killings of the Muslims was morally and legally justifiable.

It shifted to the usual Right wing macho ideological line on the way to deal with terrorists. It insisted on Ishrat and others being terrorists and in a way suggested that they deserved to be eliminated in this fashion.

The BJP with its response to the CBI’s affidavit has indicated that it is prepared to make the approach a national talking point. It would be aware of the fact that Gujarat is expected to throw up many more cases in the future and the approach to it could not be scattered.

Since the party and the Sangh Parivar have decided on going ahead with Modi as their face in the run up to the elections in 2014 despite his several limitations, they have to stand by him now. They have to spin the encounter and other stories well to fit them into his muscular approach to all issues, local, national and even international.

Yet, the most shocking part in this sequence of event was that javed Shaikh, was initially an IB informant and used to get money on a regular basis. He was encouraged to develop contact with Pakistani extremist elements and get information from them. Later, he became a LET operative and got killed. It is here that the IB may be on somewhat sticky wicket.

Another shocker was about Sohrabuddin ‘ fake “ encounter where Amit Shah used to work with Sohrabuddin as one of his henchman and money extortioner. Amit Shah got rid of him in the same fashion.

The biggest challenge before the IB at the moment is not only to save its prestige and honour from the ongoing imbroglio but also carefully re-introspect and examine if there are  more such “rotten eggs’ determined to sully the institution’s image.

At the same time, it has to ensure that is does not get ducked into the’ turf war’ and compromises on its avowed goals and responsibilities as India’s oldest institution.

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