Over the past week, some sections of the media, especially Times Now, are on fire over the controversial Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Through a series of interviews, including former Home Secretary GK Pillai and retired Home Ministry official RVS Mani, Times Now says it has exposed the UPA government’s intervention in the legal process of the politically-charged case, by ‘changing the government’s affidavits’ submitted to the Gujarat High Court in the case.
Then Gujarat Home Minister and Narendra Modi’s close aide Amit Shah, and top IPS officers in Gujarat are accused of staging the encounter. Many activists claim that Ishrat Jahan was not a member of LeT as claimed by the Gujarat government.
Encounter in 2004
Ishrat Jahan and three others were shot dead in June 2004 in an encounter by the Ahmedabad police.
The police claimed that the four were connected with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and had come to Gujarat to assassinate the then chief minister Narendra Modi.
The case has been under trial for several years now, so why all the sudden noise?
During the UPA regime, the Centre and the Gujarat government were at loggerheads over the credibility of the encounter, with even a shadowboxing match being played out between the Intelligence Bureau and the CBI over the case. While the IB defended its stand that Ishrat and others were terrorists, CBI enquired into the case and raised questions as to if it was staged.
Now, former Home Ministry officials have said on record that senior ministers of the UPA played a role in changing the stand of the government in the case to suit political needs. No one has named him, but it is widely believed that the change in affidavit was done on behalf of former Home Minister P Chidambaram, who has himself defended the decision.
So what was the change in affidavit all about?
The first affidavit, filed by the Home Ministry at the Gujarat HC looking into the Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case, stated that IB inputs led officials to believe all the alleged terrorists gunned down by Gujarat police were members of LeT. This was drafted by RVS Mani, former Under Secretary, Internal Security, Ministry of Home Affairs. The first affidavit was filed on August 6, 2009.
However, on September 30, 2009, another Affidavit was filed, but this time, it mentioned that there was no conclusive proof that those gunned down were terrorists. RVS Mani states that he was forced to do it by his political bosses, and was also tortured by CBI’s investigators looking into the case to change his stand. You can read RVS Mani’s interview to Times Now here. Earlier in 2013-14, a series of reports on Indian Express detailed his allegations.
And it isn’t just RVS Mani. Former Home Secretary GK Pillai also gave a tell-all interview to Times Now last week, and hinted at Chidambaram being responsible for the change in affidavit. GK Pillai believed that even if Ishrat was not a terrorist, it was likely that she knew something was amiss, and security agencies’ suspicion was reasonable. You can read about it here.
Chidambaram has however defended himself, and said that GK Pillai was equally responsible for the change in affidavit. He says that he accepts responsibility for the change in affidavit since that was the correct step, and because the first one was “ambiguous”.
Former CIA operative David Coleman Headley who is facing trial in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks case had also named Ishrat Jahan as a part of a “failed mission” in his witness statement, but did not specify if she was indeed an LeT operative.
So what is the political relevance of these allegations?
The Ishrat Jahan case is the Sword of Damocles hanging over Amit Shah’s head. To discredit the case against Amit Shah, and prove that the case was a product of political intervention by the Congress-led UPA, would be a big political victory for the BJP.
Further, as the NDA government is facing immense pressure in the Parliament over JNU and Rohith Vemula's death, and is being charged with whipping up hyper-nationalistic sentiments, a counter-attack blaming the Congress for intervention in terror cases for political targeting could help assuage tensions in the Parliament. But will the opposition blink first?