Twelve years after Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed in an 'encounter' by the Gujarat Police on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the controversy around it refuses to subside.
The encounter, which many commentators are now terming as "controlled killing" of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba terrorists, has turned into a debate on whether the four people and more specifically Ishrat Jahan were part of an LeT module."The fundamental question is whether or not it was a fake encounter," says a former official who was involved in investigations.
Armed with the revelations by the former home secretary GK Pillai, who recently said that the affidavit filed in the court was changed at a political level, an apparent hint to the then Home Minister P Chidambaram, the BJP has gone ballistic against the Congress and Chidambaram.
Not just Pillai, but Rajinder Kumar, the retired special director of the Intelligence Bureau, too has given statements that he was approached by the UPA government to fix Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. "How does the content of the two affidavits change the course or affect the investigations?" asks the former official.
After the first affidavit was filed which called Ishrat an LeT operative, SP Tamang, the Metropolitan Magistrate who was inquiring into the veracity of the encounter came out with his report which termed the encounter as fake. In the second affidavit, the reference to LeT was removed.
"How can an innocuous reference on a website lead to the claim that she was actually a member of the LeT?" the former official asks. This affidavit has now become the bone of contention in this battle between the two major political outfits.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, told the Lok Sabha on Thursday that the Home Ministry has initiated an internal probe to ascertain what led to the change in the affidavit filed by the then under secretary RVS Mani who recently claimed that he was tortured by the High Court appointed SIT. The probe will also look into the claims of how some papers relating to the probe, have gone missing.
However, there are no surprises on how the BJP has again brought up this encounter case. Back in 2013, the CBI during the course of investigations recovered some taped conversations recorded by GL Singhal, one of the accused in the case. He had secretly recorded the conversations of other accused police officials including one where PP Pandey, then DGP is heard trying to fix the affidavit which is to be filed by RVS Mani. There was another statement of a retired cop DH Goswami where he says that he was present when the four people were abducted.
There is also a recording of a meeting meeting between DG Vanzara, the head of ATS, PP Pandey, the then DGP and Rajinder Kumar, who was heading the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau in Gujarat. In the meeting, Vanzara claimed that he had the approval of 'Safed Dadhi' and 'Kali Dadhi' for carrying out the encounter, which was taken as a reference to the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his Minister of State for Home Amit Shah. All of them are accused in the case and the trial is pending since two chargesheets were filed in 2013.
Meanwhile, the revelation about Modi and Shah had led to a furore then. Arun Jaitley, the then leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha had warned in a blog post that governments are not immortal and that they change. "We didn't have sufficient evidence against Modi and Shah and that is why they are not charged," says the former official. "There was no attempt to fix them as such on the part of the CBI," the investigator claims while adding how the CBI investigation is based on as many as 18 statements recorded in different courts.
The BJP had also attacked the UPA for targeting the intelligence bureau and how it was comprising national security of the country. When Rajinder Kumar, who according to the CBI, was spearheading the entire operation, was sought to be questioned, the development had led to a heated debate within the Home Ministry. The IB was against its officers coming under the arc of probe. It was only after much deliberations between the Home Ministry and the IB top brass that Kumar was questioned in a secret location and was not put under arrest.
The CBI during the course of its investigations had come across the details of the intelligence operation which according to the investigator Catch spoke to, the investigating agency decided to not pursue as it would have meant venturing too much into the domain of IB. The CBI had also not named the two 'sources' who lured Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar to Gujarat. The chargesheet refers to them as C1 and C2.
The CBI had claimed that Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, the two people whose identity and background could not be clearly ascertained, and who were killed along with Ishrat and Pranesh Pillai were brought to Gujarat from Delhi as part of the 'botched up operation'. The investigations had also found that Pillai was also in touch with Kumar, according to the former official.
"The claims that CBI was targeting the IB is baseless," the investigator says while adding that one should not forget the ISRO case in which a scientist was falsely implicated. The official says that the three may have been associated with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in some way. "But what was the need of killing them when they could have been arrested?"
For the BJP, it is clearly a battle of perception, which it aims to win by proving that the four people, including Ishrat Jahan, were members of the LeT. How it will change the course of the trial into their custodial killing remains to be seen.
Edited by Aditya Menon
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