Politics

Ishrat ‘Missing Files’ Distraction to Set Stage for BJP-Congress War of Words on Terror

Ishrat Jahan's mother, Shamima Kausar at a press conference about David Headley's statement at Thane. Credit: PTI

Ishrat Jahan’s mother, Shamima Kausar at a press conference about David Headley’s statement at Thane. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: With the trial of senior police officers for the murder of Ishrat Jahan yet to commence even three years after the Central Bureau of Investigation filed its first chargesheet in the case, the Union home ministry has filed an FIR asking the police to locate minor documents related to the matter that have gone missing.

The move – essentially a dive into a procedural rabbit hole – came after an inquiry panel concluded that the papers were “removed knowingly or unknowingly or misplaced” in September, 2009, a period when Congress leader P Chidambaram was the home minister. The panel itself was headed by an additional secretary, B.K. Prasad, who was caught on tape by the Indian Express coaching witnesses. Prasad, who retired from service during the probe but was on extension, was recently promoted to a secretary-level post and given a two-year appointment – something quite unusual in the bureaucracy.

Only one out of the five missing documents relating to the Ishrat encounter case was found, said the inquiry panel, which submitted its report on June 15 after a three-month-long investigation.

To understand the twists and turns of the Ishrat Jahan case, read Jahnavi Sen’s interview with Vrinda Grover: The Second Killing of Ishrat Jahan

Though the inquiry panel made no reference to Chidambaram or anyone in the then UPA government, the former home minister has spoken publicly about his role in the drafting of a second affidavit filed by the ministry and explained why he ordered that an earlier affidavit claiming there was intelligence material indicating Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist had to be replaced.

The missing documents issue acquired salience last year when the BJP and senior Modi government ministers sought to dilute the significance of the Ishrat Jahan murder case on the plea what Ishrat was a terrorist. The BJP accuses the erstwhile UPA government of covering up Ishrat’s terror links by filing a second affidavit; the imputation is that key files related to the affidavit were removed so that the allegedly mala fide nature of its drafting would remain hidden.

Ishrat Jahan

Ishrat Jahan

However, the legal relevance of the missing documents is unclear. The chargesheet filed by the CBI – after it was entrusted with the case by the Gujarat high court in 2011 – pertains to the killing of Ishrat and three others. Ishrat, Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjadali Akbarali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed by the Gujarat police on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004. The police say the encounter was genuine and that the four were on their way to kill Narendra Modi when they were intercepted and engaged. However, the CBI, acting under the supervision of the high court, established that the four were first taken into custody and then shot dead. If and when it gets underway, the trial will establish the veracity of the CBI’s claims. If indeed the encounter was staged, the fact that Ishrat and the others were terrorists – as the BJP insists – cannot be treated by the courts as an extenuating circumstance.

According to PTI, a junior home ministry official filed an FIR at the Parliament Street police station on September 22 under Section 409  of the Indian Penal Code (criminal breach of trust by public servants) asking police to probe “why, how and under what circumstances” five documents related to the case went missing. The agency quoted a senior Delhi Police officer saying an investigation had since been been launched.

The original papers listed as missing are

  • office copy of letter and enclosure sent by home secretary G.K. Pillai to the attorney general on September 18, 2009
  • office copy of another letter sent by Pillai to the AG on September 18, 2009
  • draft of second affidavit as vetted by the AG
  • draft of second affidavit “as amended” by P. Chidambaram as home minister on September 24, 2009
  • office copy of the second affidavit filed with the Gujarat high court on September 29, 2009.

Of these, the second was retrieved  from a computer hard disk.

According to PTI, Deverakonda Diptivilasa, who was joint secretary (internal security) in the home ministry when the papers went missing, reportedly said the documents were part of the file which he sent to his seniors during deliberations over the second affidavit filed in the encounter case. When the file came back, the five documents were not part of it, Diptivilasa, who has since retired, apparently told the panel. Though home ministry officials realised in 2013 that the five documents were missing, their disappearance was never made it into a major issue as “fair copies were intact”, says PTI.

The lodging of the FIR is likely to raise the political temperature in the Capital, with the BJP hoping to put the Congress on to the back foot. Accusing the Congress of being soft on terror will also help the BJP deflect Congress criticism over the lack of any decisive action by the Modi government against the perpetrators of the September 18 Uri attack which took the lives of 18 soldiers.

With inputs from PTI