The killing of Ishrat Jahan exemplifies the political rot that has pervaded our criminal judicial system. Never before have we seen such volte-face and flip flop by the government at the centre, a state government and individual officers of the bureaucracy, all of who have sworn to uphold the law of the land and the provisions of the Constitution.
In August 2004, Jahan’s mother, Shamima Kauser, filed a writ petition in the Gujarat High Court. The investigation that followed set in motion a highly politicised agenda, with individual officers being used as political puppets. The case since then has been characteristic of vote bank politics, and has eroded the credibility of the IB and the CBI in the process.
The special investigation team (SIT) ordered by the Gujarat High Court was mandated to be headed by an IPS officer from outside the state. However, due to the political pressure no police officer from outside the state was willing to be part of the investigation team. Those who joined the political games were duly rewarded either politically or professionally. While some have received political nominations, others have been promoted to positions of power within the bureaucracy. The entire investigation has been maligned from the very beginning, with Jahan being collateral damage.
All three inquiries into the case have concluded that the encounter was fake. The report of the Additional Judicial Magistrate of Ahmedabad blatantly states that the encounter was staged to earn promotions, and goes as far as to say that Crime Branch officials planted weapons and live cartridges in the car after killing Jahan and three others.
The SIT concluded that the encounter was fake. The head constable in his statement said, “the Pakistani was brought to the scene of encounter and made to stand blind-folded across the road divider.” A member of the SIT also claimed of political interference during the course of the investigation.
The verdict by the CBI echoed the conclusion of the previous investigations. The CBI chargesheet is against officials of the Gujarat police and the IB for unlawful killings, abductions and criminal conspiracy. The seven accused from the Gujarat police are out on bail, three of whom have retired and the four still in service have been promoted; one is the Director-General of Police in Gujarat. It has been three years since the CBI filed the chargesheet in 2013 and the case has still not moved. Why is the CBI going slow on the case?
The first affidavit filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was signed by an advocate under the allurement of becoming a high court judge. It bases Jahan’s alleged Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) links on her presence in the company of known activists and operatives of the LeT. The affidavit established her as an operative of the LeT based on articles published by several Indian newspapers that quoted the Ghazwa Times, a magazine of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, saying, ‘the veil of Ishrat Jehan, a woman activist of the LeT was removed by Indian police and her body was kept with other mujahideens on the ground. Ishrat was with her husband, sitting on the front seat of the car’.
This was subsequently retracted by Jamaat-ud-Dawa along with an apology to Jahan’s family. Do such articles and press releases form intelligence to be acted upon without corroborating evidence? Is this the level of intelligence capabilities in India?
The much-publicised testimony of LeT operative David Headley in February 2016 claiming Jahan an LeT activist is even more questionable. The special public prosecutor gave Headley the option to choose amongst the names of alleged operatives, “I will give you three options: Noor Begum, Ishrat Jahan or Mumtaz,” to which Headley responded, “I think it was the second one. I have heard the name Ishrat Jahan”.
The issue of Jahan being a terrorist has nothing to do with the case of alleged extra-judicial killing. If she was innocent and collateral damage in a genuine encounter, that is well within the law and ownership over the incident should have been taken. If she was a terrorist, she still had a right to a trial in court. It is the duty of the courts to give the verdict of punishment. If we give the power of judge, jury and executioner to the police, we will have no control on the excesses. The only question to be answered is whether the encounter was staged. Further, the investigation and the case as a whole is diluting our fight against terrorism.
There are serious allegations that the previous UPA government used influence to change the course of the investigation to blame the then Gujarat chief Minister and current prime minister, Narendra Modi, as he was fast-rising as a biggest challenger. Allegations of torture and coercion, such as burning senior officials with cigarette butts, have come to light recently. And the alleged pressurisation of junior and senior officials of the IB and MHA bear testimony to political interference in the case. On the other hand, the current regime continues to label Jahan a terrorist to keep the politics of nationalistic vigilantism alive. In the rhetorical din, what’s lost is the natural process of justice.
We are eating into the very roots of democracy and weakening our institutions. As lawmakers, we cannot be seen as partisan; we cannot be seen as breaking and manipulating the laws or trying to influence the progress of an investigation. It is time the judicial process and investigation agencies are freed of political influences.
Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo is a Biju Janata Dal MP. This article is derived from his intervention in the Lok Sabha.