NIA Mistakes Medical Term for 'Indian Rupee', Interrogates Eminent Kashmiri Doctor

Dr Upendra Kaul had, coincidentally, criticised the Modi government's move to scrap Article 370.

New Delhi: Dr Upendra Kaul’s use of the medical acronym ‘INR’ in an SMS to J&K separatist leader Yasin Malik some years ago led the National Investigative Agency to summon the leading Delhi-based Kashmiri cardiologist to answer questions relating to a 2017 terror funding case on Friday.

Coincidentally, the summons came days after Kaul had criticised the Centre’s Article 370 decision on television.

When Kaul appeared for interrogation at the Lodhi Road offices of the NIA on Friday morning, it became evident that the crack anti-terror agency’s sleuths had assumed ‘INR’ meant ‘Indian rupees’ and that his text message was evidence of some sort of illicit money transfer.

The doctor had to explain that the acronym he used in the message to Malik, who was his patient, actually stood for the medical term of “international normalised ratio”.

The international normalised ratio is, simply, a laboratory measurement of how long it takes blood to form a clot.

Speaking to The Wire about the text message to Malik in which he had written ‘INR 2.78’, Kaul said, “They asked me what that was about. In medical terms, INR stands for international normalised ratio, a range to determine blood thinning, which needs to remain between 2 and 3. Now, to them, INR stands for the Indian rupee and 2.78 could mean anything, lakhs or crores. So they thought it was havala money that I was talking about,” said the doctor.

The NIA, it turned out, had obtained details of Malik and Kaul’s association – one which played itself out mostly over prescriptions. “They showed me prescriptions that I had written for him and case summaries. Summaries are not political. So I told them that,” said Kaul, a Padma award recipient.

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Kaul is bemused by the whole exercise. More so because he came to treat Malik not out of his own volition but because it was a senior government official who had asked him to treat the JKLF leader. “They asked me how it was that I came to treat him. I told them, it was the government of India’s Mr Dulat [Amarjit Singh Dulat], who was Intelligence Bureau special director and who then became R&AW chief, who asked me if he should bring him to the AIIMS for treatment. This was back in 1996 or 1997,” Kaul said.

In the intervening years, Kaul has treated Malik often. Within the scope of treatment, Kaul has often messaged him reports, like the one the NIA had a chance to question him over. It was, in fact, so common, that Kaul found it difficult to recall the text message in question, when asked when he might have sent it. The NIA did not show him the text or its copy, but merely described it to him. “It may have been a message sent over [SMS or] WhatsApp at any time during these years. Certainly not recently, because he is in jail now. But I would often message reports, he would send Eid greetings or messages for Diwali,” said Kaul.

While Kaul worked at AIIMS, Malik, he said, would come with kidney and other problems. “Anyone can come to the OPD,” he added.

The Yasin Malik-led Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was banned earlier this year for “promoting” secession of Kashmir. Malik, who was taken into NIA custody in April, is currently in Tihar jail. Recently, rumours of his worsening health and subsequent death had been doing the rounds, which the jail authorities were reported to have denied.

Malik is neither the first nor the most high profile of Kaul’s patients from Jammu and Kashmir. “I have naturally had many patients in and from Kashmir. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was my patient. Mehbooba Mufti has been treated by me. Farooq Abdullah has also consulted with me,” he said.

A copy of the summons has been circulating on Twitter. In it, the NIA lists the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which necessitated the investigation into the 2017 case. However, speculation has been rife that the summons were the implicit fallout of Kaul’s appearance in a TV news show, where he made his criticism of the Centre’s decision to read down Article 370 clear.

“People googled, based on the information in the summons, that this was some terror funding, stone pelting case. So why investigate an older case at this point in time? We don’t know,” Kaul said, when asked if he too thought that he had been called because of his stand on Kashmir.

The NIA’s gaffe is resonant of another doctor’s run in with an acronym and a law enforcement agency unable to get to the bottom of it.

In 2010, Dr Binayak Sen was accused of having international terrorist connections for sending an email to “one Fernandes from the ISI”. What the public prosecutor thought was the Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan was in fact the Indian Social Institute in Delhi. Walter Fernandes is its former head and a friend of Sen and his wife Ilina.

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The NIA’s discomfort with Kashmir also took a wry turn in February of 2018, when it submitted documents in court claiming that Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yusuf was a stone-pelter and should be charged as such as he was not a “real journalist”. To bolster its argument, the NIA had given the dubious reason that a real journalist should have been covering the government’s development projects in the area.

Meanwhile, did the NIA admit to having misunderstood what INR stood for? “No one admits to these things [mistakes]. After 30 minutes or so, they let me go,” said Kaul.