Ishrat Jahan

Wherever Modi’s name is mentioned favourably, several objections are thrown at us. Many people don’t use the 2002 riots anymore. Although that is perhaps the most effective offensive against Modi, apparently they have all grown tired of it. Among the several other problem areas they point out in the Modi narrative, the key incident is that of the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter.

On 15th June 2004, four people, Ishrat Jahan, Javed Gulam Sheik, Amjad Ali and Zeeshan Johar, were killed in an encounter on an empty stretch between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat. The Gujarat police claimed that they were involved in a plot to assassinate chief minister Narendra Modi.

It developed into a controversy when the human rights groups protested to the deaths and called them ‘fake encounters’. Then a narrative developed that Ishrat was indeed an innocent girl who fell victim to the trigger-happy Gujarat police.

Now there are two angles to this controversy. One is why were Ishrat and her friends ‘killed’ in the encounter. Second question is ‘are fake encounters justified at all?’

Let us take up the second question first: Fake encounters obviously are not justified at all. Even real encounters are questionable and are subject to a detailed departmental enquiry. Police officers are not James Bonds. They do not carry the licence to kill. The way a police officer is depicted in our films, as somebody who bashes up bad guys at will and happily kills the main villains, is all totally, unequivocally illegal. These films to a large extent have coloured our illiterate minds and made us believe that policemen have the right to kill people. The truth is they don’t even have the right to beat up people. Anyway, that’s outside the scope of this post.

Coming back to the point, we all know our cops beat up and even kill, not just in reel life, but in real life as well! There is not a single state in India that is not guilty of this ‘fake encounter’. Some police officers have even gained the distinction of being ‘encounter specialists’. The actual meaning is ‘they go, identify bad guys and kill them’. But we don’t do anything about those police officers and we even see them happily giving interviews and behaving as if they are doing wonderful service to society.

Some politicians are encounter-friendly, and some are not. Even in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha is known to be in favour of eliminating rowdies and ‘gangs’. Tamil Nadu witnesses ‘encounter deaths’ whenever she is in power, some ‘notorious’ names are Veeramani from Ayodhya Slum, Venkatesa Pannayar from Thoothukudi, and, of course, Sandalwood Veerappan. In almost all these cases the public have applauded those deaths. Nobody ever asked if Veerappan was killed in a ‘fake encounter’ and whether he should have been caught alive and brought to justice.

If the record of Mumbai police was dug out, one can probably find more encounter deaths in a single quarter than encounter deaths in Gujarat all year.

What we’re trying to say is encounter deaths are not legal and they should be severely condemned. However, picking out one single encounter death and trumpeting it as the most gruesome act is not justified. The change should come from a different level. It should come from reforming our law and order system. There may be a genuine need for an ‘encounter’. For instance, Veerappan could never have been caught alive and the only way to eliminate the menace was to kill him at the first opportunity. In such ‘requirements’, how should we operate? Should a body be constituted, comprising retired judges and senior human rights activists and some cabinet members who can perhaps study the case and give their ‘approval’? Obviously this would be unacceptable in a constitutional democracy, especially in our country where even Supreme Court approved death sentences are condemned. So for a foreseeable future, such extra-constitutional killings would continue, but will be carried out ‘under wraps’. All we need to do is use our discretion and common sense in identifying which one to condemn and which one to celebrate. The killings of Veerappan and Veeramani should certainly be celebrated, as unconstitutional as they can be.

If they need to be condemned or investigated they should be restricted to the framework of ‘fake encounter’ being extra-constitutional, not as one political leader being a trigger-happy monster.

In Ishrat’s case, this is being blown up beyond proportion because it involves Narendra Modi, whom the Congress is desperate to portray as the monster. They have been looking for various opportunities to implicate Modi in something or the other and they caught a plum opportunity there, because all those who had died in the encounter are Muslims. What if those four were Hindus and part a local crime Mafia or a bootlegging gang? Would this case have been blown up this much?

Now, let us move onto the second question. Who Ishrat was and what  she was doing with her friends. The police claim they were the operatives of LeT and were plotting to assassinate Modi. The critics of Modi claim that if not the other three, at least Ishrat was an innocent 19-year old girl who fell victim to the crossfire.

There is enough literature to claim that Ishrat, too, was an LeT operative. The most important being that within days of her killing, LeT posted her name in their website as being ‘martyred for a cause’. However, within days of Modi’s name being dragged in the case, they ‘tactically’ withdrew their posting. This apart, the affidavit filed by the Home Ministry claimed that Ishrat and the three were LeT operatives. This caused considerable headache to the Congress government because this affidavit was filed three years after its preparation (in 2006) and all through they have been maintaining Ishrat’s innocence. Apparently this affidavit was filed by the Home Secretary without the knowledge of the higher-ups lest it would have been buried under. In addition to this, David Hedley had also confessed to the NIA (of the US) that Ishrat was in LeT and Modi assassination one of their botched up projects.

There have been several attempts to downplay the LeT involvement in this case. The Congress and some media have been trying very hard to find some ‘evidences’ that will make Ishrat less sinister and this ‘encounter’ more gruesome and sympathetic. If the LeT angle were to prevail, the public will lose interest in the case. Could the whole crime itself be downplayed? In one of the NDTV programmes, Srinivasan Jain defends Ishrat by claiming that they hadn’t come to Gujarat to kill Modi, but they were there for some ‘chota-mota blasts’! He makes it almost sound as if Ishrat & Co came to Gujarat to pick pocket.

In a nutshell, more than one evidence point to the fact that Ishrat & Co were not as innocent as they were portrayed by some in the Modi-bashing media. It is most likely that the killings were stage-managed events, widely known as ‘fake-encounters’. We need to investigate what kind of information that the police had that forced them to ‘consider’ eliminating these terrorists rather than following a judicial process. Other than that, linking Modi to these killings and making this to be the only fake-encounter case ever having taken place in India is a farce and indicates how desperate some in the Modi-bashing camp are.