In June 2004, four people, that included an eighteen year old girl named Ishrat Jahan, were shot and killed by Gujarat Police based on input from Intelligence Bureau (IB). It was claimed that these people were planning to carry out terror attack in Gujarat. Their plan, it was said, included killing of the the then chief minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi. Other people killed with Ishrat Jahan were Pranesh Pillai (alias Javed Gulam Sheikh), 2 Pakistani Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar. Ishrat Jahan’s family filed case claiming their daughter was innocent and demanded CBI enquiry on the matter.
In early July of 2013, CBI filed charge sheet in the decade old case. CBI claimed that Ishrat Jahan, along with her three accomplice, was gunned down in cold blood by Gujarat police and officers of Intelligence Bureau. The news exploded in national media scene like a powerful bomb.
An all out war broke out between congress and BJP over minority bashing vs. politicization of national security. Civil rights activists and intelligence officers fought on supremacy of civil liberty over quality of intelligence input and execution of security threat perception. Feminists confronted police on gender bias over attempted character assassination of a female victim. One intelligence agency accused another for engaging in witch-hunt.
In the face of all these, bemused public were faced with several fundamental questions. First, was Ishrat Jahaan a terrorist? And, even if she was a terrorist, was security establishment correct in eliminating her in cold blood? Finally, is it necessary to politicize execution of an intelligence input, that might have gone wrong?
It is important to recognize that most human rights organization work with perfect hindsight. Security and intelligence officers do not have the privilege. It is important to consider that not many are questioning credentials of three other people killed with Ishrat, namely Javed Sheikh, Zeeshan Johar, and Amjad Ali Rana. Javed Sheikh had criminal background. Two Pakistani’s, Amjad and Zeeshan, were believed to have terror links (please read Wikipedia on Ishrat Jahan Encounter). Although it has been claimed later that Zeeshan and Amjad were Indians, no proof was ever furnished. No one claimed bodies of two alleged Pakistani’s. At the time of encounter no one had this information. It is also not clear, if Ishrat was such a low profile person from a lower middle class family in Mumbai, why would Gujarat Police target her? In simple language, what was the motive?
Even with best intelligence gathering mechanism and gadgets, mistakes do happen. May be it happened in Ishrat Jahan case as well. There was some input from intelligence bureau, indicating some affiliation of Ishrat Jahan with terrorist organization. This insunation might have been withdrawn three years later, but encounter had already happened based on first input. Remember, around the time India was riddled with explosions after explosion. So if security and intelligence agencies had not worked on all available inputs, they might have risked more innocent lives. It is also important to recognize that terrorists do not attack announcing their intent. If they go through, they have fulfilled their mandate. If caught before an act, they can always pass themselves as innocent civilians.
It is natural for Congress to attack BJP. Firstly, in Gujarat state congress has not been able to make any headway in last fifteen years. At the national scene also, congress led UPA has been humiliated by BJP on repeated allegations of corruption. Recently, Mr. Narendra Modi has been potrayed as chief of 2014 election campaign by BJP. Many believe, Mr. Modi will be next prime minister of India, if BJP led NDA comes to power. Many parties, that include Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Trina Mool Congress and left parties (CPM, CPI, RSP etc) have declared antipathy towards Mr. Modi. These parties depend on significant muslim support. Since Narendra Modi did not express any remorse for Gujarat riots under his chief ministership, these parties do not want to associate with Narendra Modi. Recently, Janata Dal United had severed a 17 year old alliance with BJP in Bihar state, on the issue of Narendra Modi leading BJP’s election campaign. Some of these parties, notably Congress, which is in power at the centre, would like to put as many roadblocks on the path of Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambition. By the way, CBI reports to central home ministry. Many organisations, including Supreme Court of India, have expressed apprehension that CBI is being manipulated by central government to suit its purpose. Like harassing political opponents, staying in power by blackmailing allies, or modifying CBI chargesheets appropriately to include or exclude people it deems fit. In this scenario, it is difficult to understand the timing of CBI chargesheet filing on a ten year old case and insuating involvement of top leadership of Gujarat government in the killing, however, stopping short of naming them. This many may consider a clever ploy of character assassination on the election eve. Also, according to reports nearly 800 cases of fake encounter happened in India every year, many in Congress ruled states. However, none debated so much. Is this a case of selective leakage of CBI report to gather political mileage?
It is also important to consider the driving force behind Ishrat Jahan’s family in filing a case demanding enquiry on her death and pursuing it for a decade. Family is in their perfect right to demand one. However, if they were from lower middle class family as claimed by media and their lawyer, who is funding expenses of their court case for nearly a decade? More so when sole bread earner of the family is no more. Did NGO, left leaning and anti-BJP and anti- Modi inclinatio, persuaded them to file a case? Left leaning intellectuals and NGOs have declared antipathy towards BJP and Narendra Modi. It is not surprising that cases are being pursued with dogged determination to bring down Narendra Modi. This would not be possible without support from an well funded machinery.
Finally, how do we protect our people that collect intelligence input and those who execute them. There has to be a legal support to back these organisations, incase something goes wrong. People that fought with militants during Punjab militancy, were later hounded by Human Rights groups. Government did not back them, and many intelligence officers had to fend for themselves. There has to be an oversight mechanism and there has to be a chain of command with buck stopping somewhere. In the US, President sanctions hits like drone attacks. However, opposing party incumbent do not go after the president for electoral gains. Sometimes, there will be mistake. As it might have happened in Ishrat Jahan case. It is happening in Afghanistan, happened in Irag. Howeve, if the opposite was true, then many people, read innocent, would be dead. That time another set of people will bay for blood of intelligence machinery and police force for incompetence. Strangely, human rights group will not come out and support law enforcement machinery.
All said and done, Ishrat Jahan has lost her life in early age. We do not know if she was a terrorist. It is emerging that she was in police custody for few days. May be, when police could not extract evidence out of her, they decided to execute her. This is not right, absolutely not right. Could police have not released her and kept an eye on her movements? Nation should be sorry for the loss her family suffered. But the neighborhood infested with atmosphere of terrorism, we might see more innocents dying either by terrorist bomb or police bullet.