BLOODY SINISTER PUZZLE

What is causing tectonic waves with in the cocky Gujarat government as well as the national security establishment are two crucial questions: Why was dubious intelligence generated and at whose behest? And who ordered the killing of Ishrat Jahan and others?
Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

There are two photographs. One of a young girl happily posing in front of the camera. The other is a photograph of the blood-splattered dead body of a young girl lying on the road, with three others. Both these pictures conceal a disturbing truth whose faithful unravelling would reveal how intelligence agencies were subverted by communal forces as well as impact the ambitions of BJP’s putative prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.

These photographs are of Ishrat Jahan, 19, a student from Mumbra, Maharashtra, who was killed along with three ‘mysterious’ young men who were accused of accompanying her to allegedly assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. According to the official version of the Gujarat police, working on a tip-off from the Intelligence Bureau (IB),  the police intercepted the car on the morning of June 15, 2004, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad and gunned down the occupants. 

However, it has been established by two different, authoritative, official inquiries that the alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants were killed in cold blood in a “fake” encounter. The case has been meticulously recorded by investigators to prove that most evidence ‘planted’ by the police was brazenly false. Even the phone calls which have been traced point to continuous communication with sections of the political leadership in Gujarat, before and after the murders.

‘Now that almost all these fake encounters have been established as fake by investigation agencies functioning under the orders of either the Supreme Court or the Gujarat High Court, the big question is: Who was organizing these killings to promote the myth that jehadi terrorists were after Modi’s life?’

For instance, as Ahmedabad-based lawyer Mukul Sinha points out in a Facebook post: ‘Here is an extract from the FIR (bearing no. DCB PS I CR No. 8 of 2004) filed by the SIT team that was constituted by the High Court of Gujarat.) Para 8.4: Eight empty cartridge cases of 9 mm ammunition recovered from the Indica car do not match with the two pistols recovered from the Indica car. These empties of 9 mm do not also match with the two police weapons of 9 mm calibre used in the encounter. This shows (that) the police version of hearing gunshots from inside the Indica car is untrue, and also there is some fabrication to justify the FIR theory. We wonder what was planted — the pistols or the empty cartridges, or both?’ 

In another post, Sinha says: ‘Now that almost all these so-called fake encounters have been established as fake by investigation agencies functioning under the orders of either the Supreme Court or the Gujarat High Court, the big question is: Who was organizing these killings to promote the myth that jehadi terrorists were after Modi’s life? Who were the people in authority that could manufacture false intelligence inputs to justify the murder of innocent citizens, including teenagers like Ishrat? One name that has repeatedly surfaced for allegedly not only creating many such false inputs, but also actively participating in the murder conspiracies, is Rajendra Kumar, the then Joint Director of the Intelligence Bureau posted at Ahmedabad during 2003-2004...’.

What is, therefore, causing tectonic waves within the cocky Gujarat government as well as the national security establishment are two crucial questions: Why was dubious intelligence generated and at whose behest? And who ordered the killing of Ishrat and others? 

Incidentally, though Ishrat is the most prominent case, there have been 24 such encounters, widely perceived to be fake. Why were young Muslims brought to Gujarat and killed in cold blood in such a dubious manner? Was it yet another illustrious Hindutva feather in the xenophobic cap of those who masterminded, organized and executed the bloodbath and gangrapes as a public spectacle in Gujarat 2002? Or, was it an attempt to propitiate the muscle-flexing macho deity in Ahmedabad that sustains majoritarian politics; or is there more to it? 

  For a long time, the Modi model of ‘encounters’ and the condemnation of Muslims was cited as the ‘final solution’. It was in 2008 that the contours of this conspiracy began to come out when Hemant Karkare unearthed the role of Rightwing Hindu extremism in bomb blasts in Malegaon, the Samjhauta Express, the Mecca mosque, Ajmer and other places

The involvement of an IB senior official, Rajendra Kumar, is causing understandable disquiet in the country’s security establishment. On the face of it, the CBI and IB are at war with each other over Kumar’s involvement, but the reality, insiders suggest, is not so complicated. There is no way the IB can condone the killing of Ishrat and others. IB insiders say there are at least five people in the agency who have brought shame to the organization. “Nobody has any sympathy for them,” the source says. 

Incidentally, the encounter took place a few weeks after the BJP-led NDA government was voted out and the Congress-led UPA regime had taken over. The new government still had not put its hands around the intelligence agencies and officials closely aligned to the earlier regime were still running the show. It is due to this reason that this incident has to be seen along with what was really happening in Gujarat and the rest of the country when the BJP was in power. 

As reported by Hardnews, the ‘India Shining’ NDA had created hysteria about rising Islamic militancy and how the lives of their political leadership were threatened by it. The minority-bashing Gujarat CM was projected as the ‘prime target’ as he was projected as not only standing up to fundamentalist Islam, but Islamic terror also. He manufactured himself as the hardliner ‘messiah’ of the Hindu masses by targetting so-called Muslim terrorists. His fierce engagement with these simulated ‘dark forces’ allowed his ‘fans’ to appropriate a halo around their leader. This card was also effectively used during the assembly elections in Gujarat. 

Intelligence agencies, as subsequent examples would reveal, were part of this ‘grand project’ to shift the locus of the country from secularism to majoritarian Hindutva and thus help the BJP return to power. Bomb blasts in different parts of the country, fake encounters, and propagandistic phobia, contributed to deepening this feeling of suspicion between communities. Indeed, the manner in which several young innocent Muslims have been later falsely hounded, arrested, tortured and detained for long periods on  grounds of having ties with terror organizations, is a legacy of the virus that was injected during the BJP-led NDA rule. However, Indian democracy, expectedly, neutralized this grand conspiracy and voted them out. 

  The manner in which several young innocent Muslims have been hounded, arrested, tortured and detained for long periods, on the grounds of having ties with terror organizations, is a legacy of the virus that was injected during the BJP-led NDA rule

For a long time, the Modi model of ‘encounters’ and the condemnation of Muslims after every terror attack was cited as the ‘final solution’. It was in 2008 that the contours of this conspiracy began to come out in the open when police officer Hemant Karkare unearthed the role of Rightwing Hindu extremism in bomb blasts in Malegaon, the Samjhauta Express, the Mecca mosque in Hyderabad, Ajmer and other places. All those violent events and killings that were deepening the cleavage between the two communities, it was discovered, were the handiwork of these Hindutva extremists, some with established RSS links. Perceptively, NCP leader Sharad Pawar pointed out that, after this conspiracy was unearthed by Karkare, there were no major bomb blasts stalking the Indian landscape.

It is therefore important to locate the fake encounter of Ishrat and others in this disturbing landscape to comprehend how politics was being re-shaped by dubious individuals who take their orders from shady and diabolical forces. 

It is from this standpoint that the Gujarat High Court monitoring the Ishrat fake encounter case acquires great importance. Expectedly, the BJP top brass is hopping mad. They are busy tarnishing the reputation of the CBI, calling it the Congress Bureau of Investigation. Modi recently threatened the CBI with dire consequences, once power shifts at the Centre. Surely, an uncanny sense of fear and loathing for the CBI was visible on the face of Modi during his recent trip to Mumbai, even as he showcased his ‘bluff and bluster’ Vibrant Gujarat agenda to top corporate honchos. His attempt has been to show that the Congress was trying to fix him, since he is the potential prime minister of the country. 

The evidence leaked through the CBI status report to the High Court suggests that Modi and his trusted lieutenant, former minister of state (Home), Amit Shah, might come within the ambit of the CBI probe. The stark evidence and sinister leads behind the staged killings are clearly pointing towards the political leadership. Suggestions of approval for killings coming from the coded protocol of “white beard” and “black beard” in Gandhinagar is sending jitters within the BJP and RSS top brass who have been opposing and debunking the Hindutva terror probe for the last few years. 

Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha and top lawyer Arun Jaitley perhaps understands the implications of the CBI probe and how thorough they can be when he bared his knuckles in a blog post by saying, “regimes are not immortal. I do hope one day a commission of inquiry will investigate the functioning of the CBI, its politicization and all these above cases...” He had earlier attacked the IB for changing its stand on the case, saying it  altered its stance with the change at the Union home ministry. 

The Union home ministry, in an affidavit submitted to the Gujarat High Court, interestingly, on a day when the then home minister, P Chidambaram, was away, had stated that it had information on Ishrat being an agent of the LeT. Days later, it withdrew the affidavit. The contents of the new affidavit virtually disowned the LeT theory and said, “I say that it should be clear to all that such inputs do not constitute conclusive proof and it is for the government and the state police to act on such inputs. The central government is in no way concerned with such action nor does it condone or endorse any unjustified or excessive action.”  

‘The net is closing in. That is why there have been consistent efforts to derail the probe,’ says Vrinda Grover… ‘Arun Jaitley’s support of the IB shows that the BJP and IB are working in tandem to scuttle the investigations,’ says Jitendar Awhad, NCP legislator from Thane

“The net is closing in. That is why there have been consistent efforts to derail the probe,” says Vrinda Grover, Delhi-based senior lawyer who is representing Ishrat’s mother, Shamima Kauser, in the Gujarat High Court. “And the assertion that the Congress is helping us in the investigations in any which way is grossly incorrect. We are fighting this case in extremely difficult circumstances and with  meagre resources.”  

“Jaitley’s support of the IB shows that the BJP and IB are working in tandem to scuttle the investigations,” says Jitendar Awhad, NCP legislator from Thane. He, among others, has lent support to Kauser in her protracted fight for justice to nail the cops and masterminds who murdered her daughter. 

Grover’s assertions are not ill-founded. The CBI, which was expected to arrest Kumar after questioning him on June 18 at Gandhinagar, choked on the idea. Informed sources say that there is a lobby within the Congress which is shielding Kumar and ‘absconding’ Additional Director General of Police in Gujarat PP Pandey, another crucial cog in the wheels of the ongoing probe. 

“Kumar arrived for the questioning on the assurance that he will not be arrested,” sources say. “Right after the UPA formed the government in 2004, we had consistently demanded that Kumar be shifted out from Gujarat. We had clear suspicion, but our pleas fell on deaf ears,” adds activist Shabnam Hashmi.   

Ironically, soon after reports of the CBI’s intent to possibly arrest Kumar were splashed across the media, an English news channel ran an exclusive scoop at prime time, airing conversations said to be provided by the IB. The conversations show alleged LeT masterminds plotting to kill Modi. “Interestingly, nowhere, even in these conversations, does the name of Ishrat come up,” points out Grover.

A day after, the Additional Advocate General of Gujarat, Tushar Mehta, turned up at the Gujarat High Court on June 14, 2013, with two compact discs containing these very conversations. His request to place them on record in the investigations was turned down by the High Court. His action also invited severe criticism from the two-judge bench.

  The involvement of a senior IB official, Rajendra Kumar, is causing disquiet in the security establishment. There is no way the IB can condone the killings. IB insiders say there are five people who have brought shame to the organization 

“The timing says it all. It has been orchestrated in a way to spread the lie and create a public opinion that Ishrat was indeed a terrorist,” says Grover. “Why has the IB not provided these recordings to the CBI earlier? Why was it withholding these discs, which, according to them, is a crucial piece of evidence?” she asks. 

Interestingly, the television journalist who scooped the tapes claimed that the IB did not give the tapes earlier because nobody asked  them. 

Moreover, there have been claims that American rogue agent David Coleman Headley had told the FBI of Ishrat’s relationship with the LeT. The National Investigative Agency (NIA), which interrogated Headley in the custody of the FBI, has described this assertion as mere ‘hearsay’. 

Indeed, it is becoming clear that the intelligence input said to be generated by Kumar which led to the encounter is at the heart of the investigation. This is also the primary bone of contention which has led to an open spat between the IB and the CBI with IB chief Asif Ibrahim shooting off a letter to the CBI, saying that the agency had solid inputs of an attack by the LeT. 

“The whole attempt is to somehow take the attention away from the IB’s role. Everybody, including the court, is now saying that don’t investigate the input. This is bizarre. The courts cannot tell the investigating agency what to investigate and what it should not,” points out Grover, referring to the June 18 order of the Gujarat High Court which asked the CBI to simply concentrate on the incident. 

  ‘If there is one official this country should be proud of — it is Satish Verma. He has played a crucial role in this investigation, defying all odds. And it is not just the BJP which has been opposing his presence; there are sections in the Congress also who do not want a fair probe’ 

The court also ordered that Satish Verma, a senior IPS officer assisting the probe, be removed for his “overzealousness” in investigating the intelligence input. “It was the court itself which had appointed Satish Verma. We never asked for his appointment as is being claimed by some sections,” says Grover. She terms Verma’s removal a fatal blow to the probe. 

Lawyer Mukul Sinha also told Hardnews:  “If there is one official this country should be proud of — it is Satish Verma. He has played a very crucial role in this investigation, defying all odds. And it is not just the BJP which has been opposing his presence; there are sections in the Congress also who do not want a fair probe.”

“Throughout the probe, the attempt has been to somehow take Verma out of the scheme of things,” says Hashmi. “And why is the Union home ministry of the UPA government now trying to protect the IB official and thereby scuttle the probe?” 

Interestingly, even the Special Investigation Team (SIT), of which Verma was a member, in its report under the supervision of the court, had pointed out the importance of getting to the root of the intelligence input which led to the killings. 

The assertions of the IB, or a proxy war by vested lobbies, have not been able to convince the CBI. The agency reportedly has crucial evidence which establishes Kumar’s role in the fake encounter. Sources say that, in spite of being under pressure, the CBI is mulling naming Kumar in the chargesheet which it has to file by July 4, as per the orders of the High Court, which is monitoring the investigations. 

“This political pressure on the investigations must end. The government must decide if an officer of an intelligence agency is above the Constitution even after his name has come up for involvement in such a heinous crime,” says Awhad. 

As Mukul Sinha says in his Facebook post which is being widely shared: “The BJP and its prominent leaders, however, are trying hard to tarnish the CBI’s image in order to scare them off from arresting Kumar. Perhaps, they are worried that many top BJP leaders may be next in line in case Kumar is arrested. If the CBI fails to apprehend Kumar, it would be a failure of the rule of law. We have to wait and watch. Will our great democracy win or will a handful of killers write the future of this nation?” 

Indeed, the loop of criminal investigations might not spare some very powerful persons in the days to come, if conducted with impeccable honesty and faith in the Indian Constitution. No one has the right to kill Indian citizens in cold blood, especially those who control the levers of law and governance. In the fake encounters of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife, Kauserbi, and Tulsiram Prajapati, the name of Amit Shah and top cops once loyal to Modi have come up decisively. So has been the case of the murder in cold blood of young Sadiq Jamal, who too was killed in police custody. He was no terrorist on a mission to assassinate Modi. There was no evidence found against Sadiq, but he too was murdered in a fake encounter in Gujarat. (See interview with Mukul Sinha, page 29) 

Several other encounters in Gujarat will also be in the loop of investigations. Truly, if the process of justice moves in a spiral of truth, evidence and good faith, defying the sinister machinations of those who are trying to protect the murderers and the masterminds, the murder of the young girl and three others in broad daylight by the topmost police officials of Modi and Shah might spark a political cloudburst which can wash away in one go many obsessive, totalitarian ambitions. No wonder, the muscular messiah of Hindutva is sounding considerably jittery these days.

There are too many threads joining this bloodthirsty puzzle. Indeed, the question comes back: Everyone knows the ‘Red Beard’. So who are the sinister faces behind the ‘White Beard’ and the ‘Black Beard’?   

Inputs from Sadiq Naqvi/Delhi

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2013