The rocky road to justice in Ishrat Jahan case

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

Last month, as the CBI decided to go ahead with its official summons against IB Special Director Rajinder Kumar, there was unusual activity in political circles. Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, lashed out at the CBI and the ruling coalition for questioning a senior member of the intelligence agency. The insinuation was that it was an effort to reach the neck of Kumar’s confidant and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

On 4 June, Jaitley wrote in a blog post: “The cost of Modi-phobia will now be paid by the IB. Its senior officials will be grilled. They will be asked details of their intelligence collection methodologies. They could be questioned on the legalities of the means deployed by them to collect intelligence… Motives could be attributed to them for having collected material against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and passed it to the Gujarat Police.”

Ever since Kumar’s name cropped up in the CBI investigation, it seems a war-like situation has developed between the IB and the CBI with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as a witness and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) a mute spectator. Former IB director AK Doval spoke out against the CBI for daring to question an IB official who was only doing his job selflessly.

Simultaneously, there have been front-page media reports alleging that Ishrat Jahan was an LeT operative, allegedly based on information from the IB. TEHELKA has been at the forefront of the exposés on fake encounters since 2007 and had first published the concocted IB inputs in 2010-11. Now, it is being accused of publishing mischievous CBI leaks. But it was TEHELKA that had handed over information about the concocted inputs to the CBI in 2011. That fact is being conveniently forgotten today.

There is more to this CBI-IB-MHA conundrum. TEHELKA has accessed the NIA report given to the CBI. The report refers to David Headley’s interrogation but nowhere mentions Ishrat or Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai.

Speaking to TEHELKA on condition of anonymity, NIA officials conceded that Ishrat’s name had never cropped up in Headley’s interrogation report and this was shared with the CBI last year.

CBI officials have also written to the MHA asking for the tape recordings of alleged conversations between LeT operatives and their handlers where they speak about Ishrat and her associates. These are the recordings that have come out in the media.

“We are surprised that the media has the tapes and not the CBI. If the IB believes these conversations strengthen the case against the four who were killed, then why have the tapes not been given to the CBI despite our asking for it?” asks a senior CBI official.

The CBI did its first round of unofficial questioning in the Ishrat case in 2012 when Nehchal Sandhu was heading the IB. The CBI had come across glaring loopholes in the Gujarat Police investigation vis-à-vis the information passed on to the state. At that time, the CBI had also started investigating the Sadiq Jamal fake encounter in which TEHELKA had revealed the contradictory IB inputs. CBI officials allege that the IB has been stonewalling all its efforts to question Kumar from day one. “They have made it a prestige issue,” says a CBI official. “Can’t an officer err? We are not against the entire machinery.” The CBI believes it has strong evidence against Kumar in both the cases.

The MHA, which has tried to mediate between the two organisations, is in a quandary over its own position in this case. On 6 August 2009, the MHA filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court accepting the Gujarat government’s finding that Ishrat was a terrorist. MHA sources say this was done at the behest of Kumar, who was then on the sensitive Pakistan desk of the IB  in Delhi. The then home minister P Chidambaram was away on a foreign visit. On 30 September that year, the MHA did a volte face and filed another affidavit suggesting it didn’t have sufficient proof against Ishrat. This second affidavit formed the genesis of the state-appointed SIT that went on to conclude that the encounter was fake.

With the CBI filing its supplementary chargesheets in the Ishrat and Sadiq encounter cases later this month, around the time Kumar is due to retire, expect the allegations to aggravate. Where do accountability and justice figure in this? There are no answers yet.

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