The visit of Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh to Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh on February 3, during which he raised doubts over the 2008 Batla House encounter in New Delhi, has created a ruckus both in the party and the Opposition. While the Opposition labelled his visit as an attempt by the Congress to woo the Muslims, his embarrassed party has left it to the 62-year-old Singh to answer all queries with regard to the case. Singled out and stymied, Digvijay Singh tells Shobhita Naithani that even though he believes it was “impossible” for one of the boys to get bullet wounds on top of his head, it would be unfair to impose his personal view on that of his Congress party.
You have questioned the authenticity of the 2008 Batla House encounter. Why has your attention to the case come more than a year later?
I had raised this issue and met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh immediately after the incident. On that basis, the PM had asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to conduct an inquiry. At the same time, a PIL was filed in the High Court and the Supreme Court but was rejected. Therefore, there is no justification of an inquiry now. I stand by what I had said earlier.
What did you say?
One of the boys got all five bullets on the top of the head; and in an encounter a bullet wound of this kind is not possible. I made a statement on that basis. But it is a closed chapter now.
Why is that?
Because it has been rejected by the Supreme Court too.
So what is the option?
Wait for a speedy trial.
Before the latest arrest (of Shahzad), 17 boys were picked up from Azamgarh. Why did you choose to go now?
After the NHRC gave its report, the aggrieved parties met me and said they weren’t given a hearing by the commission, which I thought was unfair. So I told them that I would come and see for myself.
Aren’t your reservations about the incident in contradiction with your party and government? The police officers, involved in the encounter were awarded the gallantry medal and given a clean chit by the NHRC.
I have great regard for MC Sharma [Delhi Police officer killed in the encounter]. But the fact is that it is difficult to explain the injury to the boy on top of the head.
While you have proposed a fast-track court for the cases, would it be wrong to say you are still uncertain about the veracity of the event?
I may have my doubts. But it’s better not to impose my personal view on the collective view of the government.
Does your personal view hold any importance in the government?
I have said whatever I had to say. But the Government of India, the Supreme Court, the High Court and the NHRC hold a different view, and I have to accept that.
Why is there a contradiction between the UP Police’s version and that of the Central government? The intelligence says Shahzad was trained as a pilot, but the UP Police have denied this to TEHELKA.
You should ask them. This boy has been in Azamgarh for the last one and half years. Why was he picked up (by the police) two days before my visit?
So why do you think they picked up Shahzad two days before your visit?
Some people say — I don’t know how far that is correct — the Ulema Council and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leadership have jointly worked this out. So that there would be protests against Shahzad’s arrest and I wouldn’t be allowed into Azamgarh.
So are you saying that they got Shahzad arrested?
Yes. The BSP government did.
Another contradiction is in the manner of MC Sharma’s death; the police had initially said that Atif had killed Sharma. Now they are saying it’s Shahzad who killed the Inspector.
(Laughs) What can I say? I am not the spokesperson for the police.
But you are part of the government; you have also gone to Azamgarh.
I am not interested in finding faults with the police. What I am more interested in is that innocents in this village and the country should not feel that they are denied justice. This alienation of the Muslim youth will not be in the best interest of the nation.
With contradictions like these, how will they get their confidence?
That’s for the judiciary to take note of.
Why do you think the NHRC ignored something as significant as bullet wounds on the top of the head?
I will not comment on that.
What was your motive behind going to Azamgarh?
To find out why Azamgarh, a centre for art, literature, poetry, learning is being labelled an epicentre of terrorism by the media. I have come back more than satisfied that the people of Azamgarh believe in communal harmony. They want this tag to be removed as soon as possible.
Who do you think is at fault then — the police or the media? The media termed Azamgarh a “nursery of terror” only after the police arrested so many people from the place.
Well, something beyond that also. On my visit to Azamgarh, I had not asked for any fresh inquiry. It wasn’t reported in the regional press. But the Delhi press reported that I am asking for an inquiry. Also, when Atif was killed, there was a regional media report which said he has Rs 3 crore in his account but in reality he had only Rs 1,400. These are misrepresentations by the media. Whenever there is a blast, we hear that Muslim boys are involved. The bomb blasts at Malegaon and other acts of terror conducted by the Hindu fanatics say something else. So let us not relate terrorism with just one community.
A centre for art and learning, Amzagarh is being labelled by the media as a terror epicentre
Is the Congress doing enough for the Muslims?
Congress is doing its best not just for the Muslim minority, but all minorities. The Sachar Committee findings are shocking and we must address them so that a sense of despondency and anger among the Muslim youth is not there.
We all say that. But what needs to be done?
We have to look positively at all the issues raised by the minorities, give them opportunity, a fair deal and encourage them so that a sense of belonging and confidence is established.
Did you undertake this visit to forestall any move from the Samajwadi Party to stir up minority anger against the Congress?
No. No. No. That’s not true at all.
Or is this an effort by the Congress to woo the minority again?
If that’s what you think, then explain why the Ulema Council opposed my visit? The Congress party does not believe in this so-called minoritarianism.
Does the Congress party support your personal view that the boys could have been shot from above?
There were a number of people who did so, earlier. But, like I told you, it is a closed chapter now. And what will an enquiry lead to? The Liberhan report took 17 years to reach a conclusion that was known to one and all.
Are you saying that we should not expect a fair outcome from any report or a commission?
No. It’s not that. But more important is an early trial.
How do you react to the statements of your colleagues Janardhan Dwivedi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi who say it is for you to explain the meaning and scope of your words.
Their statement was correct. They weren’t aware of my visit. Only the UP Congress knew about it.