NEW DELHI: “Her name was Ishrat Jahan and she was a terrorist.” This is what former Home Secretary GK Pillai and two other bureaucrats revealed in the last couple of days, triggering a massive controversy in the infamous alleged fake encounter in Ahmedabad in which Mumbai girl Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed by Gujarat cops in June 2004.
Pillai’s disclosure was followed by a PIL in the Supreme Court, seeking quashing of criminal prosecution, suspension and other actions taken against Gujarat cops. The Home Ministry has promised to dig up old files on Ishrat which is likely to influence the CBI’s SIT arguments in the trial court, where top cops and intelligence officials have been charge-sheeted. Former Home Minister P Chidambaram, who watered down the ministry’s affidavit in the Ishrat case, is putting up a brave face.
However, his position has become untenable as the PIL has sought action against him for perjury and misleading the courts on alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba links of Ishrat by censoring the home ministry’s second affidavit. The accused cops are now hoping to cash in on the former bureaucrats’ revelations, blaming the previous UPA regime.
Hoping to cash in on the former bureaucrats’ revelations on the Ishrat Jahan case, the accused cops are blaming the previous UPA regime for targeting the security and intelligence establishment for an encounter they claimed was genuine and based on excellent inputs. This has put the former SIT member and senior IPS officer Satish Verma in the dock, who—according to another ex-home ministry officer—tortured him to implicate IB officers. On Saturday, two more officials from Ahmedabad FSL made a sensational disclosure that Verma, who was appointed by Ishrat’s family to be a member of the SIT, had threatened them during the probe.
“Why didn’t anyone question IB inputs and reports from Maharashtra and Gujarat state governments till 2009? Facts are facts. What suddenly changed was that the Central government was forced to file two affidavits contradicting reports of its own agency?” questioned Arun Kumar Jain, former Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry. Jain, who served in the Home Ministry between 2000-2005, told The Sunday Standard that all inputs that he had handled in the Ishrat case left nothing to imagination.
“IB and other inputs had mentioned their links with terrorist groups and no question was raised on the veracity of reports at that time. Since there were no new inputs in 2009, I believe the change of affidavit was not warranted,” Jain added.
The most damaging comments came from former Deputy Secretary RVS Mani, who told the media that the “CBI team probing the Ishrat Jahan case tortured him to implicate IB officers in the controversy.” Jain never received any input suggesting that Ishrat, Amjad Ali, Pillai alias Javed Sheikh and Zeeshan Johar were not terrorists.
After Mani’s disclosure, two more officers from Ahmedabad FSL narrated Verma’s high handedness, saying he had a hidden agenda. Satish Khandelwal of FSL said the lab was raided by Verma, who was looking for photographs of the crime scene. “We gave him all the photographs, but he was acting very rough with us suspecting that we were hiding something,” Khandelwal said. Another officer, K M Mehri, said Verma had threatened his senior of dire consequences. “We were telling the truth, but it appears he wanted something else,” Mehri said.
Earlier, Verma had told a TV channel that all the charges against him by Mani were baseless and he never tortured him. Verma, who is accused of an alleged fake encounter in Porbandar, had concluded that Isharat and three others were killed in a fake encounter and the IB was involved in the incident.
SIT, which probed the alleged fake encounter, maintained it was tasked to investigate whether the encounter was staged. This argument seems weak as a senior home ministry official noted that the change in affidavit was made before the SIT was constituted and it was part of larger conspiracy to “fix” Modi.
“The previous government changed the affidavit, discrediting IB, so that CBI could be allowed to take up the case. The second affidavit favoured a Central probe in the encounter. This is what UPA wanted,” the official said.
Much evidence, including phone intercepts of terrorists, was overlooked to ensure that the focus of investigation continued to be political. The official said that Sheikh and Ishrat assumed false identities whenever they checked into a hotel. “Why would anyone develop false identity unless there is something to hide or someone on a mission with ulterior motive,” he said.
Ishrat and Sheikh were in Lucknow in May 2004, a month before the encounter. The record in Mezbaan Internatinal Hotel shows that Sheikh introduced himself as Abdul Rehman and Ishrat as his wife Ayesha. Another LeT terrorist, Amjad Ali, was introduced as Rajkumar. Sheikh had also rented an accommodation in Pune in the name of Sayeed Abdul Wahid. They also stayed in Hotel Radhika as couple where he introduced himself as Ahmad Yusuf in the hotel register. On May 26, both had checked in Hotel Ajanta as Rajesh Kumar and Geeta.