Friday, March 1, 2024

Yet another conflict between the CBI and the IB


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By Anirudh Prakash

The Ishrat Jahan encounter case — originally investigated by an SIT appointed by the Gujarat high court and now by the CBI — is becoming contentious by the day. Of vital importance from the national security point of view is the frosty relationship that it has generated between the IB and the CBI. Moreover, Gujarat chief minister, in a sense, has been also implicated in the case.

Media reports speak of the CBI’s suspicion that then joint director of the IB based in Ahmedabad, Rajendra Kumar, had played a questionable part in the unsavoury episode. Kumar, now a special director with the organisation, is alleged to have shown more than routine interest in the case after having initially passed on the intelligence collected on the subject to the Gujarat police. Reports refer to the CBI’s belief that his participation in the sequence of events leading to the encounter deaths had a measure of criminality. The officer has been questioned twice by the CBI, and one more round is likely. This development is learnt to have led to acrimony between the CBI and IB.

Our minds go back to the early 1990s when the IB and Kerala police claimed to have busted an espionage gang that had breached the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Thumba (Kerala). Several were arrested on the basis of an IB tip-off. Those arrested by the Kerala police included a respected scientist, Nambi Narayanan, who, to this day, has not recovered from the trauma of incarceration on the basis of what he believed was a trumped up charge, a stand subsequently vindicated by the CBI.

Allegations of misconduct on the part of the Kerala police and the IB led to a CBI investigation which proved that the original story of the IB had no basis. This triggered a major controversy and a soured CBI-IB relationship. A few IB officers who came to notice for a dubious role in this episode were chargesheeted by the Union government. The Ishrat Jahan case now on hand is fast assuming shades of what happened in the ISRO case. The IB is enraged by the charge against one of its senior most officers who reports only to the director. Its stand is that Rajendra Kumar is a very good officer, who only did his duty and nothing more. And to penalise him for this would send the wrong signal to the entire IB. But the CBI is said to be sticking to its stand that Rajendra Kumar had indulged in criminal misconduct.

There will be no precipitate action on the basis of flimsy evidence against Rajendra Kumar. Any caprice on CBI’s part will demoralise IB officers, especially those who handle operations against terrorists sent to our territory by hostile nations. Kumar has a good track record for competence and integrity in all operational matters. It is not known whether Kumar was compromised or had a personal agenda. The case against him will turn only on this. There are several aspects of the case which are relevant. First, the background of Ishrat and the task assigned to her. Second, the genuineness of the encounter in which she was killed. Third, the fairness of CBI investigation into the matter. And fourth, the role of IB in the case. Briefly, the facts of the case are that in an engagement with the police on June 15, 2004, four terrorists were killed in Ahmedabad City. They were: Zeeshan Johar r/o Gujaranwala, Pakistan; Amjad Ali Rana r/o Sargoda, Pakistan; Javed Ghulam Sheikh alias Pranesh Kumar Pillai; and Ishrat Jahan d/o Shamima Kausar. Two of the above, Johar and Ali, were Pakistan nationals. According to the affidavit filed by the home ministry before the Gujarat High Court, these two had been sent by Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to carry out terrorist actions in Gujarat. Pillai converted to Islam while working in Dubai and was subverted by the LeT. Ishrat was made to accompany Pillai to provide him cover, and they moved as husband and wife to different places across the country. The home ministry’s affidavit clearly mentions that “Javed and Ishrat were activists of the terrorist organization, LeT”.

It is significant that soon after the encounter, Ghazwa Times, mouthpiece of the LeT, acknowledged that Ishrat was “a woman activist of LeT”. The US government too, in a recent communication to the government of India, mentioned on the basis of David Headley’s testimony that Ishrat was “a female suicide bomber”. The communication also indicated that this group was tasked with attacking Somnath Temple, Akshardham Mandir and Siddhi Vinayak Temple. It is indeed surprising that even with all this evidence, we have people in the country who are trying to project that Ishrat was an innocent girl.

The Gujarat High Court is already monitoring CBI investigation into the genuineness of the encounter. It has, in fact, criticised the CBI for “derailing investigation” and going on a wrong track. The investigation agency has much to explain its handling of the Ishrat case. Why was the investigation outsourced to an officer of the Gujarat Police — and that also, one nominated by Ishrat’s mother? Fortunately, the investigation has since been taken over from that officer, but meanwhile much damage has been done.

In all this controversy, there is a larger question which needs to be debated. Human rights are unexceptionable, but should these be extended to those who have undisguised contempt for democracy and every kind of freedom that goes with it, and want to turn the world upside down because of their faith in a fanatical ideology? In any case, should these not be circumscribed by the societal rights — the right of a society to exist peacefully? And, should not the rights of societies/communities be limited by the right of a nation to exist as such — without any group attempting to destabilise it by perpetrating acts of mass violence. Ishrat was a member of the LeT-an organisation that seeks to wage jihad without end “until Islam dominates the whole world and until Allah’s law is enforced everywhere in world”. Its leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is on record as having said that the only way to deal with the Hindus is “the one adopted by our forefathers, who crushed them by force”. Can a state which is so concerned about the life of member of such an organisation fight the menace of terrorism? The genuineness of the encounter must be probed, but can we ignore the background of the persons killed and the assignment they had been given by the LeT? Finally, can we take care of a similar skirmish in the future through any law? Not at all. No legislation or administrative instructions will foster peace between central agencies. INAV


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