Will Mr. Amit Shah become an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter murder case? We might get an indication after March 26, 2014. This writer expressed surprise when late last December the CBI supplementary charge sheet in the Ishrat Jahan case failed to name the former Gujarat Minister of State Home Affairs, and presently in charge of the BJP poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh, as an accused or even as a witness deserving to be questioned by the court. Mr. Shah was also an accused in the Sohrabbudin fake encounter murder case and is presently on bail.
BJP leaders of course accuse the Central government and the CBI of a vendetta against their party by alleging that Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed in a fake encounter. In fact the reverse seems to be the truth.
It was pointed out in these columns earlier that the CBI inexplicably appeared to soft pedal the serious Ishrat Jahan case while it trumpeted allegations in the trivial Snoopgate case in which security personnel was deployed for surveillance of a citizen for private reasons. The CBI had no choice but to accept that the Ishrat Jahan killing was in a fake encounter. In 2009 a Gujarat Magistrate’s inquiry first ruled that it was a fake encounter. Subsequently a Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the Gujarat government confirmed that it was a fake encounter. Only after that the CBI had to accept that it was a fake encounter.
However, despite the overwhelming evidence the CBI in its charge sheet did not even refer to Mr. Amit Shah. As for the BJP argument that Ishrat was after all a terrorist, based upon testimony of an FBI interrogation of David Coleman Headley passed on to Indian authorities by America, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) in possession of the testimony has rubbished the allegation. Headley, quoting a Lashkar operative, merely identified the group killed by quoting Ishrat’s name. Nowhere did he even by hearsay specify that Ishrat was a terrorist.
Well, once again it is the Gujarat justice system that might rectify the CBI lapse. The special judge of the CBI court in Gujarat, Ms Geeta Gopi, responding to a PIL filed by Mr. Gopinath Pillai, the father of one of the victims in the alleged fake encounter, has issued notice to Mr. Amit Shah to explain why he should not be named as an accused in the Ishrat Jahan murder case. Mr. Pillai’s son, Pranesh, had converted to Islam and assumed the name of Javed Shaikh and was the employer of Ishrat Jahan. Of the four people killed in that episode apart from Javed Shaikh and Ishrat Jahan the other two were Pakistani operatives based in Kashmir.
According to one version Pranesh Pillai had been recruited by IB to penetrate the Pakistani network. He got converted to Islam and assumed the name of Javed Shaikh, and had employed Ishrat in order to create a cover. All four had been detained by the Gujarat police. Javed and Ishrat were released and the other two were later killed by the police. Subsequently, calculating that Javed and Ishrat had witnessed the arrest of the two allegedly killed in an encounter, the police might have decided to eliminate them as inconvenient future witnesses. Indeed, according to one version there was debate within the police before the decision to eliminate Ishrat was taken. The court is scheduled to hear the case on March 26, a fortnight before the country starts voting for the general election. Mr. Gopinath Pillai reportedly has submitted to the court statements of policemen, copies of call records, and the bail application and letter to the government of the main accused by the CBI, arrested senior IPS officer DG Vanzara.
On December 26, 2013 it was pointed out in these columns:
“Records in possession of the police revealed that Mr. Shah had made 331 telephone calls to Vanzara and other police officers during the relevant period of the fake encounters under investigation. Despite this unusually close interaction with the jailed officers Mr. Shah claimed total ignorance about police activity related to the encounters. He did admit he had made the phone calls but described all 331 of them as routine. It is surprising that a minister lauded for his efficiency be so incompetent as to be in total ignorance about his officers planning and executing these encounters. The Ishrat Jahan case came under a further cloud after it transpired that a meeting of senior Gujarat officials in 2011 discussed strategy to obstruct investigation in that particular fake encounter case. The officials attending that meeting included the defence lawyer of the accused as well as the acting Attorney General of the Gujarat government. In addition Chief Minister Mr. Modi’s Personal Secretary, Mr. Girish Murmu, was also present in that meeting. The conversation in that meeting was taped on two pen drives delivered to the CBI by one of the accused police officers present, Mr. GL Singhal. Despite all this circumstantial evidence the CBI has given a clean chit to Mr. Shah and entirely omitted his name from the supplementary charge sheet. CBI officials told media that there was “no legally tenable evidence” on the basis of which Mr. Shah could be named. Clearly the CBI considers the circumstantial evidence inadequate even for further cross examination of Mr. Amit Shah by the court.”
Adding to this evidence was the letter released to the media by convicted officer DG Vanzara to the Gujarat government. He alleged that all the policemen were wrongfully jailed because they had merely carried out the orders of their superiors. He demanded that the CBI should “arrest the policy formulators also as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters”. Vanzara in his letter specifically identified Mr. Amit Shah for being most responsible for the Ishrat Jahan encounter. It is in this background and in the light of the documentary evidence presented to the court by Javed Shaikh’s father that Mr. Amit Shah will be required to convince the judge that he should not be named as an accused. If he fails to do so the matter could further escalate.
Mr. Shah was the MOS Home while his boss was Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi who had also assumed charge of the Home ministry. If Mr. Shah was aware of the events leading up to the fake encounter, it will have to be seen whether his immediate superior in the ministry, Mr. Modi, had been briefed.
The findings of the special CBI court in Gujarat on March 26 and subsequently, obviously could prove to be of crucial importance to the poll prospects of Mr. Narendra Modi.