The Congress has long waged its legal and political battle against Narendra Modi through the medium of Ishrat Jahan's ghost.
The recent revelations made by former home secretary GK Pillai, former undersecretary in the home ministry RVS Mani, and former joint director Rajendra Kumar on the deposition by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Headley suggest that the Congress' strategy has now boomeranged on the party and in the days to come, her ghost will haunt them, particularly P Chidambaram — the most eloquent leader of the then UPA government — and Sonia Gandhi's political adviser Ahmed Patel.
The revelations made by senior home ministry officials on the Ishrat Jahan case are shocking, to say the least, unless one is predetermined to suggest that they are all lying or are working with some ulterior motives.
It gives a peep into the political machinations and the extent to which they were executed by the Congress-led UPA government. National security was of secondary concern. It seems what mattered most was realpolitik gains — target Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, who was posing a challenge to the Sonia Gandhi-Rahul Gandhi regime. It took priority over everything else.
This couldn't be done except by first portraying that Ishrat was an innocent aspiring Mumbra girl, who was killed in cold blood by the Gujarat Police on 15 June, 2004 along with Javed Ghulam Sheikh (born Pranesh Pillai), Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar (last two Pakistani nationals). It didn't matter if the LeT website and its mouthpiece owned them as its martyrs.
The issue of two affidavits filed by the UPA government in less than two months — first on 6 August, 2009 and then on 30 September, 2009 — thus becomes important. While the first affidavit said Ishrat and her associates were terrorists, the second affidavit contradicted it by saying there was no conclusive evidence to prove that these persons killed in the alleged encounter were terrorists.
In this context, the statements made by Pillai, Kumar and Mani, and depositions made by Headley assume significance — implying that the CBI investigation was not done on merit, and was guided by the political considerations of the UPA government. This is something that has only been discussed privately among some intelligence and security officials so far. The BJP, of course, was publicly alleging a witch-hunt against Modi by the UPA government.
Take a look at what former National Security Adviser MK Narayanan who was adviser on internal security to the prime minister when the alleged fake encounter took place, wrote in The Hindu after Headley's deposition in front of a designated Mumbai court. He admits that it was known to them that Ishrat was an LeT operative and a key figure in a carefully planned operation:
"Headley’s deposition also provided some verisimilitude to rumours circulating at the time that the LeT was planning another attack post-26/11. Again, in reply to a leading question from the prosecutor, Headley also identified Ishrat Jahan as a terrorist belonging to the LeT (since her death in a police encounter in Gujarat in 2004, there had been many attempts to portray her as an innocent victim). Intelligence agencies, however, were aware that she was an LeT operative, and a key figure in a carefully planned LeT operation. The operational trail went from Pakistan to Dubai, Kochi, Kashmir and finally Ahmedabad. Headley provided neither names nor any details regarding this operation. His sole reason for identifying Ishrat as an LeT operative, it would seem, was to give a propaganda advantage to the LeT."
In his interview to Times Now, Pillai repeatedly called it "a very successful intelligence operation" and a "planned operation". This essentially means the Centre, those at the helm in the PMO and the home ministry knew of the this operation. His take on the CBI investigation and chargesheet was also though provoking: "Where I found fault with the office of the CBI is that during that period there were plenty of off-the-record briefings, almost daily. Officers in the CBI should have exercised extreme discretion. There were leaks definitely. They should have kept quiet. If I was the home secretary, I would have definitely have called the CBI director and said, 'Look, this is totally not acceptable'. CBI has to carry out investigations professionally. Not daily off-the-record briefings."
Pillai is considered to be a very competent officer — one of the finest home secretaries, who has not been afraid of letting his opinion on a subject be known. His statements thus need due attention. While talking to The Times of India, he said "Chidambaram, who was then the home minister, had asked for the file from the joint secretary, saying that the affidavit needed to be reworked. Only after the affidavit was revised, as directed by the minister, did the file come to me." This is something that has been corroborated Mani, who signed both affidavits.
Correspondents covering the home ministry knew of Pillai's position even when the second affidavit was filed in September 2009.
In an interview to Times Now, Mani said he was chased and hounded by the CBI, other government agencies and officials. "Satish Verma (head of the unit of SIT), What he has done to me is very unprecedented and he was actually, basically the SIT. If you see the progress of the SIT, apart from Verma, there was no other joint commissioner or IG-level officer who continued in it for more than six months, because this fellow would fight with them and drive them out. Verma was head of the unit of SIT and he was helped by two or three cronies, who were all engineering evidence. That's what I can say... On 21 June, 2013, yes, Verma burnt me with his cigarettes".
He then gave a detailed account of how a certain woman officer in the CBI chased him into a temple and how other CBI officers would land at his office in the urban development ministry, where he was posted later and several cases against him were opened up. Mani says in contrast to the first affidavit — when the due procedure of having it drafted and vetted at various levels in the home and law ministry was followed, the officials had no clue about drafting the second affidavit and why the mention of the word 'terrorist' was dropped.
In an internal note date 24 June, 2013, Mani had recounted how he was being coerced to sign on dotted lines.
Chidambaram and the Congress will have a lot to answer for in the days to come. The BJP has already demanded the reopening of the case and setting up of a judicial commission. No wonder the Congress party president has promptly backed Chidambaram. After all, what the BJP is now proposing is not to target the former home and finance minister.
The ruling party wants to see that the buck for political machinations stops at 10 Janpath's doorstep.