CBI, BJP, Congress: Unravelling the truth in the Ishrat Jahan case

Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh is in pursuit of truth in the Ishrat Jahan case. While the CBI is investigating her death, Singh wants to know the truth about her life.

Given his track record in the Batla House encounter case, there can’t be a second guess as to what kind of clarity he would be looking for.

One thing is for sure: Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde would be under pressure to give a satisfactory answer to his influential party colleague’s public query as well as keeping the morale and functioning of one of the most important arm of his ministry - the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the newly created NIA - high.

Ishrat Jahan. IBNLive

Ishrat Jahan. IBNLive

Digvijaya’s visit to Shinde's North Block Office has underlined the political significance of the case for his party, the Congress, in fighting it out against Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial aspirations.

Interestingly, on the day when Singh met Union Home Minister Shinde, CBI director Ranjit Sinha chose to came out with his version of the truth, also blasting those (the BJP and security experts) who raised questions about Ishrat antecedents and referred to David Headley’s interrogation report suggesting that Ishrat was Lashkar-e-Taiba’s suicide bomber, a Fidayin.

In a rather candid interview to the Indian Express, the CBI chief gave a clear indication of what the supplementary chargesheet could hold and how he is neither concerned about the antecedents of the four (including Ishrat) killed nor about the warnings that his investigation and consequent conclusion could jeopardize the country's internal security situation.

"We have been rapped on the knuckles earlier by the high court and asked to unravel the truth on the nature of killings of the four persons killed, including Ishrat Jahan. People are using background such as the Headley inputs to divert attention from the fake encounter probe. And in any case, under the Indian Penal Code, even a terrorist is not supposed to be gunned down in a fake encounter…We have no political agenda and we should not be blamed for demolishing the security of the country. A bogey is being created that thanks to the Ishrat Jahan case the entire IB will stop functioning and national security will be in jeopardy…This is unfortunate since both the agencies, the CBI and the IB, are part of the same security setup. But if conspirators have left footprints and have failed to cover their tracks we will uncover as much evidence on the conspiracy as possible", he told the Indian Express.

The interview is set to further escalate tensions between the CBI and the IB.

Interestingly, a former IB officer, who held a key position in June 2004, told Firstpost, on condition of anonymity, that the then IB station head in Gujarat Rajinder Kumar had no personal agenda while following the case. He debunked the CBI’s claim that he generated inputs on Ishrat Jahan and others with a view to eliminate them, saying whatever inputs were then generated were institutional inputs of the IB and should not be treated as personal or motivated inputs of an individual.

"The IB is a thoroughly professional institution. The laid out systems are so institutionalised there that individuals and their biases of whatever kind are irrelevant because this over a century old organisation has an in-built system of multiple layers of cross verification. So whatever input was generated then was an institutional input and can’t be treated as an individual’s personal input. This is not the only case where the IB has given its inputs but there are hundreds and thousands of such inputs given to the police and security agency in all parts of the country. If IB generated fake input in Ishrat case, then for what purpose and in that case other IB inputs in various other cases should have been proven wrong. The CBI is talking in a language as if its word is final word as per the law of the land. It will impact security situation. It is unfortunate that what should have been a subject of national security has become a fertile ground for political slugfest. Let trial start and you will see how their arguments are punctured by other side," the former IB officer said.

It is in this context the dropping of two paragraphs, 168 and 169 that mentioned Ishrat Jahan in context to Headley’s interrogation report by the NIA, has become a bone of contention between the various law enforcing agencies of the government and among the two principal political parties, the Congress and the BJP.

The FBI statement, as mentioned by IB, refers to Headley's revelation that Muzammil, with the help of Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai, had recruited Ishrat as a potential bomber. But the NIA did not place this part of Headley's interrogation on the ground that it amounted to hearsay. The agency did not investigate on this aspect and chose to forget about it. The IB officers, however, question NIA conduct and intentions. If the rest of Headley's revelations were found valid for investigation, why was Ishrat’s part discounted, they ask.

The MHA's affidavit, filed in the Gujarat High Court in 2007, cites Ishrat's links with LeT. Though the MHA revised the affidavit in 2009, it only delinked itself from the follow-up action on the IB inputs, but stopped short of disowning the inputs on terror links of the slain module. The MHA affidavit had pointed out how Ishrat was hailed as a martyr on the LeT website and in its publication Ghazva Times soon after the encounter.

The BJP is already raising questions on deletion of those paragraphs. "Why were these paragraphs deleted? The Congress cannot decide who is terrorist and who is not... it's for the courts to decide," said BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said. She and her party colleagues are all set to point fingers at former home minister P Chidambaram for deleting those paragraphs.

While the BJP is trying to shift the onus on the then political and security dispensation at the centre, the ruling Congress is happy to see their principal political rival's energy drained in defending their leader, Narendra Modi. And the CBI is keeping the pot boiling.