The legal and moral loopholes in the Bhopal encounter case are glaring enough without the BJP ministers at the Centre and state adding to the problem. Since the time eight SIMI fugitives were gunned down by MP Police's anti-terror unit on Monday, political parties have jumped onto the fray with gusto, their super sensitive olfactory receptors pointing towards a great opportunity at polarising the electorate ahead of crucial upcoming Assembly polls.
Two or more can play this game and none of our political parties are even remotely scrupulous. But by virtue of being in power at the Centre and in the state where the encounter killings took place, the BJP should have shown some faith in jurisprudence and a little more maturity in handling the tough questions that would inevitably be raised in the event of such a questionable turn of events. But through their callous rhetoric and blatant attempt at cashing in on the controversy, the BJP comes out the worse.
Even senior party leaders and functionaries appear to have lost sight of the point that culpability of the SIMI fugitives (who were anyway under-trials and not convicts) does not provide administration the licence to cross the boundary that demarcates the lawful from the outlawed. If the state metes out vigilante justice, why have the courts at all? If the Indian state could give 26/11 culprit Ajmal Kasab a fair trial with full legal recourse, why would it be any different for the SIMI operatives, assuming that the encounter wasn't a fair one?
As opposition parties turned on the heat and demanded a judicial probe into the Bhopal encounter, the BJP put forward arguments that hinted at either an inability to understand the basic values, legal foundations and commitment to rule of law that gives a state its moral legitimacy or a wilful subversion of institutional propriety to propagate a macho variety of nationalism.
"All the eight terrorists killed were involved in heinous acts, including bomb blasts, murder and dacoity. Then why should any political party criticise such an incident instead of hailing the success of the security personnel?"
"The Left parties, the Congress and the AAP are always looking to attack the morale of the armed forces, the morale of police forces," BJP spokesperson GVL Narsimha Rao was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
This is unbelievable. Is chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan running a vigilante administration in Madhya Pradesh? Is his home minister Bhupendra Singh, who is in charge of internal security and must be answerable if there were any procedural lapses in the killings, unaware that the state cannot act as a bully?
"Our police tracked the absconding SIMI men in a short time and neutralised them bravely. Nothing more needs to be said on it. The encounter is unquestionable and it will not be probed by NIA. They will investigate only the jail break and how it happened," Singh told Hindustan Times.
CM Chouhan later ordered a CID probe into the encounter but not before he suggested that those gunned down were "dreaded terrorists who could have wreaked devastation if they had been fully successful in escaping."
"Certain politicians are making a hue and cry for these terrorists but not lending a word of solace for the martyred jawans. I condemn such leaders and the dirty politics they are doing. But for the government and the public the nation and the state is foremost and I appeal everyone to stop playing dirty politics. Patriotism is important."
The CM must understand that patriotic fervour cannot rescue or strengthen a nation if its institutions are weak. If the police circumvents legal provisions and dishes out instant justice and if ruling party release statements supporting the act, then the biggest blow is dealt to the institutions. And when that happens, a slippery slope opens.
If the state has been callous in its moral judgement, the Centre is no better.
Union minister Kiren Rijiju on Tuesday slammed those raising questions on the loopholes of the encounter story.
"It is not good to raise questions on security forces dealing with terrorists, just on the basis of videos," he toldPTI. "We are facing challenges in border with ceasefire violation. Our forces are responding," he said.
The minister must be reminded that "facing challenges in border" do not justify subversion of legal procedures. Such an exception sets dangerous precedent. Every detail that has been made public so far on the Bhopal jailbreak and encounter deaths do not add up to make a coherent story. As long as that is the case, watchdogs in democracy shall continue to ask tough questions of the administrations, whether the ruling party likes it, or not.