Indian Express report doesn't absolve Chidambaram in Ishrat Jahan case

P Chidambaram is an erudite man of vast intellect. He is well aware of semantic nuances and causal relations. Which is why the former Union home minister's statement that he is "completely vindicated on his position on the two Ishrat Jahan affidavits," because a newspaper article had suggested that an inquiry officer investigating missing files in the case ostensibly tried to doctor a probe report, is as fantastic a claim as saying that if a dice is rolled in Room 1, it will somehow impact the flipping of a coin in Room 2.

 Indian Express report doesnt absolve Chidambaram in Ishrat Jahan case

Former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. AFP

By clever use of words, the senior Congress leader is trying to conflate two completely different issues. One, whether or not Chidambaram rewrote an affidavit during his tenure as home minister to make LeT operative Ishrat appear as innocent; two, whether or not a home ministry official tried to 'tutor' a witness while conducting a probe into missing papers related to the 'fake encounter' case.

Not only does the newspaper article — based on which Chidambaram issued a self-absolution certificate on Thursday — talk about something else other than what Chidambaram has been held accountable for, the report isn't exactly a model of ethical journalism and its veracity has since been called into question.

But before we delve into that, here's a simple question for the senior Congress leader to answer. How does Ishrat probe panel chief's alleged tutoring a witness vindicate you, Mr Chidambaram, on revision of Ishrat affidavits to drop her terror links?

Indian Express on Thursday made an allegation that BK Prasad, the home ministry official who headed the probe into the “missing documents” in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, had revealed the questions he would be asking to a witness (joint secretary Ashok Kumar) and had also suggested the answers he should give: that Kumar had not seen any of the missing documents.

The inquiry officer at the centre of the storm, BK Prasad, additional secretary in the Union home ministry, has since trashed the charge that he had "coached" a witness. Prasad, the one-man panel probing the missing papers on Ishrat's case affidavits, has released to Times of India the witness's (Ashok Kumar) statement made to him on 26 April, 2016.

Kumar, the former director (internal security-II) in MHA, has recorded in the statement that the notesheet of the Ishrat file, as perused by him, reveals that he had not dealt with the file during his entire tenure in the home ministry from 3/1/2011 to 23/1/2011.

In addition, the questions and replies discussed in the telephone call, which Prasad said were recorded by the Indian Express reporter without his permission, did not figure in his examination of Kumar, claimed the official.

Amid the claims and counter-claims, the panel submitted its 52-page report on Wednesday which finds that missing papers on the Ishrat Jahan case were “removed knowingly or unknowingly, or misplaced” between 18 and 28 September, 2009, when Chidambaram was the Union home minister.

The panel has recovered a copy one of the five missing documents from a computer hard drive. It is a letter written by former home secretary GK Pillai to the attorney general on 18 September, 2009.

According to Times of India, Pillai had called then joint secretary (internal security) D Diptivilasa to his office and dictated a revised affidavit, which dropped references to Ishrat's LeT link. It was only after the second affidavit was drafted that it came to Pillai for approval. The home secretary subsequently wrote to the AG to vet the affidavit, "as approved by the home minister".

In his statement on Thursday, Chidambaram had claimed that "moral of the story is that even a doctored report [of an Inquiry Officer] cannot hide the truth. The real issue is whether Ishrat and three others were killed in a genuine encounter or a fake encounter."

This is once again an attempt by the former home minister to shift the goalpost. He is in no position to make a value judgement on whether Ishrat getting killed in a "fake encounter" is a "real issue", and the fact that an attempt was made to make a terrorist (sent by Lashkar-e-Taiba to eliminate Narendra Modi) look innocent is a "fake issue".

In fact, TimesNow, through an RTI-based report, revealed in April this year that a 51-page home ministry file on the case records that Chidambaram had signed the original affidavit describing the Mumbra teenager as part of a Lashkar module.

The papers, telecast by the channel, proved that Chidambaram approved the original affidavit as well as the one amended within two months in 2009 that stated there was no conclusive evidence against Ishrat.

It prompted Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to accuse Chidambaram of trying to "underplay a terror plot that could have eliminated Modi".

In his defence, Chidambaram had said a second affidavit was filed after thorough consultation with the then home secretary and the attorney general.

But this has been disputed by the home secretary in question. GK Pillai told NDTV in March that Chidambaram as home minister "bypassed him" and rewrote an affidavit submitted to a court on Ishrat.

"Chidambaram called a lower functionary in the Intelligence Bureau and totally rewrote the affidavit. The draft was dictated by him so no one else could say anything. He shouldn't say that the Intelligence Bureau and the Home Secretary were on Board," NDTV quoted him, as saying.

And the home ministry official, RVS Mani, who drafted both the affidavits, has subsequently alleged that he was "tortured" and pressured by the CBI to name the intelligence officers responsible for inputs on Ishrat's alleged terror links.

It is preposterous therefore for Chidambaram to claim, as he has, that a newspaper report has "vindicated his stand." If anything, his haste in absolving himself of all controversy points only to the deep discomfort he still suffers from. No amount of semantic jugglery can mask that.

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Updated Date: Jun 17, 2016 14:54:24 IST