Guest post by FARAZ AHMAD: Even after the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) presented of its charge-sheet in CBI special court in Ahmedabad on July 3 in the infamous Ishrat Jahan encounter case of Gujarat of 2004 charging the Gujarat police, together with the IB of faking the encounter with Ishrat and three others, the media campaign, more particularly of the Times of India to damage CBI’s credibility continued unabated, with Bharti Jain’s lament on behalf of the IB.
However it is obvious that Bharti Jain’s is neither the first nor the last spirited defence of the questionable activities of our security and intelligence officers committing all kinds of crimes under the cover of protecting the nation from supposed external and internal threat. Unmindful of this, the media campaign is so visibly influenced by the BJP, attempting to discredit the CBI investigations and label these as biased before these are examined by the rightful authority, the courts, guided by competent lawyers of both the prosecution as well as Defence.
First the Headlines Today came up with the fantastic tapes about Ishrat Jahan just to buttress the charge that she was actually a terrorist and therefore by implication that killing her in an encounter was justified. The purported tape was then run on several other Hindi channels and a couple of newspapers, both English but more widely the language media, whose newspapers ran front page stories of how Ishrat Jahan was actually a terrorist, implying thereby that the CBI trying to expose the nexus between the IB officer, the Gujarat Police and chief minister Narendra Modi and his then MoS Home Amit Shah was not just being unfair and unjustified, prejudiced by the Congress attempt to somehow implicate Hindu Hriday Samrat and BJP’s poster boy Narendrabhai, but in effect being positively unpatriotic and anti-national. The campaign started with the Headlines Today, whose ownership pattern raises questions about its reasons to carry items which tend to show the current UPA government in poor light.
Then there was the Times of India Legal Editor Dhananjay Mahapatra’s piece on its page 10 dated, July 1, 2013 titled ‘Stop fantasies creeping into Ishrat Jahan investigations’, clearly imputing that the CBI-SIT investigators into the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case were fictionalising that Narendrabhai code named (white beard) and Amitbhai (grey beard) by Gujarat Police in one of the recorded conversations, were in the know of Ishrat Jahan encounter before hand. There are very few journalists for whom Former Law Minister and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, a legal luminary himself, has a good word. Dhananjay Mahapatra is among those select few. Among those regularly attending Jaitley’s darbar, most of the prominent members of that exclusive club are said to belong to the Times of India. Therefore when Dhananjay Mahapatra is making such a forceful, nee blatant and unabashed defence of Narendrabhai, speculations are bound to arise about the intentions of the journalist concerned, of wanting to endear himself to BJP’s undeclared PM candidate.
But in the process Dhananjay has taken it for granted that most present day readers must have forgotten or at best may have a very hazy memory of what transpired in the grand Jain Hawala case of the 1990s in which not one accused was eventually indicted even though a whole range of politicians including several ministers of Narasimha Rao regime had to resign because their names also appeared in the Jain diaries, which led with L K Advani and not for an amount of Rs 25 lakh as Mahapatra has most graciously mentioned but Rs 65 lakhs. And through covering the courts for several years now Mahapatra must be aware that the concerned judge who discharged (and not acquitted) Advani for lack of evidence was well looked after his retirement throughout the six years of NDA regime with a bungalow at Feroze Shah Road and the attending paraphernalia and if I am not wrong he is still earning a “consultancy” allowance from a BJP enterprise, which had a Jaitley stamp on it because during the NDA rule Jaitley’s nominee was its government administrator.
So if the judge let off Advani, it was no great feat of Ram Jethmalani as Mahapatra would have us believe. It was a quid pro quo. Moreover, the credit for ensuring the debunking of the Jain diary as evidence goes more to the CBI than the great expert of criminal jurisprudence, Ram Jethmalani who always presented his arguments before awestruck junior judicial officers of lower courts with immense flourish. This reporter had often witnessed this while covering the proceedings in the Antulay case of the 1980s which Jethmalani was arguing but lost totally by the time the matter reached the Supreme Court of India. The credit actually goes to the CBI and in particular one investigating officer on deputation from Delhi Police, for saving Advani’s skin. While investigating the Hawala case he noted on the file that the Jain diary the basis of the hawala case was not conclusive evidence and needs corroboration. Even a layman like me can tell you that once the prosecuting and probing agency itself raises doubts about the evidence collected, it leaves little work for any defence lawyer and not much discretion with the judicial presiding officer. That is why the apex court had pulled up the CBI. The legal eagles may also do well to recall that in most Hawala cases the prosecution finds only chits of paper, the back of a cigarette wrapper or some other such flimsy material to arraign an accused.
The CBI then argued that the corroboration can only be done by a Bombay-based Hawala dealer Amirbhai who was absconding and living then in Dubai. The CBI pleaded that it made all efforts to extradite Amirbhai but failed and since there was no corroboration the evidence was insufficient to indict Advani. Once the apex court accepted that the diary did not constitute sufficient evidence against Advani it had to accept it was also insufficient evidence against V C Shukla, Madhavrao Scindia, P Shiv Shankar, Sharad Yadav, Balram Jakhar, Madan Lal Khurana, Chaudhary Devi Lal and many others. The basis on which Advani was discharged became the basis for similar discharge for others as well. So there is no need to poke fun at Kaali Dadhi and Safed Dadhi, as if Mahapatra is not aware of the kind of codes adopted by the Police fraternity.
Faraz Ahmad is a freelance journalist who had earlier worked with Indian Express, The Pioneer, Asian Age and other newspapers