The CBI charge-sheet in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case and its aftermath has led the BJP and supporters of Narendra Modi (within and without the Intelligence Bureau) to discover the joys of time travel. Apparently, David Coleman Headley’s testimony in 2010 (which says that Ishrat Jahan was an LeT operative) has given the Gujarat police officials a means to tell us why they killed Ishrat Jahan in 2004. Or, following on from Shivam Vij’s recent tweets, we could say: “The IB says that Headley says that Ishrat Jahan was a non-non terrorist…”
We will discuss more about this heady Headley testimony and ‘non-non terrorism’ later, but for now, let us admit that the secret of how a statement in the future can influence the unfolding an event six years in the past is known only to those who are partisan to Mr. Modi and his party. It is not for nothing that they call him a Yug Purush (‘The Man of Time’)- all times, past, present and future, can do his bidding, or so thinks the BJP.
Narendra Modi, the Yug Purush himself, has not however, been saying much about Ishrat Jahan lately. He is letting others (some journalists, a few of his colleagues in the BJP, some retired intelligence bureau officers, and assorted NaMo-Maniacs like Madhu Mausi, Nirmala Bhabi, Kiran Didi, Meenakshi Tai, Rajnath Chacha and Arun Bhayya) do the talking, which is perhaps wise, because it is difficult at present for Narendrabhai to open his mouth about Ishrat Jahan (or Sohrabuddin, or Khalid Jamal, or Prajapati, or Haren Pandya for that matter) without implicating himself in the process. The past has a bad habit of catching up, not just with the present, but even with the future.
It was not always so. Narendra Modi has talked about Ishrat Jahan in the past. Here he is, for instance, on the 17th of July, 2006 addressing the Maharashtra state BJP on the war against terror at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai.
Watch him carefully. Listen to him. “…Ishrat Jahan naam ki ek aatankvaadi ladki, jiska HAMARE Gujarat Police ke saath encounter hua…(wipes his face)…aur use maar giraya.” (“this terrorist girl Ishrat Jahan, OUR Gujarat Police had an encounter with her, they shot her down…”). He goes on to berate the ‘five star’ activists who made a noise about Ishrat Jahan, saying how they were forced to keep mum once a Lashkar e Toiba website owned Ishrat Jahan as one of their own. Two full years after the Ishrat Jahan encounter, Narendra Modi has nothing less than pride in the fact that ‘HIS’ Gujarat police shot this nineteen year old woman.
If you hear the rest of his speech, which is available on Youtube, you will learn that Narendrabhai thinks that had the Maharashtra Police shot a few girls pre-emptively like the Gujarat police did then there would have been fewer bomb blasts in Mumbai, because after all, there were reports that burqa-clad girls were said to be planting bombs. All you need to do is to shoot a few burqa clad girls on their way home. Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer who wrote about ‘pre-cognitive and predictive policing’ in ‘Minority Report’ would be pleased to know that his peculiar brand of visionary dystopia has such ready takers in Gujarat and the BJP. Narendra Modi would have cut a fine figure in a Philip K. Dick novel.
If, as the CBI charge-sheet details, a Gujarat Police Deputy SP called D.H. Goswami did in fact say that he heard the encounter specialist Vanjara say that Narendra Modi and his minister of state for Home Amit Shah had given him the clearance to ‘encounter’ Ishrat Jahan before the 15th of June, 2004 (the date on which the young woman was shot) , we will have unravelled an interesting twist to this sordid tale.
If Modi knew of the plan to kill Ishrat Jahan in advance, and did not stop his police officers from actualizing this plan, then there is simply no conclusion to reach other than that of Modi’s culpability . If not an actual conspirator, Modi becomes at least an accessory to murder. The wannabe prime minister of this country will then have proved himself to be little more than a common assassin’s accomplice, or, at best, the man who hands out the reward for a supari, a contract killing. In common parlance such a man is called a thug, a criminal, a mafia don.
Naturally, today, in the wake of the CBI charge-sheet, Narendra Modi has reason to be quiet. The BJP, which has all but anointed Modi as it’s prime ministerial candidate in the forthcoming elections is trying to say mainly one of two things in order to cover for Modi and his eloquent silence.
One – Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist, and she was planning to kill Modi anyway, and so she had to be eliminated.
Two – The central government, knew everything about the plan to kill Ishrat Jahan and had okayed the operation because the senior most echelons of the IB regularly brief the Union Home Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office, and there is no way that they would not have done so in this case. Responsibility for the event of the encounter is shared between the Gujarat Government and the Central Government, between Chief Minister Modi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The problem with the first line of argument is that she was killed way before anything happened to Modi. In other words she was killed before she could do the killing for which she was killed. In still other words, Ishrat Jahan and four others (and we know now how exactly they were killed) were murdered in cold blood. There is no room left any longer for the argument that the Gujarat police had to shoot in self defense. We know now how arms were procured from the IB arsenal and placed on the dead bodies to ‘dress’ the scene of the crime. We even know that Ishrat was drugged and tranquilized before being shot.
In order to deal with the problems posed by this line of argument, the BJP and its friends have deployed the second argument – which says – “well she was killed in this way because she was a terrorist and we know this from the IB inputs, and the IB informs the Central Government, so the Central Government is as implicated in this as the Gujarat Government. In other words, the responsibility for the extra-judicial assasinaion of the ‘terrorist’ Ishrat Jahan is not Modi’s alone, but stretches, via the IB, right up to the prime minister and the union home minister.
Further, the BJP is trying to argue that the CBI is a tool of the Central Government and is being used to malign Modi and his government in Gujarat. Unfortunately, it is not the Central Government which ordered the CBI inquiry in this case, it is the Gujarat High Court, and no amount of trying to deflect attention towards the centre can take away from the fact that the most damaging testimonies and indictments of the Gujarat Government’s conduct in this case have come from its own officials.
It is not my case that the Central Government cannot be implicated in the Ishrat Jahan case. And yes, the IB is a ‘central’ agency. Politicians belonging to the UPA coalition and its lynchpin the Congress Party, its allies and other political parties, are implicated, routinely, in many fake encounter cases, in Delhi, UP, Punjab, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur . Like riots, as far as ‘encounters’ are concerned, the Congress is no better than the BJP, and we should have no hesitation in saying so.
We can cite any number of cases from Manipur, from Kashmir, from Delhi’s Batla House to Ansal Plaza – as instances of extra-judicial assassinations. The human rights activists and lawyers who are talking about Ishrat Jahan and Gujarat today have talked about all these other encounters in the past, so we do not quite understand exactly who the BJP is trying to fool in this matter. We do know that the Gujarat Chief Minister took an inordinate interest in encounter killings and was in the habit of bragging about his police force’s track record. Is it unnatural then for the heightened interest in encounters in Gujarat not to reflect on to the Chief Minister’s role in desiring their execution ?
Madhu ‘Mausi’ Kishwar, for instance, is crying hoarse over Omar Abdullah’s ‘encounter’ track record on TV (which is somewhat embarrassing to her new found friends in the BJP, because as far as they are concerned, the number of encounters in Kashmir has never been a problem) as a way of shoring up her pathetic and spineless defense of the murderous Modi dispensation. She neglects to mention that many of those who are willing to be counted in the Ishrat Jahan case have spoken about gross human rights violations in Kashmir, and have in fact pointed out the abusive nature of the Omar Abdullah regime, not once, but repeatedly. But Madhu Mausi does not like taking cognizance of facts that are inconvenient to her. She has other fish to fry.
Various BJP leaders, from Nirmala Sitharaman to Meenakshi Lekhi to Kirron Kher to Rajnath Singh have said – the IB reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, and so, the PMO is as implicated in this as anyone else. Fine. No problem.
We need to then also ask who from the IB did the reporting to the PMO. According to this narrative, the senior most officers of the IB would be the people who would interface with the highest levels of the executive. Who was amongst the highest echelons of the IB at that time? A gentleman named Ajit Doval was Special Director of the IB at the time of the Ishrat Jahan encounter and was also the chief of the Multi-Agency Centre within the IB – charged with integrating intelligence gathering at the highest levels. It is reasonable to say that he must have been among those briefing the PMO, or at least, he would have been aware of what the PMO was being told about the encounter. A little later in 2004 he became the chief of the IB itself.
Who is Mr. Doval, and where is he now?
Following his retirement from government service, Mr. Doval has become the director of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi based think-tank close to the BJP and the RSS. The foundation is staffed by many former officials from the ‘intelligence community’. And it regularly advises the BJP on matters of national importance. Mr. Doval himself has conducted workshops on ‘national security related issues’ for BJP legislators and party workers. So, the person who would have supervised and handled the ‘Ishrat Jahan’ case at the central level is now a person very close to the BJP. It would indeed be a good idea to ask him a few questions.
Not that he is not talking. He has been consistently saying that the IB was aware of the fact that Ishrat was an LeT operative. He has said so on a show called ‘Views Hour’ on NWR, an online radio channel that is part of the Niti Central network (Niti Central is a group blog close to the BJP, run by Kanchan Gupta). He has also appeared on an NDTV programme, ‘Trending This Week’ aggressively defending the IB’s role. During this program, when asked about the fact that those killed in the encounter (Sadiq Jamal, Ishrat) were shown not to be terrorists, he says the following gem –
“You never know about your ignorance. If I say that I do not know that a man is terrorist he does not become a non-terrorist. An ignorance of a thing does not prove anything. It is the knowledge that proves him. Ask those who say that he is a terrorist why they say that he is a terrorist. “
So, according to the former director of the Intelligence Bureau, which, in all fairness, should now be renamed the Idiocy Bureau, if the IB does not know that any one of us is a terrorist, it can still not rule out that we are not non-terrorists. A non-non-terrorist is a terrorist. No other evidence is necessary. Hence any of us could be a terrorist, and so fair game for trigger happy cops and spooks. This is why Ishrat Jahan had to end up the way she did.
There is something distinctly peculiar in a section of BJP’s dragging in of the central IB in the discussion whilst simultaneously trying to shield Rajendra Kumar, the agency’s principal protagonist in Gujarat.
What after all can be so worrisome in any move to investigate Rajendra Kumar ? Especially if the BJP sees no problem in saying that – “if the IB is involved, so must the centre be”. Is it simply that the degree of proximity that Rajendra Kumar enjoyed with Modi is embarrassing and can cause a lot more trouble, especially if Kumar decides to talk in order to defend himself and his chances in a possible murder trial by saying that he did what he did at Modi’s behest and in Modi’s interests ?
WIll this spill the beans on the public secret of the degree to which hard line Hindutva is already in bed with the deep state – the shady depths of the civil and military intelligence community. We already know from the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon and the Mecca Masjid cases that there is enough material pointing towards a deep symbiosis between rightwing politics and segments within the labyrinthine world of Military Intelligence as represented by Lieutenant Colonel Purohit and his liaison with the ‘Abhinav Bharat’ module. Will the Ishrat Jahan case establish the degree to which sections within the IB, right up to its highest ranks, are, or have been, or appear to be complicit with the BJP’s agenda ?
Is this why Ajit Doval has to be so enthusiastic in propagating his theory of ‘non-non terrorism’ on television?
Finally, we come to the matter of the so-called Headley Report a document prepared by the Indian NIA (National Investigation Agency) following its interrogation of David Coleman Headily, a suspect turned witness in the Mumbai – 26/11 case, currently in US custody.
Much has been made about the apparent references to Ishrat Jahan as an LeT operative in this document, just as much was made of a recording of a tapped telephone conversation between Headley’s handlers and the Lashkar ‘terrorists’ that was presented under the slug of ‘Ishrat Jahan’s LeT Links’ on the Headlines Today TV Channel and some newspapers like the Times of india and the Hindustan Times.
Like the NIA report, the taped conversation actually has NO mention of Ishrat Jahan and it is mystifying as to how those who thought it fit to make these ‘leaks’ about Ishrat Jahan’s involvement in the LeT did so without verifying the fact that her name does not figure in either trace. It is not in the phone tap recording. And contrary to what Rahul Kanwal might have said on Headlines Today, or Bharti Jain might have reported in the Times of India, neither paragraphs 158 and 159 (in Kanwal’s account) nor paragraphs 168 and 169 (in Bharti Jain’s account) have any mention of Ishrat Jahan. Kanwal and Jain quote a non-existent document to the effect that (in these paragraphs of the report) a man called Zaki introduced Headley to a man called Muzammil Butt who then told him (Headley) that Ishrat Jahan was part of the LeT module. The ‘Chinese Whisper’ slip between 158 and 159 on the one hand and 168 and 169 on the other in two reports suggests a set of hurried phone conversation with a not very careful IB handler desperate to get a story planted in the media rather than a verifiable account from a reliable source.
The NIA report is organized chronologically. Paragraphs 158, 159, 168 and 169 refer to events that take place in 2009 and 2010, not in the vicinity of 2003, 2004 and 2005. Headley talks about visiting Delhi-Jaipur-Pushkar-Goa and Pune in March 2009 and England, Sweden and Denmark in paragraphs 168 and 169. There is a reference to the possibility of staking out a refinery in Gujarat for a future operation, but no suggestion of anything to do with Ishrat and the events of 2004. There is no internal narrative logic that can enable us to suppose that the original paragraphs have been dropped or substituted by other material. For that to be the case, the substitution would have to appear much earlier, in consonance with the chronology that places the events of 2004-2005 before 2009-2010.
Moreover, contrary to Kanwal’s and Jain’s account, Zaki does not introduce Muzammil to Headly in 158-159/168-169, simply because Headly already describes, much earlier in the report, in paragraphs 17, 18 etc how he got to know Muzammil in 2002. It makes absolutely no sense for the same person to be introduced twice to someone. (I would like to thank Mukul Sinha for pointing this out to me). Clearly, something is fishy about this business of chronologies.
Actually, there seems to be mounting evidence to suggest that the reference to the NIA report was a badly timed untruth, a piece of amateur psy-ops conducted by the Idiocy Bureau in a desparate effort to regain some control on a narrative that was rapidly spinning out of its orbit.
The Ishrat Jahan case is teaching the value of nuanced reporting to many journalists. Even Praveen Swami, well known for his ‘sources’ within the deep state cautions us about taking the Ishrat Jahan case without a necessary degree of skepticism in First Post.
He argues for the accountability of intelligence agencies through a mechanism of oversight. What he does not tell us today, is about how he had referred to the case in 2004 and 2005. In an article published in the Frontline magazine shortly after the murder of Ishrat Jahan, he gestured towards the fact that the IB had successfully penetrated the LeT and that it was using a compromised former LeT operative, a Gujarat based lawyer, as a double agent – to brainwash and recruit young Jehadis and make them undertake missions at it’s (the IB’s )behest.
According to Swami, Javed Sheikh aka Pillai (who some others claim was an IB informer) and the two other men killed in this operation were all contacts of this lawyer. Ishrat happened to be in the way, in the wrong place at the right time, and so had to be eliminated.
According to this theory, offered up by Swami, The IB’s modus operandi in this case is as follows – it traps an LeT operative, forces him to act as a sort of double agent, recruits people through him for a terrorist operation, gives them a target, and then kills them before they can do the job. Then it takes the credit for the whole operation. Modi gets strengthened (as a tough guy who takes action against terror) and the IB earns kudos. Its just that in the process a nineteen year old woman ends up dead. And then it all starts to unravel, all over again. If Narendra Modi does succeed in winging his way into power, all nineteen year old women would be well advised to learn how not to be a non-non terrorist.
For further resources on this case – read the excellent series of notes on evidence in the Ishrat Jahan case being put out by Mukul Sinha on his Facebook page.