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Thursday, September 17, 2009

CALL OUT THE NIA!

Ishrat Jahan died in an ‘encounter’, her life claimed by encounter specialist DG Vanzara, a DIG of the Gujarat Police now in jail for the killing in yet another ‘encounter’ of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausarbi. In the Sohrabuddin case, a superintendent of police of the intelligence bureau and an officer of the Rajasthan cadre were also involved. The Ishrat Jahan case recently hit the headlines because of the courageous report of Metropolitan Magistrate, SP Tamang. Of consequence is the supposed motive of the police officers involved, that of seeking promotions based on their performance against ‘terrorists’. This apparently understandable motive anchored in human greed serves only to paper over a grimmer reality.

Those killed were billed as members of the terror outfit Lashkar e Tayyaba out to assassinate the chief minister of Gujarat. This is a plausible construct in light of the strained communal relations in Gujarat post the carnage of 2002 and sustained propaganda on the suspect nationalist credentials of the minority. The terror connection serves to justify ‘encounters’ in the public mind, creating heroes of ‘specialists’. However, this serves to eclipse a divergent construct. Such encounters, and media hype surrounding them, have instead served to create and project an image of a minority with external linkages. When seen in the light of the various bombings of questionable origin across the country culminating in 2008, the political project appears to have been for creating and sustaining an image of a ‘fifth column’ in India’s midst. The hoped for fallout was likely as not to influence perceptions and craft an electoral majority nationally out of denominational majority. It’s a political project that has deeper roots not only in compromised state structures, which by now describes the state of the Gujarat police accurately, but also in formations that claim a cultural rather than political agenda.

While the RK Raghavan led Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team would likely throw up more light on this angle as it culminates by end this year, the National Investigation Agency, set up with considerable fanfare in wake of 26/11, should be put to work on this case. What requires probing is the manner the intelligence bureau advisory on terror has been taken by the Gujarat police as rationale for the killings of Ishrat Jahan and three others. Filed by an under secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 6 before the Gujarat High Court, the affidavit confirms that Ishrat Jahan, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Shaikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar as terrorists linked with Lashkar-e-Taiba. The affidavit was filed on a plea by Ishrat’s mother for a CBI probe. The Times of India reports that an IPS officer, Rajinder Kumar, of the Gujarat cadre, once the state IB chief between 2002 and 2005 and now an Intelligence Bureau joint director, was responsible for most of the intelligence inputs on Gujarat encounters. Thus emerges a questionable connection stretching from Maharashtra, from where the abductions for the fake encounters took place, through Gujarat where these were executed to New Delhi where the rationale was apparently manufactured. This is a fit case for the NIA to earn its credentials, set a precedent and lay out its own standards for itself.

The NIA was created in December last through the NIA Act. It was meant to enable the Center to act in cased of national import through the inclusion of a schedule of central acts covering offences against the state, terrorism, atomic energy, anti-hijacking, weapons of mass destruction etc. Since ‘terrorism’, of which the ‘encounters’ and bombings are part, acquired a nation wide footprint, it requires a central agency to probe. With revelations of Hindu terror groups, such as an army intelligence officer led Abhinav Bharat involved in terror, and linkages in right wing subverted police and intelligence apparatus in concerned states, there is a case for central intervention for investigation and outing of the truth. Some states having rightly raised objections based on constitutional issues as center-state relations and the lack of consultations prior to the NIA Act being rushed through has led to the Home Minister promising a revisit to the Act. However, objections could have suspect motives such as restricting scope for additional scrutiny of the center so as to constrict the possibility of unpalatable revelations. The increases the immediacy with which New Delhi must take the checks and balances introduced to their logical conclusion.

Another long pending measure is warranted to be progressed using this juncture as opportunity, that of police reforms. It appears from the pattern discerned here that sections of the police stand compromised through infiltration of majoritarian sympathisers. Their placement in key positions and unprofessional actions now constitute a threat to the secular character of the state. Core values being threatened thereby, they are an existential security threat. Underway is virtually an ongoing coup in slow motion from within, one that can be speeded up in case the political constellation at Delhi is right once again in future. Police reforms, mandated by the Supreme Court in response to the PIL of former DGP, Shri Prakash Singh, require progressing and monitoring by the MHA. A professionalisaton of the police could set back this agenda, to the extent it exists, besides being a project worth pursuing on its own merits.

India is a veritable conglomeration of minorities along differing axes as ethnicity, persuasion etc. The difficulty of creating a majority based on shared primordial affinities has not dissuaded its activists. Their project requires creation of an ‘Other’ to succeed. They have managed partially to control the discourse through ‘black propaganda’, by succeeding in attribution of all terrorist incidents as minority perpetrated. This has political utility for such forces in marginalising the minority even while elevating their political agenda as the only way a culturally-defined nation can safeguard and cope with the externally-inspired internally-abetted aggression. Therefore, the Ishrat Jahan case has wider ramifications. Clearly, attribution of comparatively innocent self-interest of the involved police officers in these killings would be to obfuscate the political connection and context of these crimes.

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