In the incestuous power circles of Delhi, the chargesheet of the Ishrat Jahan case has become just another way of playing out meaningless theatre in TV studios.
The BJP, worried that the chain of evidence may lead up to Narendra Modi, has raised questions about Ishrat’s antecedents, as if that excuses her murder. The Intelligence Bureau (IB), worried about the possibility of a murder charge against one of its senior officials, has sought to make this seem a threat to national security.
Even the ruling party stands divided. Many in the Congress are keen that CBI chief Ranjit Sinha, an Ahmed Patel appointee, succeeds in singeing Modi, but the PMO, where former head of IB Nehchal Sandhu is a prominent voice as deputy national security advisor, has been fiercely lobbying to keep the IB out of the case.
Many journalists have pitched in too. Some have been happy to plug IB leaks as exclusive stories, while others have been making arguments that on calm reflection would seem absurd in their own eyes.
In all this, little attention is being paid to the specifics of the case. The fact is that the CBI investigation has been ordered by the court, and the chargesheet speaks for itself. As does the interaction between the officer under scrutiny, Rajinder Kumar, ‘former joint director of the subsidiary Intelligence Bureau’ (SIB), and Narendra Modi, which clearly went beyond a working relationship.
THE IB’S ROLE, ACCORDING TO THE CHARGESHEET
…The Investigation revealed that in the last week of April 2004, Jishan Johar (deceased) on his arrival at Ahmedabad was taken into illegal custody by a joint team of accused Gujarat Police officers and SIB officers of Ahmedabad consisting of GL Singhal, Rajinder Kumar. Thereafter Jishan Johar was confined at house no. 164/165 in Gota Housing, near Vaishno Devi Crossing, off SG Highway, Ahmedabad and was put under audio-tap by Rajeev Wankhede, MK Sinha & T Mittal the SIB officers and the surveillance was maintained by CJ Goswami PSI, PG Waghela PSI, Hanubha Narsinh Dodiya HC and Zahir Ahmed PC.
Investigation revealed that on 26.05.2004, a team of DCB, Ahmedabad City, comprising of accused NK Amin, Tarun Barot and IK Chauhan with the assistance of Shri MK Sinha and Rajeev Wankhede, ACIOs of SIB, Ahmedabad abducted the deceased Amjadali from Gota Crossing on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Investigation revealed that the above team of accused officers after abducting the deceased Amjadali, confined him in illegal custody at Arham Farm House from 26.05.2004 to 15.06.2004 early morning…
Investigation revealed that on 12.06.2004, accused N.K.Amin and Tarun Barot with the assistance of M.K.Sinha and Rajeev Wankhede, ACIOs of SIB, Ahmedabad, abducted Javed and Ishrat Jahan from Vasad Toll booth, District Anand, Gujarat, when they were travelling in the blue Indica car bearing registration no. MH 02 JA 4786. The above accused police officers and SIB officers took Javed and Ishrat Jahan to Khodiyar Farm, off SG Highway, Ahmedabad, and kept them in Illegal custody…
Shri DG Vanzara, Shri PP Pandey, Shri Rajinder Kumar and Dr NK Amin had met Javed and Ishrat Jahan during their illegal custody on different days and times. On 13.06.2004, Jishan Johar was shifted from Gota Housing confinement to Khodiyar Farm house by Shri Tarun Barot.
That on 13.06.2004 evening, Shri DG Vanzara, Shri PP Pandey and Shri Rajinder Kumar had discussed in the Bungalow No. 15, Duffnala, Shahibaug office chamber of Shri DG Vanzara about the further plan about elimination of the four detainees i.e. Jishan Johar, Amjadali, Javed and Ishrat and lodging a FIR showing their death in an encounter.
That on 14.06.2004, Shri GL Singhal had gone to the office of the SIB as per instructions of Shri DG Vanzara, and had collected weapons in a bag from SIB Office Ahmedabad. He had sent this bag through Shri Nizamuddin Burhanmiyan to Shri Tarun A Barot, who was at Khodiyar Farm…
The investigation revealed that, following accused officers had fired on the four deceased from their service weapons as detailed hereunder:
» NK Amin fired 5 rounds from his 9mm pistol;
» JG Parmar fired 4 rounds from his revolver;
» Tarun Barot fired 6 rounds from his revolver and 3 rounds from the revolver of IK Chauhan;
» Mohan Kalaswa fired 32 rounds from his AK-47 and 10 rounds from the AK47 of Commando Mohan Nanji; and
» Anaju Jiman Chaudhary fired 10 rounds from his Stengun.
The investigation revealed that the above firing had taken place in two successive stages. It is revealed that in the first round of firing, Sh. Tarun Barot and Mohan Kalaswa exhausted their ammunition and stopped firing. Thereafter for the second round of firing, they forcibly took away the weapons of IK Chauhan and Mohan Nanji respectively and Sh. Barot fired 3 rounds from the weapon of IK Chauhan while Mohan Kalasawa fired another 10 rounds from the weapon of Mohan Nanji Menat. Further Commando Mohan Kalasawa was made to fire several rounds from AK 56 rifle (planted on the Amjadali Rana), on the official Gypsy vehicle of Dr NK Amin. This AK 56 rifle was brought to the scene by Shri Tarun Barot. After firing from this weapon, it was placed near the dead body of Amjadali…
That the investigation conducted so far disclosed that the above said fake encounter was a result of Joint operation of Gujarat Police and SIB, Amedabad. In this operation the overt acts committed by the accused Gujarat Police officers have been established by the evidence on record. However, further investigation is in progress against the SIB officers namely Rajinder Kumar, MK Sinha, Rajeev Wankhede & T Mittal and others.
Therefore in view of the above facts and circumstances, the Investigating Agency CBI seeks permission of the Hon’ble Court to continue investigation against the SIB officers named above and others.
The chargesheet details the extent of the role of the IB officers in the murders. IB officials, including at least in one case the then IB head in Gujarat, Rajinder Kumar, were part of the team that illegally abducted those killed. They took part in the interrogation of the victims who were confined in safe-houses for extended periods of time. Most damningly, the chargesheet also suggests that the weapons planted on the victims after they were killed were supplied by the IB. There is only one possible interpretation of these facts and the chargesheet spells it out: ‘…the above said fake encounter was the result of joint operation of Gujarat Police and SIB, Ahmedabad.’
THE IB’S DEFENCE
Four serving IB functionaries of the ranks of joint director and deputy director spoke to Open.
They argued that the Ishrat Jahan case was a successful IB operation. The encounter was fake no doubt, according to them, but the information that Ishrat and the other three were part of a larger terror network was true. They went on to say that this was a successful intelligence operation, as the IB was able to infiltrate their sleeper cell and plant informers.
One of the alleged terrorists, Pranesh Pillai, alias Javed Sheikh, was actually in touch with the IB and more specifically with Rajinder Kumar. He was later abducted and gunned down. Javed Sheikh could well have been an informer, as there were some IB plants in the sleeper cell that Ishrat was allegedly part of. An IB joint director who has supervised many anti-terror projects said that three of the alleged terrorists could have been double agents.
He argued that almost all ‘encounters’ carried out by the local police are based on IB inputs. He made a special mention of the Special Cell of Delhi Police, and added that at a functional level it is almost an executive wing of the IB and not of the Delhi Police. Citing the example of the Batla House encounter, he said that the Special Cell was asked to check out the antecedents of certain people in a certain house based on an IB tipoff. “That will make Arundhati Roy happy. But there is no malafide [intent]. This is how we function.”
The danger of the current investigation, he went on to argue, was that if encounters carried out by the local police were to be investigated in similar fashion, it would be easy to implicate IB functionaries because the organisation still depends heavily on human intelligence.
According to him, there are hundreds of operations underway at any point of time where an informer has been planted in a sleeper network. This involves being in the company of drug and arms dealers, fake currency smugglers, explosive experts and contract killers. Some operations involve working with the mafia and dealing in and supplying arms. There are safe houses in which certain terrorists are kept, briefed and debriefed, then pushed back into the terror network to extricate information.
There are, he says, some 5,000 telephone numbers being monitored in Delhi alone right now. On many occasions, special IB simcards are made available to terror networks and sleeper cells to monitor their activities. There have been a few cases where attacks were carried out by terrorists using IB simcards. “If these cases were to be investigated, the CBI would say the IB carried out terror attacks. We have a job at hand,” says the IB official.
It is hard to make the case that intelligence agencies should do no dirty work or that they should not enjoy a degree of legal protection. But the terrifying fact is that the IB, and in general all Indian intelligence agencies including RAW, are not part of any legal framework, and there is absolutely no Parliamentary oversight of their work.
In their defence, IB officers have argued that their job is to provide information; they cannot be held accountable for what the police do with it. They counter the CBI chargesheet by arguing that the issue of the weapons planted on the victims in the Ishrat Jahan case cannot be sustained by the evidence, because it is only based on the confessions of some state police officers without any corroboration. But the officers do grudgingly concede that the IB plays an active role in many such ‘encounters’.
Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, in a recent piece has made much the same claim in more explicit terms: ‘The larger argument, therefore, is if they did so in Gujarat, it is not the first time the IB and state police forces have collaborated to kill. So while it is one thing to investigate this case as a crime, be careful of what you will unravel if you do not ensure a “controlled fallout”. Fighting terrorism in any democracy is tough enough. But if you also unleash Congress versus BJP, and agency versus agency factors in it, you are asking for trouble. We can’t have a weak government set free one agency as a caged parrot and kick the other into a hangdog. This needs to be handled very, very carefully.’
In the arguments leading up to this conclusion, political observers and police officers cite instances from the years of terror in Punjab and the upheavals in the Northeast.
But then if India’s intelligence agencies cannot tell the difference between the Punjab of the early 90s and the Gujarat of 2004, it must frighten us all.
Arguments by analogy are always problematic. Past successes and past needs, right or wrong, in situations vastly different from the Gujarat of 2004, are being summoned to defend the deeds of the IB officials in Gujarat. And these are being used to stymie the probe of this particular case where no one can offer a reasonable defence for what was done.
According to The Economic Times, ‘Former Intelligence Bureau Chief and Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan has voiced strong reservations in a letter to the Prime Minister over naming of Intelligence Bureau officers in fake encounter cases, saying it would seriously impinge on the fight against terrorism. Sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is understood to have responded to Narasimhan’s letter with the assurance that the concerns raised by him would be addressed.’
Now Governor Narasimhan is a government appointee, one of the many ex-IB chiefs who have had such rewards tossed their way. His letter does not befit the constitutional authority invested in him and it is baffling that he would make such a statement about a case that is being monitored by the Judiciary. It may even be tantamount to interference. But what Narasimhan and others like him seem to be suggesting is that IB officers should be immune under any circumstances.
As Digivijaya Singh, coincidentally the Congress in- charge for Andhra Pradesh, has said in an accompanying interview, “I’m very surprised that a rogue officer of the IB is being protected so vehemently by the agency itself.”
However much anyone may argue against framing this issue in political terms, the fact remains that it cannot be separated from politics and the thread that binds Rajinder Kumar, the senior IB officer implicated in the death of Ishrat Jahan and others, to Narendra Modi. This is not to argue yet for Modi’s involvement in the case. So far the evidence does not suggest it, but it is not hard to make the case that for an IB officer reporting to the Central Government, Rajinder Kumar was overly keen to please Modi and act in ways that favoured the Modi administration.
An IB officer we spoke to, who has worked with Rajinder Kumar, said that the SIB chief keeps in touch with the Chief Minister, Chief Justice, Governor and top civil and police officials on a regular basis. He is treated almost like an unofficial representative of the Central Government in the state, and one who provides critical inputs. He said, “Many SIB chiefs have got warm sendoffs and the political leadership of the state has attended such functions. In fact it is important that the SIB chief has a good rapport with the Chief Minister so that he can seek ready support of the state administration and police,” said this IB officer. He went on to say, “So what does that mean... Kumar and Modi were friends? Does that mean Kumar was Modi’s agent?”
But that precisely is the question. In 2005 I, Hartosh, had travelled to Gujarat to report on the investigations of the 2002 riots. I had spoken to RB Sreekumar, who had been made head of state intelligence soon after the Godhra killings. The copy, based on a diary kept by Sreekumar during this tenure, I filed then with Mahesh Langa for Tehelka, still available in its archives. It states, ‘At a meeting on April 16, 2002, Modi told Sreekumar that Congress leaders, in particular Shankersinh Vaghela, were responsible for the continuing communal violence in the state. The meeting (apart from Modi and Sreekumar) was attended by then DGP K Chakravarti and the CM’s PS PK Mishra and Modi’s OSD. Sreekumar told Modi that he had no information regarding the involvement of the Congress leaders in communal violence. At this, Modi asked him to tap Vaghela’s phone but Sreekumar refused saying he had no information on the basis of which he could order surveillance. Interestingly, two days later, controversial IB Joint Director Rajinder Kumar, posted in Ahmedabad, sold the same line to Sreekumar. When Sreekumar sought specific information, the IB man said he had none. The IB had been one of the few claiming the Godhra incident was a ‘pre-planned conspiracy’. It is still not clear how the IB was able to reach this conclusion within hours of the incident and questions have been raised about Kumar’s proximity to Modi.’
The diary noting by Sreekumar states:
Shri Rajendrakumar, JD, SIB, Ahmedabad told me that some Congress leaders are behind the recent communal incidents in Ahmedabad city and we should try to uncover this diabolical link up.
Then, I asked Shri Rajendrakumar about any special intelligence in this connection. To this question, he replied that he has no pin pointed intelligence in the matter.
It appears that JD, SIB, perhaps in pursuance of the CM’s suggestion to involve Congress persons as persons responsible for the continuing riots wants to build up a case against Congress leaders by soliciting intelligence reports.
It is true that Sreekumar has been at odds with the Modi government. But in 2005, neither Sreekumar nor I could have known that Rajinder Kumar would one day be facing the kind of scrutiny he is facing today.
-- with additional reporting from Mihir Srivastava