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11 July 2013

'Narendra Modi government to be blamed for fake enounter'

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: Gujarat has always been the center of attention for various reasons. However, the new controversies that are emerging out of this state are unprecedented and carry political as well as judicial connotations. The recent arrests of police personnel in Gujarat for staging “fake encounters” comes as another grim reminder of the weakness of our political and other government entities. These incidents are not isolated and have been in the headlines for more than four years. Just recently a SIT member termed Isharat Jahan encounter as a fake one.

Many people blame the Narendra Modi government for these killings and strongly believe that Modi played a pivotal role in them. The Gujarat police have always been suspected of connivance with political entities that have religious and anti-Semitic features. These suspicions were further strengthened when the accused, a 19 year old student Ishrat Jahan, (and the other three suspects) who was killed in a fake encounter, was said to be kidnapped by the police according to the judicial probe by Judge SP Tamag.

Much hinges on the preliminary chargesheet filed by the CBI on the encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan and three others in June 2004, outside Ahmedabad. More than the incident itself, however, its political implications for the BJP and Congress have roiled public discussion. Partisan, even reckless, politics is thick in the air. Even as the CBI inquiry was on, the Congress suggested that the Gujarat government may stage such encounters to serve its chief minister's agenda.

The BJP has rushed to target the CBI, alleging that it has been manipulated by the ruling party against the Gujarat chief minister. The political acrimony is unsurprising, perhaps, given that the case involves Narendra Modi's state police, and with the countdown having begun for 2014. But it obscures long-term questions that are thrown up by the case, which deserve careful consideration in a more sober climate.

There is the question of whether or not Ishrat Jahan was a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist. The CBI's chargesheet is silent on this. But this question is not immediately relevant, since the court's mandate to the CBI was to investigate the circumstances of her killing, and because those accused of terror deserve due investigative and legal process as much as anyone else.

A question of long-term import raised by the CBI chargesheet concerns the mission and responsibility of intelligence agencies. This, after all, is the highly unusual situation of IB officers figuring in a CBI chargesheet. Though Rajendra Kumar is not accused in this document, there may yet be a supplementary chargesheet that goes further.

This could set an unsettling precedent for the national intelligence agency, which is accorded certain protections, to enable its highly sensitive work. If this understanding and practice is to change, then it must be done carefully and systematically, not in a manner that might invite suspicions of the pursuit of a short-term political agenda.

If it is deemed necessary, such a change must be envisioned and deliberated upon at the highest levels and the prime minister himself must oversee the transition.

Extra-judicial killings are an unacceptable phenomenon. They have occurred across states, and the police often get away with it, citing the heated situation, or the system's alleged incapacity to prosecute those believed to be criminals.

In staged encounters, the killing is deliberate, the proof of criminality planted later, and if Ishrat Jahan and others were indeed killed in a fake encounter, then all those responsible must be punished.

But both the cause of justice in this individual case, as well as the larger predicaments it frames, are ill-served by the fevered political atmosphere that surrounds it.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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