Magesterial vaudeville about Ishrat encounter

R K Ohri
13 September 2009

Recently we have been treated to a grand vaudeville show by the mainstream media about the alleged fake encounter in which a 19 year old Muslim girl, Ishrat Jahan, was killed five years ago, on June 15, 2004, along with three others - Javed Ghulam Sheikh, a Malayali Hindu convert to Islam, and two Pakistanis believed to be LeT operatives.

According to inputs received by Gujarat Police from the Union Home Ministry (i.e., Intelligence Bureau) the quartet had been commanded by the Pak-based Lashkar-e Tayyeba, a globally notorious terror outfit, to assassinate some prominent Hindu leaders, e.g., Lal Krishna Advani or Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The mainstream media, especially our voluble 24x7 television channels, sensed a grand opportunity to berate and condemn the Gujarat government after a Metropolitan Magistrate, S.P. Tamang, released to the press on September 7, 2009, his hand-written 240 page report indicting 21 police officers for staging a false encounter to earn quick promotions. The alleged guilty included a retired Director General of Police and a former Ahmedabad Police Commissioner.

Curiously, while eulogising the report of Magistrate Tamang, the media refused to examine, unwittingly or deliberately, certain glaring infirmities, both legal and factual, in the magisterial report (wrongly described as a ‘judicial enquiry’ by many analysts). Some very obvious questions, however, demand an answer.

  1. Before declaring as many as 21 police officers, including a former Director General of Police and a former Ahmedabad Commissioner of Police guilty of staging a fake encounter, why didn’t the learned Magistrate summon them to explain their conduct? As a Metropolitan Magistrate S P Tamang would be aware that before declaring anyone ‘guilty,’ it is incumbent on a law officer to give the person concerned an opportunity of being heard in person. What he has done is not only bad in law, but also a flagrant violation of the principle of natural justice.

  2. It would be interesting to know how often in his career as a Magistrate Mr. S.P. Tamang declared a person ‘guilty’ without giving him an opportunity to defend himself.

  3. The motives of the Magistrate should be regarded as suspect if he has never done so previously in his career, yet chose to indict as many as 21 police officers without hearing them, as in this particular case.

  4. Why did the learned Magistrate not take into account the contents of a key document, namely the affidavit filed by the Union Home Ministry on August 6, 2009, before Gujarat High Court, which categorically stated that Ishrat Jahan, her friend Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Kumar Pillai, and two Pakistanis accompanying them, were terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e Tayyeba? Was this an accidental omission (surely a glaring one in that case) or a deliberate attempt to conceal the truth?

  5. Though the affidavit clearly stated that the Home Ministry had credible information that the LeT was planning to assassinate top Indian and state-level leaders, and it had asked its India-based cadre to monitor their movements, why did Magistrate Tamang and the Indian media opt to ignore this vital input provided by the Central Government? The Centre’s affidavit further stated that Javed Sheikh was in regular touch with LeT operators, especially Muzamil, aka Tariq, for executing terrorist attacks in Gujarat. He also held two passports in different names and had travelled abroad to meet some LeT operators. It is amazing that the inquiring Magistrate as well as the Indian media chose to ignore this assertion of the Central Government made on oath.

  6. Why did the Magistrate go out of his way to assert in his report that the two alleged Pakistani terrorists, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, were actually Indian nationals? The Centre’s affidavit is explicit that Zeeshan Johar had infiltrated into Jammu & Kashmir from Pak-Occupied Kashmir and then obtained a J&K I-Card, purported to have been issued by the Tehsildar of Mahore (Udhampur district) in the name of Abdul Ghani, showing him as a resident of village Shikari, Tehsil Mahore.

  7. Why did the learned Magistrate ignore the widely advertised fact that Lashkar’s Lahore-based official mouthpiece, Ghazwa Times, had announced on July 15, 2004, that LeT’s valiant woman activist, Ishrat Jahan, was martyred in the holy cause and that her body had been desecrated by Gujarat Police by removing her veil while laying her on the ground along with other martyrs? This was the most important corroboration that the persons killed by the Gujarat Police were indeed terrorists on a dangerous mission in the State.

  8. From media reports, it appears that Magistrate Tamang decided to go ahead with his enquiry even after learning that the Gujarat High Court had already constituted a panel of three senior police officers to inquire into the encounter in which Ishrat Jahan, Javed Shaikh and two Pakistani LeT operatives were killed. What could be the motives behind this strange decision of the learned Magistrate to bypass the High Court?

But most inexplicable and tragic has been the casual manner in which Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has, on foreign soil, sought to embarrass a leader of his own country and a state government in order to score obscure points. Worse, he has mocked at the intelligence input from his own Ministry, which does not bode well for the morale of officers working under testing conditions. We live in sad times.

The author is a former Inspector General of Police