From the Intelligence Bureau’s point of view, the Ishrat Jahan investigation is definitely a blow to its morale. Its long-term impact is incalculable … No amount of incentives will restore the zest for counterintelligence work

The Central Bureau of Investigation’s decision to chargesheet a former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) (whose rank is that of a DGP in the State Police cadre) and three serving officers of the same bureau in the sensational Ishrat Jahan case in Gujarat should shock us. It is a sad day for both the organisations whose support to the cause of national security and the upholding of the rule of law hardly needs overemphasising. Although their respective territories are demarcated, the two are now on a collision course. This is despite the fact that they need each other, and that whenever they have worked in harmony, they have achieved the near impossible. Since they have undoubtedly lent great stability to our polity, to do anything that would dent their image is a sacrilege.

Need for balance

I would like to make it clear that berating the CBI and IB as being handmaidens of the government is being unfair to the many dedicated officers who serve them. Even their most ardent supporters will admit that the two bureaus are not without their faults. Perhaps, they have much to hide — especially the CBI, which is always in the public eye and is under immense judicial scrutiny. On the contrary, the IB is a low profile outfit which, unlike the CBI, has no legal status or authority. I know that both have their detractors who are ready to throw the first stone at them at every conceivable opportunity. Some are only too delighted to be able to drive a wedge between them. We should not allow them to succeed. The Ishrat Jahan case provides these forces an opportunity to do this. This is why what has happened in the Ishrat Jahan case demands both responsible comments and a balanced perspective.

There are some basic facts on which there can be no disagreement. No democracy can condone the killing of any of its innocent citizens by a state agency. And when the victim happens to be a woman, the crime gets compounded a million times. This is what is being alleged by the CBI. The four IB officers did not by themselves kill Ishrat Jahan. But they did a lot to facilitate the crime committed by some Gujarat policemen. What drove them to carry out this barbaric act is anybody’s guess. According to press reports, the CBI charge sheet is silent on this. Now that the court concerned is to take cognisance of the CBI charge sheet, it would be extremely inappropriate for any of us to comment on the CBI’s controversial decision or any evidence adduced by it.

I am happy that an aggrieved IB, true to its wont, has not gone to town with its point of view. All its entreaties to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the CBI for a review of its resolve to go ahead with the charges against the four IB men have been in vain.

Compliance with law

Despite some occasional differences there is nothing here to suggest that the CBI’s action was motivated by its animus toward the IB. Also, in a court-monitored case, the investigating agency has no option to overlook the misdemeanour of another public organisation. Compliance with settled law overrides every other consideration, including the morale of the national security agencies. This is what has happened here. The judiciary was breathing down the CBI’s neck giving it little room for manoeuvre to accommodate the IB’s sensitivities. The pressure of human rights activists is another factor that would have weighed heavily on the CBI’s mind in making the move. In my view, this is one of the few occasions on which activists have been on the right course, and we must compliment them for their vigilance.

From the IB’s point of view, the Ishrat investigation is a blow to its morale. Its long-term impact is incalculable. It is conceivable that few IB operatives will hereafter venture to go beyond their routine and stick their necks out in a questionable extralegal operation. This negativism will definitely spell doom for innovation and daring, the hallmarks of an outstanding intelligence officer. No amount of incentives will restore their zest for counterintelligence work. This is true even if one concedes that Rajinder Kumar and his three junior colleagues who stepped out of the routine and assisted the Gujarat Police in pursuing terrorist elements were possibly overzealous and reckless. After all, what is the dividing line between unbridled enthusiasm and a conformity to the law? This is particularly so when the transgressors of the law and the perceived code of conduct are not guilty of looking for personal gain or aggrandisement. This is the tragedy of the whole episode. The law cannot possibly discriminate between those who have committed downright criminal acts and those who have abetted them, except in terms of severity of penalty. If during the trial, it is decisively proved that Rajinder Kumar and his three IB juniors were guilty not of personal ill-will but were simply misguided and reckless, the court could take a lenient view while sentencing them. But this is only wishful thinking in the interests of an organisation that has done yeoman service to stabilise the security situation in the country.

Neighbourhood threat

In the final analysis, the lesson will not be lost on those in the neighbourhood. What is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a matter of concern. The unabashed appeasement of the two Taliban groups through the opening up of a dialogue either openly or covertly (as in Afghanistan) is a warning that the Taliban will not be averse to training its guns on us through their affiliates. No less an expert than M.K. Narayanan, former DIB and National Security Adviser, had expressed concern over this. Therefore, the Ishrat prosecution has come at a wrong time. This is not fanciful. I would like to challenge anybody who disputes this unintended connection between a demoralised security agency and a terror outfit that has very recently received a boost by bringing two troubled Constitutional governments to their knees. We will have to keep our fingers crossed and do everything possible to restore the morale of India’s premier intelligence agency. The judiciary cannot also be impervious to this task of a delicate fusing of the rule of law and national security.

(R.K. Raghavan is a former Joint Director of the Intelligence Bureau and former Director, CBI. He is co-author of Indian Mujahideen, Springer 2013.)

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