Seeking truth, victim number two in Ishrat Jahan case

While a David Headley or a G.K. Pillai may make claims regarding Ishrat Jahan’s LeT links, the fact remains that the High Court-monitored probe that dissected the case has only implicated the police.

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:48 pm IST

Published - March 05, 2016 10:57 pm IST - AHMEDABAD

NEW DELHI, 16/09/2009: File photo of Ishrat Jahan reproduced from the family album, in New Delhi. Ishrat along with three others were allegedly killed in a fake encounter near Ahmedabad in June 2004.
Photo: V. Sudershan

NEW DELHI, 16/09/2009: File photo of Ishrat Jahan reproduced from the family album, in New Delhi. Ishrat along with three others were allegedly killed in a fake encounter near Ahmedabad in June 2004. Photo: V. Sudershan

More than 11 years after the incident, the encounter involving Ishrat Jahan and three others is again in the news, courtesy >David Headley’s sensational claims about her links with Pakistan-based terror outfit LeT. The statement made by the American of Pakistani origin during his deposition in the Mumbai attacks case was followed by those from several retired Home Ministry officials, including former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai.

The case has seen twists and turns and claims and counter claims at every stage, coupled with games played by those in power in Gandhinagar and Delhi, using agencies at their command, to settle scores.

The alleged encounter by the Ahmedabad Police >happened in the early hours of June 15, 2004 , almost a month after the change of guard in Delhi, where the NDA had been replaced by the UPA.

Ahmedabad Police claim

At the time of the encounter, the police claimed that the operation was based on “inputs received from the central IB” warning of a fidayeen attack on then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was apparently on the radar of terror outfits following the Gujarat riots.

In the first FIR following the encounter, the police claimed that three persons — Amjad Ali Rana, Zeeshan Johar, Javed Sheikh (Pranesh Pillai) — tasked with a terror mission came to Ahmedabad where their car was intercepted by the police, following which they started firing at the police and got killed in retaliatory firing. Interestingly, the first FIR does not name the 19-year old Mumbra girl, Ishrat Jahan, who was also killed in that shootout.

From June 2004 till 2009, the case did not see any major development, but in September 2009 Ahmedabad Metropolitan Judge S.P. Tamang >declared the encounter fake and termed the killings as cold blooded murders based on medical and forensic evidence submitted by the police.

Gujarat HC forms SIT

After the Metropolitan Court’s verdict, the >Gujarat High Court constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the encounter. As per the High Court ruling, the SIT was to be headed by an IPS officer from outside Gujarat while two other members, Mohan Jha and Satish Verma, were from the Gujarat Police.

During the 20-month probe, the SIT saw several chiefs as no IPS officer from outside the State was willing to investigate the case that was becoming more controversial by the day with prospective high-profile accused from the Gujarat police and the Intelligence Bureau.

A Maharashtra cadre IPS officer, Satyapal Singh, was selected by the High Court. After a few months, he opted out on the ground that all papers related to the case were in Gujarati and he was not familiar with the language.

It is worth mentioning that Mr. Satyapal Singh subsequently resigned from the service and joined the BJP. He is now an MP from the Baghpat Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh.

Another IPS officer who opted out is Karnal Singh. He is now in charge of one of the most powerful agencies in the country, the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

‘Staged encounter’

Finally, in November 2011, after a comprehensive probe in Gujarat, Maharashtra, U.P. and Jammu & Kashmir, the >SIT told the High Court Division Bench headed by Justice Jayant Patel that the encounter was staged by the Ahmedabad Police in complicity with officials of the IB.

Owing to controversies surrounding the SIT, the High Court >handed over the case to the CBI in December 2011. A section of police officials involved in the encounter demanded the CBI probe, calling the SIT “biased and prejudiced.”

The CBI, in its >charge sheet filed in the Ahmedabad court in July 2013, named top police officials of the Ahmedabad crime branch — P.P. Pandey, D.G. Vanzara, G.L. Singhal and others — along with Rajinder Kumar, who was special director of the IB, and three junior IB officers.

The probe, first by the SIT and then by the CBI, revealed that the deceased had been in the custody of the police and the IB; that they were brought together at the spot before the encounter; and, that the weapons recovered from them were planted by the policemen, who allegedly procured them from the IB officials.

Deeply politicised case

Attempts were made by the then Gujarat administration to thwart the probe. Meanwhile, the Congress-led UPA government was trying to derive political mileage from the case. It also pitted top agencies like the CBI and the IB against each other.

When the Gujarat government, the police, and the IB officials named in the case realised that it would be impossible to establish that the encounter was genuine, they focused their energies on the antecedents of the deceased, particularly Ishrat Jahan, and their links with terror outfits.

Initially the UPA government, in an affidavit filed in the HC, supported the police and IB story that Ishrat Jahan and others were from LeT. However, it changed its stand after the probe punctured the theory.

Only a fair trial can bring out the truth in this deeply politicised case; unfortunately, nobody seems interested. Certainly not those named in the probe.

“Why bother about judicial trial when you can have media trial every day,” asks noted human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, who has been fighting the case for Ishrat Jahan’s family.

“Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were terrorists from Pakistan while Javed Sheikh was a criminal and was involved in illegal activities, and perhaps Ishrat Jahan knew about him but no probe has found anything conclusive to link her with any outfit,” she adds.

The theories of the Gujarat Police have not withstood judicial scrutiny in two most important cases: The Akshardham temple attack case and BJP leader Haren Pandya’s assassination.

The same set of policemen — Mr. Vanzara and Mr. Singhal — who are accused in the Ishrat Jahan case had probed the Akshardham case, in which the Supreme Court acquitted the accused slamming the Gujarat Police. Mr. Vanzara and others are accused in several other allegedly fake encounter cases, such as the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsiram Prajapati cases, and the Sadiq Jamal encounter case.

In the case of BJP leader Haren Pandya’s assassination, the Gujarat High Court acquitted the accused slamming the CBI for a “botched up and blinkered probe that left much to be desired”. The police had initially linked this case also to “acts of terrorism”. And this case was also initially probed by the same set of policemen before it was handed over to the central agency.

While a David Headley or a G.K. Pillai may make claims regarding Ishrat Jahan, their claims remain unsubstantiated in the face of the High Court-monitored probe that has not found anything which can even remotely link her to any terrorist outfit.

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