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Ishrat Jehan - a terrorist or innocent college girl

Ishrat Jehan

David Coleman Hedley, an American of Pakistani origin undergoing a prison sentence of 35 years in America has again fouled up the political atmosphere in India by his depositions via video-conferencing in the 26/11 case in which he has become approver.

He was the person who recceed and set up the 26/11 attack in Mumbai on behalf of the terrorist outfit Lashkar e Taiyyeba (LeT). In his latest and last deposition before Judge GA Sanap on 26th March 2016 he again confirmed what he had said in his earlier testimonies that Ishrat Jehan was a LeT operative and that she was involved in a failed terrorist operation. His earlier testimony in this respect made before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 2010 was apparently glossed over and was not paid much attention to. But this time, in his earlier depositions in February 2016 the prosecutor had made him commit that Ishrat was a LeT operative.

Hitherto, Ishrat Jehan was considered an innocent college-going girl who was gunned down by Gujarat Police for no rhyme or reason. Her companions may have been of disrepute but she was white as a lily. What if two among the four killed were Pakistani LeT operatives who were on a mission to assassinate Gujarat chief minister. And what if, though unmarried, she passed herself off as married to Javed Sheikh, one of the companions, during her travels in the Indian up-country. But there is a question that begs the answer what was Ishrat, a teenaged college girl, doing with two Pakistani terrorists and an Indian, converted to Islam, of dubious reputation?

Reports have come up that numerous vital links to the two Pakistanis were never questioned by the CBI. On a cue, possibly from the government of the day they confined themselves to the allegations of illegal killing of the four to get at the then Gujarat Chief minister who was none other than Narendra Modi. Purportedly, supporting the CBI even the then Home Minister P Chidambaram had said “no one suggested on intelligence inputs you should kill someone”. Plying the secularist angle, the hint was that the villain was Narendra Modi who got four more Muslims killed on mere Intelligence Bureau (IB) inputs.

Politics is a strange game. The adversaries in it hate each other so intensely that a protagonist would not bat an eyelid to grievously injure the enemy come hell or high water. Something of this kind happened between the Indian National Congress, earlier running the Central Government and Narendra Modi, the then chief minister in Gujarat. To say that the Congress hates Modi from its inner most cores would be making an understatement. Its pathological dislike for him increased manifold since he routed it in the 2014 General Elections to come to power on his own steam after having been declared his party’s prime ministerial candidate – a significant step yet unusual in a parliamentary democracy. Then, of course, there was that bit of Modi getting rousing receptions in world capitals whether in Europe, America, Australia or Asia. Congress’s hatred for Modi and his saffron outfit has since known no bound.

That is the background for this story that broke out recently to the embarrassment and acute discomfiture of the Congress. Though dead, it is Ishrat Jehan who is responsible for it. Ishrat, apparently a pert young girl, was a resident of Mumbra, a middle class suburb of Mumbai. She used to be a college girl, all of 19 years when she was gunned down in Gujarat in 2004 with three other male companions. The official version was that they were all terrorists (presumably, including suicide bombers) and on the basis of inputs of the IB they were eliminated in an encounter. They were on a mission to kill Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat and the IB was tracking them all along. Much later, in June 2013, the Intelligence Chief told the offices of Prime Minister and Home Minister of India in the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that the IB had sufficient evidence to prove that Ishrat was part of a LeT module that planned to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the former Dy. Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani.

The case became complicated because of the intervention of Ishrat’s family, human rights groups and the ‘secularists’. Though a charge sheet was filed against the police officials and officials of IB nothing tangible happened for nine whole years. The outcomes of all the investigations including those of the Special Investigation Team created by the High Court were that the encounter in which Ishrat and others were killed was fake and staged. They had lined up a set of supposedly credible witnesses and evidence to prove their contention.

The appointment of the SIT chief is by itself a long story. Several police officers were selected but they refused the offers. Informal investigations have been documented in an unofficial video where all selectees were asked to go and trap Narendra Modi. This came from as big a source as Ajit Dowal, current National Security Adviser. No wonder, those selectees did not want to play political games.

Nonetheless, a police complaint was filed against the accused policemen under Indian Penal Code section 302 for murder and they were all arrested by the CBI. The CBI was keen on the arrests of a few IB officials as they were alleged to have arranged the killings together with Gujarat Police. Two investigative agencies of national importance and repute were thus ranged against each other – all because of the games of a political outfit that was out to fix the controversial chief minister of Gujarat.

The continued push and pull between the two sides continued delayed resolution of the case. Then the media reports came into play. In June 2013 reports of Hedley’s deposition before the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigating the 2008 26/11 attack in Mumbai that Ishrat was part of a LeT module were published This was repeated in other periodicals. The NIA, too, reported to Home Ministry in October 2010 that Hedley had told them that Ishrat was a part of the “botched” operation of the terrorist group. Despite this background the CBI filed a charge sheet in July 2013 in an Ahmedabad court alleging that the killings were in a staged encounter by the accused policemen and IB officials.

With the former Home Secretary GK Pillai and his Under Secretary Mani wading into the case with their versions of the centre’s affidavits, one contradicting the other, filed in the court in 2009 the atmosphere got murkier. GK Pillai said that the second affidavit was filed bypassing him and Mani said he was tortured by the SIT chief in an effort to implicate the IB officials who, he said, were infallible and highly dependable. Then in comes Hedley confirming on 26th March his deposition before NIT nailing Ishrat.

The upshot is that the criminal case against the policemen has registered no movement. None knows whether Ishrat was really a female fidayeen or a lily-white college girl though mouthpieces of terrorist outfits in Pakistan described her as a martyr. Whatever might be the truth, the whole case was made a plaything of politicians putting on ice its most vital aspect – national security.

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