Chidambaram should be prosecuted

If there is even an iota of truth in the statements made by former home ministry officers G.K. Pillai and R.V.S. Mani, their ex-boss P. Chidambaram has to do a lot of explaining as to why in 2009 he changed the Central government’s affidavit in the Ishrat Jahan case. In fact, it stands to reason that Chidambaram and his party chief Sonia Gandhi should be tried for the abuse of authority, if not for treason. It is a fair argument that if there is one action, or alleged action, that unambiguously attracts the sedition charge, it is Chidambaram’s and, by extension, Sonia’s.

Spokesperson after Congress spokesperson has been making statements defending Chidambaram. Cops have no right to kill anybody even if they are terrorists, we are told. The issue is that of fake encounter and not the innocence of Ishrat Jahan, Congress leaders say. That’s right, but how do they explain the former Union home minister’s inordinate in an affidavit giving a clean chit to a Lashkar operative? No answers, only verbose statements that are intended to obfuscate rather than highlight the truth.

And the truth is not very comforting. The former home secretary, who is known for uprightness and honesty, said that Javed Shaikh and the two Pakistanis killed in the encounter along with Ishrat were Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives. “Ishrat and Javed stayed as a couple at hotels/lodges in UP and even Ahmedabad. She was clearly a cover for him as well as well as others of the module,” Pillai said.

This was the reason that the original affidavit described Ishrat and her slain comrades as LeT militants. The Supreme Court in August 2009 directed the Home Ministry to file an affidavit. “Mr. Chidambaram, who was then the home minister, had asked for the file from the joint secretary, saying that the affidavit needed to be reworked. Only after the affidavit was revised, as directed by the minister, did the file come to me,” Pillai told The Times Of India (March 3).

The Home Ministry filed the second affidavit filed in September 2009. In it, the first affidavit was practically denied, with the Ministry insisting that the Intelligence Bureau inputs did not constitute enough evidence proof to conclude that the four killed were terrorists. “All such inputs do not constitute proof… The Centre is in no way concerned with any police action nor does it condone or endorse any unjustified or excessive action,” said the affidavit.

But how does the grand old party counter Pillai? First, as in many cases before this, they question the timing. Why now? Why after so many years? This is also an oblique manner of questioning the motives of the person who is exposing something; in this case, it is Pillai. Still worse, he is maligned by a Congress-friendly social activist, alluding to the former bureaucrat’s coming on board to an Adani company. As if he were the first retired IAS officer on board of a corporate group. Besides, if Pillai is corrupt, he should also be tried, but his statement on Chidambaram still has to be taken seriously.

At any rate, Pillai is not the only person associated with the Ishrat episode who has challenged Chidambaram’s narrative. Former under-secretary Mani has also said that he was ordered to file the second affidavit. “It was not drafted at my level,” he said. “If the home secretary did not file the affidavit, it is clear who filed it. The home secretary is the senior-most bureaucrat in the MHA. The conclusion is easily drawn.” The conclusion is clear: Chidambaram did it.

Mani also alleged that he was tortured by Satish Verma, the Indian Police Service officer who was the lead investigator in the Ishrat Jahan case. “What Satish Verma did to me was unprecedented… On June 21, 2013, Satish Verma burnt me with cigarettes.” Further, he told Times Now: “He [Verma] was not collecting evidence, but engineering evidence.” Apparently, to show that Ishrat was not a jihadist.

However, David Headley has said that she was a LeT operative. Former IB special directors Rajendra Kumar and Sudhir Kumar have also made it clear that Ishrat was indeed a terrorist. The way they have described the events raises many questions about the motives of Chidambaram.

Quite apart from muddying up a case impacting national security, Chidambaram & Co ended up pitting the IB against the Central Bureau of Investigation. Is there any line that the Congress won’t cross?

It is time the Narendra Modi government initiated prosecution against Chidambaram and his boss Sonia Gandhi, for it is an open secret she was involved in all major decisions during the 10-year UPA rule. One hopes that the government does not use this opportunity as a move in the game of political chess, for national security is a non-negotiable absolute that should not be used as a tool in the political arena.