Ishrat 'encounter': CBI charges former IB officials, but clears Modi aide

For the first time in India's history, the Central Bureau of Investigation has brought charges against fellow-sleuths in the Intelligence Bureau over the 'fake' encounter that saw a teenage college student, Ishrat Jahan, and three others gunned down after being taken out of a car near Ahmedabad in Gujarat some 10 years ago.

In Indian parlance, an 'encounter' generally signifies the cold-blooded shooting-down of suspected criminals, terrorism abettors, or domestic insurgent groups by security forces. However, wounds are rarely found among the state forces even as the opponents are shot down.

Special Director Rajinder Kumar, who then headed the IB's Gujarat wing, and three officers serving under him - P Mittal, M K Sinha and Rajiv Wankhede - were on Thursday charged with murder and conspiracy in the extra-judicial killing.

But in a morale-booster for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections due around May, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's confidante Amit Shah – who was generally held responsible for ordering the encounter at the time – was not named in the second chargesheet filed by the CBI in the case on Thursday.

Shah was last year questioned after some of the accused alleged he had been aware of the police's actions all along. But he was not present in Ahmedabad on the day of the encounter and there was no evidence against him.

The chargesheet says Rajendra Kumar is the main accused, as he generated a false intelligence alert that the four persons were terrorists on a mission to kill Narendra Modi, likely by most calculations to be the next Prime Minister of India. Further, the CBI says Kumar also provided the automatic weapons that were apparently planted on the corpses to make it look like a genuine shootout.

The four IB officers have been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, wrongful confinement, kidnapping, and wrongful concealment. Kumar has additionally been charged under Arms Act.

Howevcr, the fact that Modi's minister has been cleared of all charges has led commentators to imply that the CBI action is merely an extension of the turf war between the two agencies.

Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old college student, was killed along with Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali and Zeeshan Johar on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004 by a team of the Gujarat Police's Crime Branch.

The police had claimed the IB had alerted them about the assassination plans of the four persons. But in a row that pitted the IB and the home ministry which controls the domestic intelligence agency with the CBI, the ministry defended Kumar saying he had only passed on the intelligence but didn't authorise or participate in the killings.

The CBI last year said that Kumar, a 1979 batch IPS officer, actively participated in the conspiracy to kill Ishrat and the others. His juniors in Ahmedabad IB office picked Ishrat and her former employer Javed from a toll plaza and illegally confined them, while Kumar interrogated them.

The CBI did not wait for home ministry's formal consent of sanction for prosecuting Kumar. The ministry had said its sanction was required to prosecute Kumar because he was a serving officer when the encounter took place.

In its primary charge sheet, the CBI had described the encounter as joint operation by Gujarat police and central IB.

The CBI alleges in its supplementary charge-sheet that Kumar provided arms and ammunition to G Singhal of the Gujarat Police, who passed on the weapons to Tarun Barot through Nizamuddin Sayeed. These arms and ammunition were used in executing the crime and planting evidence.

The CBI has also requested a court to slap an additional charge under the Indian Penal Code against retired Deputy Superintendent of Police J G Parmar, who has already been charged earlier.