Away from the fiery political debate on the Ishrat Jahan case and on the documents missing from the case file in the Union home ministry, a quiet meeting took place. A meeting that could dictate the next round of political sparring centred around the killing of the 19-year-old Mumbai girl. B.K. Prasad—additional secretary at the Union home ministry and the man probing the missing documents—met former home secretary G.K. Pillai.
Recently, Pillai had set the cat among the pigeons when he said that former home minister P. Chidambaram changed the Union government's second affidavit in Ishrat's case. The minister, Pillai said, omitted the reference about Jahan being part of a Lashkar-e-Taiba module tasked to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then chief minister of Gujarat.
The missing documents are central to laying the controversy to rest. These include two letters from Pillai to Goolam E. Vahanavati, then attorney general, and Vahanavati's draft of the second affidavit, to which Chidambaram allegedly made changes. Pillai said one of the missing letters was a covering letter from him to Vahanavati, in which he said that the draft of the “further affidavit” had Chidambaram's approval.
“If this document is retrieved, it will draw curtains on the issue by proving that Chidambaram had cleared the draft of the further affidavit before it went to the attorney general. The draft had the home minister's stamp,” a senior home ministry official said.
Sources say Prasad's preliminary findings indicate the documents went missing during the United Progressive Alliance years. This is despite the 51-page file being locked away in the office of the joint secretary (internal security) in the high security North Block.
Sources said Pillai told Prasad that the documents could be retrieved from the stenographer notes dictated by him and from the office computer. However, Prasad might not run a scan on the home secretary's official desktop. “Such a thing has never happened,” a home ministry official said.
Time is running out for Prasad, as he is up for superannuation on May 31. Apparently, Prasad is trying to join the dots by studying related papers in the case. He has sent questionnaires to joint secretaries and other officers who were posted in the internal security division during the UPA years. The joint secretary who handled the file has not replied. While Prasad has indicated that he may need a few more months to complete the probe, Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi is holding him to the May deadline. Some sources said Prasad has completed 70 per cent of the probe and is expected to file his report soon.
Speaking to THE WEEK, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju hinted at exploring legal options in the case, as he accused the UPA government of “colluding with the Lashkar-e-Taiba to give Ishrat a clean chit”. “There has been foul play and Chidambaram is in the dock,” Rijiju said. “The entire security system was compromised when he changed the second affidavit. His dubious act has political, moral and legal implications.”
But, there seem to be no records in the home ministry to prove that Chidambaram bypassed his most senior officer while ordering the filing of the further affidavit.
“In hindsight, I could have recorded my dissent while clearing the second affidavit,” Pillai said. “But, the home minister, being the competent authority, decided to change it. And, there was nothing illegal in it. So, when the file came to me, after he had suo motu dictated the second affidavit, I sent it to the attorney general for it to be filed in court."
Standing by the further affidavit, Chidambaram said it was triggered by Metropolitan Magistrate S.P. Tamang's 143-page report. It said that senior officers of the Gujarat Police's crime branch—P.P. Pandey, now acting director general of Gujarat Police, D.G. Vanzara and G.K. Singhal—and others “colluded with each other for their personal interest and falsely show excellent performance to get special attention from the Gujarat chief minister [Modi]”.
Based on the Tamang report, the Gujarat High Court constituted a special investigation team comprising two officers from Gujarat cadre and one outsider. The SIT concluded that it was a fake encounter. The High Court then directed the CBI to investigate. The bureau corroborated the earlier reports and filed its chargesheet in July 2013, followed by a supplementary chargesheet in February 2014.
“The trial has to commence,” said lawyer Vrinda Grover, who represents Shamima Kausar, Ishrat's mother. “Nothing material has happened in the case. The first stage of framing of the charges has to begin now. The affidavit controversy is irrelevant and has no bearing on the case,” Grover said. “And, it is up to the CBI to make Pillai a witness.” On his part, Pillai has said that he will surely testify, if he is asked by the CBI to do so.
The missing papers
Office copy of home secretary G.K. Pillai's letter and enclosure to attorney general Goolam E. Vahanavati, dated Sep. 18, 2009.
Office copy of Pillai's letter to Vahanavati, dated Sep. 23, 2009. Draft further affidavit vetted by Vahanavati.
Draft further affidavit amended by home minister P. Chidambaram on Sep. 29, 2009.
Office copy of the further affidavit filed in the Gujarat High Court on Sep. 29, 2009.
P. Chidambaram, former home minister
It is not a second affidavit!
The controversy that the BJP has kicked up on the affidavits filed in the Ishrat Jahan case is a manufactured one. The affidavits were filed in 2009, copies were available with the Gujarat government and in the public domain. For seven years there was no controversy about them. Why now?
The first affidavit was filed on August 6, 2009. The date is important. In that affidavit, the Government of India told the court: “These are the intelligence inputs we have shared with the Gujarat police”. Then came the order of S.P. Tamang, the metropolitan magistrate. He gave his report on September 7, 2009—exactly a month later. He concluded that the encounter was fake. This caused a huge uproar in Gujarat.
I do not recall now the names of the Gujarat Congress leaders who spoke to me, but I am sure the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee and other people in the state must have asked for a clarification of the first affidavit, in the light of Magistrate Tamang’s conclusion.
In these circumstances, a decision was taken to file a “further” affidavit. It is being wrongly described as a second affidavit. Any lawyer will know that a further affidavit is only to supplement an earlier affidavit. The first affidavit was not withdrawn, nor did the home ministry contradict the first affidavit. And, the affidavit said that ‘we are filing this to dispel any misinterpretation of the earlier affidavit’.
Now, the CBI case is ripe for trial. Those who had nothing to say about the affidavits for seven years are raising it when the case is ripe for trial. The only inference we can draw is that they are determined to wreck the trial.
I am surprised the former home secretary has said he was not consulted on the further affidavit. He is on record in a video interview by ANI, shot in Guwahati, Assam. In the interview, he justified the further affidavit and said more or less what I have said just now. Besides, the file notings show, according to newspaper reports, that the draft affidavit travelled from the home ministry, through the home secretary to the attorney general, who vetted the affidavit and sent it back to the home secretary.
Then, the home secretary put up the vetted affidavit to the home minister, who made some amendments and sent it back to him. So, the affidavit crossed the table of the home secretary at least three or four times. And, nowhere has the home secretary recorded that he disagreed with the decision to file a further affidavit. In fact, nobody disagreed with the decision to file a further affidavit. I am surprised that the home minister says that the pages of the file are missing. Now, why are they missing? And, if they are missing, who gains by the missing papers? I have demanded that the entire file be made public so that everybody will know the sequence of events.
The surprising part is that an accused has become the acting director general of Gujarat Police.
AS TOLD TO NAMRATA BIJI AHUJA
Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home affairs
UPA’s home ministry, officials and LeT were working hand in hand
We were not aware of the circumstances in which the second affidavit was brought by the UPA government. The first affidavit confirmed that Ishrat Jahan was part of a Lashkar-e-Taiba module. Then, the second affidavit was brought to give her a clean chit. It was surprising.
We were also not aware that some papers related to the issue were missing. Then some home ministry officials, including the former home secretary, raised an alarm saying that the second affidavit was brought in under pressure from the then home minister P. Chidambaram. It was only then we realised that the second affidavit was not filed at the behest of the Intelligence Bureau or state police agencies.
If the need for changing the affidavit had come from intelligence agencies, we could have understood. But, it appears that Chidambaram got it changed, and officials were pressured to change it. Clearly, he is in the dock and fingers are being pointed at him. The fallout of the inquiry is something I would not like to spell out at this stage, as the inquiry is going on. Chidambaram's dubious act has political, moral and legal implications.
The Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case should be seen separately. The trial in the CBI case will take its own course. But, the moot question is how a hardcore terrorist was given a clean chit by the UPA government. The LeT paid homage to Ishrat. And, it is a strange coincidence that on the day Satish Verma was appointed by the CBI to look into the matter, the LeT clarified that it was a case of mistaken identity. They sensed the CBI would fix the Intelligence Bureau officials. So, you see how home ministry, their handpicked officials and the LeT were working hand in hand.
Nobody can justify a fake encounter. But, why was Chidambaram in a hurry to give a clean chit to Ishrat? He must explain to the country. The entire incident is very unfortunate. The Intelligence Bureau always works in tandem with other agencies. But, the UPA government undermined the entire security establishment by attempting to pit one agency against another. We are taking this inquiry very seriously.
AS TOLD TO NAMRATA BIJI AHUJA