In The Lovely Bones, writer Alice Sebold uses a fabulous technique whereby a teenaged girl who is murdered goes on to recount the quirky, ordinary story of her life and that of those affected by her death. For the dead do have stories to tell. They are only a statistic till they get a backstory, and when a personality is fleshed out, they too can touch a chord with ordinary citizens. Especially if the end was brutal and the victim young.
Ishrat Jahan was just 19 when she was shot dead at point-blank range in what has become one of the most famous, controversial and contested fake encounters in contemporary Indian history. Nine years after her body was found dumped on a road in Ahmedabad, she could become the face that haunts the very ambitious plans of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. She makes an attractive victim, so her story has adequate appeal for the media to keep playing it up at every twist and turn the case takes in a general election year.
Conversely, BJP leaders have begun to argue in private that a “Muslim victim and her very Muslim-looking family” could also become a pivot for polarisation and “Hindu support” for Modi as he tests his national ambitions. Clearly, for all his ambitions to be the great icon of development, growth and purposeful leadership, Modi must know that given his past, when push comes to shove, he must also hope for the raw emotion of Hindus reacting to the existence of Muslims, especially those his regime presented as “terrorists” and who have now turned out to be victims. The day after the Ishrat Jahan chargesheet was filed by the CBI, Modi was in Delhi to attend a meeting on the BJP’s campaign plans. And it was apparently business as usual. Yet it would be interesting to see if Modi would be willing to sacrifice his former home minister Amit Shah, already charged in the Sohrabuddin encounter case, if the supplementary chargesheet (expected to be filed later this month) links the encounters to a larger political conspiracy. Now elevated to BJP general secretary, Shah is in charge of Uttar Pradesh where Modi hopes to make substantive gains. Can a man who hopes to be PM depend so much on an individual charged with plotting murder at a time when ’encounters’ have become an issue of national discourse?
As it is, in the age of coalitions, there is something illogical about a politician ploughing a lonely furrow with no regard to regional parties who will play a role in converting support into seats. As an RSS insider put it, “India is not Gujarat and it will be a challenge for him without allies. Issues like the Ishrat case reduce the chances of regional cooperation...we know that.” Sources in the BJP also believe that Modi’s anxiety to become campaign committee chief at the party’s Goa meet last month was possibly also influenced by the need to get a foot in the Delhi door before the encounter cases gave rope to adversaries like L.K. Advani to try and throttle Project Modi.
Indeed, now that the CBI chargesheet has been filed, it is fairly elementary to predict that Modi will also present himself as the man playing for big stakes against all odds with a grand national conspiracy against him. In the go-it-alone strategy the BJP has now staked all on, the presentation of Modi must continue with great enthusiasm for the cadre, even if a tad forced at the leadership level. And so perverse is the political discourse that as more sordid details are fleshed out about the fake encounters, it is Modi who will try to position himself as a victim of sorts. A victim of a CBI witchhunt, of diabolical Congress plans, of an unforgiving minority community that presumes to stand between him and Absolute Power for the Greater Good, of misguided secularists who play to an Anti-National Plot.
The script would certainly work for die-hard NAMO fans. But it can also make some people cringe when the likes of BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi raises questions about Ishrat’s character (“What was a young girl doing with three men?”) and subsequently adding that since the college student came from a “deprived background”, she was a “fit case” for getting drawn into terrorism. Clearly, slandering the dead will be part of the BJP arsenal even at the risk of offending finer liberal sensibilities.
Where the BJP does have a point is when they point out that this isn’t the first fake encounter to take place in India. It happens across the country every day, sometimes as part of a bigger plan as it did in Punjab when Sikh militancy was snuffed out, in Andhra when the Greyhounds stepped it up against the Naxalites, or in Maharashtra for decades against the underworld. False encounters continue with impunity in Chhattisgarh, Kashmir and the Northeast. But what is also pertinent is the fact that the Gujarat encounters do not fit any logical pattern of fighting a genuine insurgency or movement. Instead, all the FIRs in the encounters state that the dead “terrorists” came to kill the chief minister during a certain time-frame. The Gujarat police always seemed to be aware of their plans in good time to bump them off. The “terrorists” strangely stopped coming after Modi attempted an image shift to Efficient Development Man. For several years now, he has apparently been quite safe from terrorist threats.
Now this is why the Ishrat Jahan story is so compelling. It makes us take a look at fake encounters as a policy that the state and intelligence forces have all too often resorted to across India. It makes us ask questions about why this happens. It actually cracks open the issue of false narratives being fed to the public. Beyond inconveniencing Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and making them seek legal and political counsel, the case is significant and fascinating because it also raises questions about the workings of intelligence operatives in our country. Ultimately it reveals to us how brutal the police can be in certain situations. And how some intelligence operatives can cook up facts and create false stories, apparently just to please a particular dispensation or to crudely get rid of people who are seen as dispensable.
Dead people can indeed tell a story.
Story is similar to PM was aware of 2G and Coal Allocation but still he is not held resposnsible, even meeting minutes where also available for many of such meeting but is still not admissibale as evidence in court but same hearsay story on encounter is evidence for secu's in case of Modi and Shah.
Double standard exposed!!!!
D.C - New York
The issues raised by you for a jounalistic debate are fair and this is where the investigation rests at present :
- Extra Judicial killings shoud have no place in Indian society.
- Gujarat police has no evidence that Ishrat was linked to any terror group and investigations have proved that she was killed in a fake encounter. The killing took place under the watch of Narendra Modi , who was also holding the portfolio of Home Deptt. and the cops reported to him.Some officers have claimed they had the approval of Modi and Amit Shah.
- There is no difference between the two agencies although Jaitley and some BJP spinsters have tried to create an issue. A contempt petition has already been filed against Jaitley.The investigation has revealed the possible involvement of a ' rogue' IB officer in the encounter , which is under furthe investigation.
>> working overtime to shift the focus of the discussion from extra judicial killing to Narendra Modi citing Gujarat Police's involvement and the Muslim identity of the victim.
Equally the parivaris are working overtime to shift focus of discussion from extra-judicial killing to Ishrat's alleged link to LeT or her travelling with a man she was not married to!
I expected any journalistic debate here should have been focused on:
(a) Even if it is widely followed across India, does extra judicial killing has a place in any civilized society? and
(b) Did the cops murder an innocent or did they have evidence to link Ishrat with terrorism before killing her? Answer to (b) does not diminish the criminality of encounter killling, but would have thrown more light on the rationality of encounter killing..
Instead the spinmasters in media and elsewhere are working overtime to shift the focus of the discussion from extra judicial killing to Narendra Modi citing Gujarat Police's involvement and the Muslim identity of the victim. This kind of expansive logic may be ridiculously stretched too far, but one can notice the desperation of the political opponents to Modi. Did anybody point out that two central government agencies even differ on the same issue Shouldn't this question the integrity of the process of criminal investigations in general in India?
Saba Naqvi should have received a Rajyasabha membership under UPA-II because of her politically biased journalism. Well tried, keep it up maa'm.
When is this intellectual giant going to look at the epidemic of fake encounters in Mulayam Maya Pradesh?
Or is that against the basic tenets of phoney secularism that this closet jihadi espouses?
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