January 20, 2021
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The Dark Knights And The Dead Damsel

The face of a woman who died so young could indeed become an irritant to the ambitious plans of the men who rule Gujarat.

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The Dark Knights And The Dead Damsel
The Dark Knights And The Dead Damsel

“The Hate had started. The face of the Enemy of the People had flashed onto the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience…”

—George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty Four

On June 25 Narendra Modi, reportedly went into a huddle with his key team including Amit Shah, former minister of state for home and an accused in the fake encounter cases, to review legal problems that are mounting. A week ago, on 19 June, a well placed source told this correspondent that the Sadik Jamal encounter case would also lead to further questioning and interrogations. On June 27, a leading national daily carried a story saying that IB officers will also be questioned in the Sadiq Jamal case as they were in the Ishrat Jahan matter.

As Narendra Modi sets off to conquer the India that he apparently believes waits for him, it is the encounter cases of Gujarat more than the riot cases of 2002 that have the potential to touch him. As more and more sordid details appear we should perhaps examine common conspiracy theories and ask: why would a regime build a false narrative about terrorists coming to kill the chief minister, again and again?

In a wonderful short essay titled "Inventing the Enemy", Umberto Eco writes that “Having an Enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our own system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth.” He then does a quick scan of history to show us how Cicero convinced the Roman senators they had an enemy in “Orations Against Cataline”,  how Saint Augustine condemned pagans, and what Tacitus and later Hitler had to say about the Jews.

Now that the NaMo for PM Project is riveting the nation, it is fair game to analyse the various phases of his persona. This past week he dashed off to Uttarakhand with a fleet of vehicles and aircraft—the script in his mind must have been The Great Leader Come to Save the Good People. But let us examine the narrative about the Enemy that was carefully constructed in the past, before the Development Man persona was superimposed on it.

It is important to mention that Muslims were posited as the Enemy after the bloodbath of 2002 that had comprehensively broken the community’s back. Having pulverized them into a mass that can only be seen as victims, a grand campaign began to justify the killings as something the minorities had brought upon themselves. This was first done by blatantly perpetuating the terrorist stereotype that had been internalized by the entire globe in the post 9/11 atmosphere. So during the elections that he fought in October 2002 that year, Muslims were not directly mentioned but “Mian Musharaff” was constantly referred to. The Pakistani general became the code word whose meaning was easily understood as Muslims equal Terrorists equal Lovers of Pakistan. Mian Musharraf, Modi would say tauntingly, and point his finger in the direction of Muslim neighbourhoods and the ravaged bustees.

It is possible this was not considered enough. We can speculate if some ruthless mind felt that real evidence of the terrorist enemy was required. Umberto Eco asks whether the US was in danger of losing its identity when the Soviet Enemy disappeared but then Bin Laden appeared and gave George Bush the opportunity to “create new enemies, strengthening feelings of national identity as well as his own power”. In Gujarat 2003 Bin Laden could not be conjured up, but surely the “terrorists” could be in regular supply.

The reason we can indulge in this speculation is because increasingly both circumstantial and hard evidence points to the encounters of Gujarat being a cynical and cold blooded attempt to perpetuate the idea of the enemy out to kill the chief minister Narendra Modi. Hence we are told the extra-ordinary story of Muslims coming to execute Modi, only to be thwarted by excellent intelligence inputs and state policing. The FIRs in all these encounters use the same language. Hence Sameer Khan Pathan came to kill the chief minister on 22 October 2002. Shot dead. Sadik Jamal came on 13 January 2003. Shot dead. Then just weeks after the NDA lost power at the centre, another assassination squad apparently landed in Gujarat. Again all shot dead.

The FIR for this particular encounter reads as follows:

Date and Time for giving information 15.6.2004 at 8:45 hours. Place of offence and distance from Police Station and direction: Sardar Nagar near the turn of Kotarpur Water Works, Ahmedabad City. Name of complainant and the person who gave the information and address.Shri J G Parmar Police Inspector D.C.B, Ahmedabad City.Name of accused and residential address.. Jisan Jowher alias Janbaz alias Abdul Gani, Resident of Narnanak Kalerbadi, District: Gujaranwala, Punjab, Pakistan (2) Amzad ali Akbar ali Khurana alias salim alias chandu alias rajkumar (3) Javed is reisident of Pune, Mahrasthra and (4) 1 woman terrorist whose Name and Residence could not be found.

This unknown female would turn out to be Ishrat Jahan, the young Mumbra resident with the sweet face who took tuitions to help supplement the family income and whose mother has kept fighting for justice. This is what the FIR says about her and the men she was shot with. They were:

“terrorist fidayins of the prohibited lashkar-e-toiba, on the above date and time and place, in connivance with each other had planned out the conspiracy to murder the Chief Minister of Gujarat Shri Narendra Modi and to carry out a suicidal attack and had obtained weapons and explosives for doing terrorist activities in India and likewise to assist the members of the terrorist organization kept explosives with themselves and to carry out the conspiracy had entered India from Pakistan without any passport, visa or any legal….all four terrorists died on the spot…..”

What is significant is that this was the last batch of ‘terrorists” who came to kill Modi. They seem to have stopped coming soon after the UPA came to power in Delhi. IF we have a rather brutal conspiracy theory here then it is entirely logical to surmise that some one may have calculated that without a friendly government in Delhi the encounters could become a foolhardy and risky enterprise. As it turns out they already were.

Now that the inquiries are moving it should not surprise us that the agencies are attacking each other over the Ishrat Jahan case because inevitably some of their officers would be implicated. There is at the very least incriminating evidence of cold blooded murder without any due process being followed. On the record the Intelligence Bureau may have defended its joint director Rajender Kumar who was posted in Gujarat at that time and has now been summoned by the CBI, but a source says that there is the strange fact that this gentleman makes several calls to those who were linked to “executing plans” at the time when the “unknown female terrorist” and the three men were kept in a safe house before they were shot. So when Ishrat Jahan’s mother says that Narendra Modi would have known about what would happen to her daughter, we can’t treat her as a hysterical woman for we must also ponder this: wouldn’t the target of the assassination squad be informed about the capture of his would be killers?

Besides the mother’s word we have the report of magistrate S.P Tamang who concluded in 2009 that Ishrat had been murdered by Gujarat police. An SIT appointed by the Gujarat High Court also concluded in 2011 that the encounter was fake. Sources in the agencies also say that just as officers and policemen are facing embarrassment in the Ishrat Jahan matter, further movement is also expected in the Sadik Jamal case. The bare facts are this: investigations reveal that 23 year old Sadiq who worked as a domestic help in a Dubai family with underworld connections was ”supplied” to the Mumbai police who handed him over to Gujarat where “terrorists” were in demand. The FIR in his case also states that he was a LeT militant out to kill Modi. Sources say that the Sadiq matter will also lead to summons of policemen and officers who served the Modi regime in that era, besides their counterparts in Maharashtra who have their own special skills with encounters.

But it is the Ishrat jahan case that will remain the most compelling. For when the victim develops a personality and a flesh and blood back-story, people start to feel for her. They wonder about this young girl who worked to support her family after her father’s death. They ask if she was just picked up because she happened to be with the wrong person at the wrong time, bundled off to Gujarat, to be killed and thrown on a road like a broken rag doll?

Considerable effort has been put to tell the world that Ishrat was a "dreaded LeT" terrorist. Even if we believe that, let us return to calm logic. If the Gujarat police was so efficient at locating terrorists out to kill Modi, why not arrest them, interrogate them, get information useful to fight terrorism? Why did these so called assassins including Ishrat always end up dead? And then why did they stop coming to kill Modi after 2004? Because we have been able to give a face and tell the simple facts of her life, the Ishrat Jahan story has the potential to stir our collective conscience. For those of us who care about rule of law, due process and humane values, this case must matter.

There is however no evidence that Modi and his skilled deputy Amit Shah even care or feel embarrassed about the death-trails that continue to come out of Gujarat. Although the demand-and-supply policy of terrorists appears to have stopped in 2004, there was another spectacular round of murders in 2005 that would actually open up the can of encounter worms for the Gujarat regime, when small time extortionist Sohrabbudin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi were disposed off in a stomach churning grisly sequence. Sources in the agencies say that it is possible that the authors of the encounter policy would have calculated that no one would bother about a somewhat shady character who had become inconvenient to certain businessmen operating on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border. So Sheikh was killed, his wife raped and killed, a witness to his kidnapping, Tulsi Prajapati, also bumped off.

But again the unexpected happened. It was the persistence of his brother Rubabuddin that led to encounter cases being opened up in Gujarat. He approached the Supreme Court in 2007, and the inquiries that followed in 2010 exposed the slip shod executions and brazen concoction of facts that landed many policemen in jail. Following this, earlier encounters too were probed and declared to be fake and currently 20 policemen languish in jail. Those who follow the legal labyrinth coming out of the bloodshed in Gujarat say that while the riot cases are unlikely to implicate Modi directly, the encounter cases do touch him as they get linked to his deputy, Amit Shah, currently given the task of creating a Modi wind in Uttar Pradesh.

Modi’s minister of state from 2003 to 2010, Shah is described as quite a virtuoso in executing plans. He is said to know every detail of every seat in Gujarat. In 2007 one of the lesser known stories about the assembly elections was how the local RSS/VHP tried strategies to cut Modi down to size. It is said that Shah played an important role in countering such plans. Put X as a candidate here, persuade Y to switch sides or drop out, give Z a strong arm twist and so on. As home minister all the encounters would also have taken place under him.

On July 23, 2010, Shah was charged in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh-Kausar Bi encounter killing, spent three months in Sabarmati jail after which he got bail. Under normal circumstances a man like him should have no place in a party that is supposed to be committed to upholding the law. But because of Modi’s growing clout in the BJP, a man charged with murder has been elevated to general secretary and given charge of staging a revival for the party in Uttar Pradesh, the focus of Modi’s future strategy.

The 2002 riots are often referred to as the reason why Modi cannot be free of his past. But then he is not the first politician to use communal polarization as a political tactic. The Congress too has done so as have other BJP leaders. I remember the late Pramod Mahajan telling me that after the Mumbai riots there was a feeling even among committed Muslim-haters that “they kill five, we kill 500. It is going to far.”  L.K. Advani too often expressed regret about the cycle of violence he unleashed and one can only speculate on whether this came from political expediency or genuine remorse.

In the case of Narendra Modi we must always understand the big stories he seeks to tell about himself. The Hindu Hriday samrat who morphed into Development Man morphed into Strong Leader morphed into PM candidate. There is already another brush stroke to be added to the image in the coming months when he takes the political battle to the heartland states of UP and Bihar—from being the enabler of the corporate forces and aspirational India, he will also position himself as an OBC leader.

But a big macho leader like Modi should ideally have enemies over whom he could prevail. In a recent Hollywood movie Iron Man 3, the villain turns out to be an American citizen who seeks to control the war on terror, the media and the entire narrative by making an actor play the part of a terrorist obviously inspired by Bin Laden. The idea of creating false narratives in order to unite people against the enemy is actually quite common. But as more terrible details emerge of people being plucked off without any pretence of due process, the face of a woman who died so young, could indeed be an irritant to the ambitious plans of the men who rule Gujarat.

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