About a girl

Political noise on the Ishrat Jahan case distracts attention from the issues that need more sober consideration

Much hinges on the preliminary chargesheet filed by the CBI on the encounter killing of Ishrat Jahan and three others in June 2004, outside Ahmedabad. More than the incident itself, however, its political implications for the BJP and Congress have roiled public discussion. Partisan, even reckless, politics is thick in the air. Even as the CBI inquiry was on, the Congress suggested that the Gujarat government may stage such encounters to serve its chief minister's agenda. The BJP has rushed to target the CBI, alleging that it has been manipulated by the ruling party against the Gujarat chief minister. The political acrimony is unsurprising, perhaps, given that the case involves Narendra Modi's state police, and with the countdown having begun for 2014. But it obscures long-term questions that are thrown up by the case, which deserve careful consideration in a more sober climate.

There is the question of whether or not Ishrat Jahan was a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist. The CBI's chargesheet is silent on this. But this question is not immediately relevant, since the court's mandate to the CBI was to investigate the circumstances of her killing, and because those accused of terror deserve due investigative and legal process as much as anyone else. A question of long-term import raised by the CBI chargesheet concerns the mission and responsibility of intelligence agencies. This, after all, is the highly unusual situation of IB officers figuring in a CBI chargesheet. Though Rajendra Kumar is not accused in this document, there may yet be a supplementary chargesheet that goes further. This could set an unsettling precedent for the national intelligence agency, which is accorded certain protections, to enable its highly sensitive work. If this understanding and practice is to change, then it must be done carefully and systematically, not in a manner that might invite suspicions of the pursuit of a short-term political agenda. If it is deemed necessary, such a change must be envisioned and deliberated upon at the highest levels and the prime minister himself must oversee the transition.

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