Body politics

Ishrat isn't the first, she won't be the last. We need stronger checks and balances, not petty point-scoring

There are a few things you can say with some certainty on the Ishrat Jahan case: that there is a great deal of smoke to suggest that at least three members of the group were involved with really bad guys. Second, that there is no evidence at all — at least not yet — that they were coming to assassinate Narendra Modi. Third, they were most likely killed in a fake encounter. And finally, there is little reason to doubt that this was a joint operation between Gujarat Police and the Intelligence Bureau and both parties knew exactly where they, and their captives, were headed. What we do not know is, whether it was an operation that the intelligence agencies would sometimes describe as a "controlled killing", where you use moles and plants to lure your targets into a trap and then put them away, or was it a rogue operation, driven either by a combination of paranoia and arrogance, or to please the powers that be. Irrespective of which side of this tricky debate you are on, you would have to admit that a fake encounter would always be illegal. That's where we start to get into problems.

If these were indeed terrorists lured through an undercover operation and then subjected to "controlled killing" carried out in good faith, should it be treated differently from any other fake encounter? Can the antecedents of the victims and the intentions of the spooks be a mitigating factor? The legally and morally correct answer is, without any doubt whatsoever, no. A fake encounter is a fake encounter and no law allows anybody in India to take someone else's life — even a Pakistani citizen's. So what is left to debate?

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