Rest the rumours

Only the judicial process can answer questions on Batla House. The political loose talk must stop now

A sessions court in Delhi has convicted a suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) member, Shahzad Ahmad, for his involvement in the controversial Batla House encounter in the capital. This marks the first step in a judicial process that will, hopefully,produce clearer answers to what transpired on September 19, 2008. It should dispel the murk and air of conspiracy around the incident, which has fed a divisive political rhetoric.

L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, was the site of a violent shootout a week after the capital was hit by five serial blasts. The police version, broadly, is that investigators had been trying to piece together information about the IM and its role in similar attacks in Jaipur, Varanasi, Ahmedabad and other cities, and an unguarded phone call led them to Jamia Nagar. During the search operation, an unexpected crossfire killed Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, as well as two alleged IM operatives, Mohd. Atif Ameen and Mohd. Sajid. Shahzad Ahmad was the only suspect to be arrested. This version of events, however, has been contested by several activists, politicians, the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association and others. There have been questions about the location of bullet wounds, the marks of injury on the bodies, with some suggesting that the entire encounter was staged, even that Sharma was killed by his own colleagues. After some contradictory statements, Delhi Police stuck to its story. The political narratives, however, continued to spin in different orbits. Unlike the controversy over the Ishrat Jahan encounter, which drew its charge from the political competition between the Congress and BJP, the aftermath of the Batla House encounter exposed the cracks and the bitter rivalries within the Congress, and conveyed the often convenient impression of a rift between party and government. Digvijaya Singh demanded a judicial probe into the encounter, even as the then home minister, P. Chidambaram, asserted it was genuine. The Delhi High Court asked the NHRC to assess the evidence, and, upon being informed that the wounds did not suggest an internal conspiracy, ruled out a judicial probe. That did not end the political use of the incident, which continued well into the 2012 election campaign in Uttar Pradesh.

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