Politics in the name of Batla House Encounter

Political parties are avoiding the case this time, but local candidates can’t escape it easily.

Ever since the Delhi police carried out an encounter in L-18 of Batla House in September 2008 who they claimed were Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists, has been used and misused by politicians in all Muslim majority areas of Delhi, specially the Okhla constituency, in which Batla House area falls.

This 2015 Delhi Assembly elections the issue seems to have lost its “vote value” and hence not being raked in with the intensity it used to be, at least in Jansabhas and election speeches of our netas. However, I have overheard people discussing which neta or public figure actually did something about the encounter to actually help prove it fake.

The encounter was followed by Delhi assembly elections in October 2008. In Okhla the election was fought solely on the issue of getting justice for the victims of the Encounter. At the time of the encounter Congress held all political positions relevant to Batla House — Manmohan Singh's government at centre, Sheila Dixit's government in Delhi, Sheila Dixit's son Sandeep Dixit was MP of East Delhi, Parvez Hashmi was MLA of Okhla and Shoaib Danish was councillor of ward # 205, Zakir Nagar.

If the encounter has anything to do with political power, then Congress is to blame. Asif Mohammad Khan used, rather now we know misused, this opportunity to the fullest. Fighting on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) ticket he took Congress head on, roaming around Batla House with photographs of dead bodies of Atif Amin and Mohammad Sajid (showing several bullet marks on their heads) he strongly demanded judicial enquiry and appealed to the voters “your every vote in my favour will be an approval of the fact that the Batla House Encounter was fake”.

When he made an announcement that he would not let the assembly function till justice is served, people believed him for he had stood for his people, whether he was the councilor or not. Till then he had only won corporation elections and public mood was that this time he deserved to be their MLA . In a neck to neck fight, Asif missed the opportunity by 541 votes. Few months later, as luck had destined for him, Congress sent Parvez Hashmi to Rajya Sabha and a by-election was announced for Okhla seat. Okhla simmered with politics again. Asif Mohammad Khan, again on an RJD ticket promised to do everything to setup a judicial enquiry. Congress parachuted Farhad Suri, a resident of Nizammuddin which is outside Okhla constituency, and faced a humiliating defeat.

Okhla saw a ray of hope in Asif Mohammad Khan's victory, be it justice for Batla House Encounter, the terrorism stigma that has been stuck on the area, or general development. With time he grew closer to Sheila Dixit and joined the Congress. A friend of mine often jokes "The only good thing about the encounter was that Congress got a replacement for Parvez Hashmi in Okhla".

Asif was not seen raising the Batla House issue in the assembly. Asif remembered it only when Aam Aadmi Party's short-lived government came into power. Disrupting a press conference of Arvind Kejriwal, he demanded that Kejriwal should stick to his promise of an enquiry into the Batla House encounter.

Digvijay Singh had sparked a political storm by claiming that the encounter was fake and told Zee News after the conviction of Shahzad in 2013, that had his demand for a judicial inquiry been met, "many things may have come to light". Congress as always distanced itself and rejected his views that the encounter was stage-managed, stating that the encounter should not be politicised or raked up for political gains.

BJP has always maintained that the encounter was genuine as this fits into their narrative that Batla house, read the Muslim majority areas, are a "den of terrorists", as claimed by their leader VK Malhotra.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, now a founder and National Executive member of AAP, appearing for an NGO 'Act Now For Harmony and Democracy— ANHAD', submitted that the Batla House encounter had shaken the faith and confidence of a large section of a community, the bench of Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan  expressed its displeasure over raising the issue of a particular community. "You need not identify any sections of the society. Criminals are criminals why do you identify a community," the bench, which also comprised Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan, said while summarily rejecting the contention of the civil rights activists.  

After the conviction of Shahzad Ahmed for murder and other offences in the case, AAP Convener Arvind Kejriwal said “The court has said the youth (killed in the Batla House incident) were terrorists. I had said that even if they were terrorists, it was extremely important to catch them alive to know who their real handlers are. There needs to be an independent investigation to know if it was necessary to kill them. It must also be probed under what circumstances the police officer (Mohan Chand) was killed.”

In one of his visit to Okhla in 2013 Kejriwal said “Circumstantial evidences of Shahzad case are doubtful. We have to wait for the verdict of  High Court. We have done everything possible from our side”.

"Congress didn’t set up the enquiry at the appropriate time. Court has already given it’s verdict on the encounter. We should rather demand an independent enquiry for other youths arrested in the case.” said AAP Minority Wing President Irfanullah Khan.

Before last Delhi assembly elections Amanatullah Khan, now AAP candidate from Okhla (then fought on LJP ticket) had famously staged an indefinite hunger strike against the arrest of innocent Muslim youths in the name of terror.

Political parties are avoiding the case this time, but local candidates can’t escape it easily. On Thursday night Congress candidate Asif Mohd Khan’s supporters played a video on a projector in front of AAP candidate Amanatullah Khan’s office at Batla House chowk questioning Kejriwal for not setting up an enquiry in the case. This was followed with slogans from both side and police had to intervene. Amanatallah Khan’s facebook page posted a photo of the incident calling it hooliganism of Congress.

Looking beyond politics, the truth is Batla House Encounter has changed the public perception of this area. Auto drivers often refuse to come to Jamia Nagar, Muslim youths and Maulanas are picked up and questioned in the name of terror, Police posts are continuously increasing in number and strength.

Political parties divide us, we need to erase those political boundaries, come together and raise our voice for a judicial enquiry, not to prove the encounter fake, but to know the truth. Truth must come out. Justice must prevail.

Tanzil Asif is an undergraduate student of Technology at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, tweets on @theXzeal and can be reached tanzil.asif$gmail  02-Feb-2015

Related reading:

Beyond Reasonable Doubt? The Conviction of Shahzad Ahmad—A JTSA Report

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