Congress divided over Batla House encounter probe

Why is the Congress shying away from ordering a judicial enquiry into the case when not only a majority of Muslims but several non-Muslim academicians, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists and other groups are also demanding that the “encounter” should be probed since there are serious doubts about the veracity of the police version of the incident. The statement by All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary, Digvijay Singh, during his short visit to Azamgarh that the killing of two Azamgarh boys at Batla House was a cold-blooded murder which must be probed is a surprise. Following Singh's statement, the BJP, Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group and former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh charged the Congress for playing politics with the issue.

On 1 February yet another Azamgarh boy, Shahzad, was arrested by the UP ATS which identified him as the same person who, during the 19 September 2008 encounter, had fled from the spot after firing upon inspector Mohan Chand Sharma who later succumbed to his injuries.

Mr Singh’s statement triggered deep controversy. The BJP castigated him for making such a statement while the Muslim community condemned it for a different reason: because his statement came after the lapse of eighteen months of the encounter and may practically mean nothing.

In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN channel on 5 January 2010, Singh said that, "The picture which was shown to us had five bullets on the top of the head of one of the persons. This I think is impossible in an encounter. Anyway, we raised the issue with the honorable Prime Minister, who ordered an enquiry by the National Human Rights Commission." When asked what exactly is your problem, Singh added: "The NHRC completed the investigation but the aggrieved party said they were not called for their opinion or they were not given a hearing — so that's my only problem. As far as Mr. Sharma is concerned he was a very fine officer and we have got greatest regard and respect for him."

Singh said in reply to a question that he went to Azamgarh  “to understand why Azamgarh which has been a centre of educationists, scholars and literature, has become a centre for all such things. You must also understand the psychology of the people who have been arrested. There is a case of one boy against whom 55 cases have been registered in 4 provinces. "

Meanwhile Okhla assembly member, Asif Mohammad Khan, in a television debate on 4 January on Sahara Samay news channel said that special cell's inspector M C Sharma was not killed by alleged terrorists but policemen themselves had killed him. And I would never believe that the encounter was real: "Many loopholes are evident in police story. Police gave contradictory statements and the nature of firing on the boys killed suggested that they have been shot at point blank range. How could this encounter be a genuine one?" he asked, adding that "unless a judicial enquiry is initiated doubts can't be removed."

Amar Singh, former leader and general secretary of Samajwadi Party, has said that Congress chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was in favour of judicial inquiry into the Batla House encounter but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declined to initiate any inquiry on the ground that such an enquiry would demoralize security forces.  Amar also said that Mrs. Gandhi's political advisor Ahmad Patel, central minister, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed were in favour of an inquiry into the encounter. He maintained that when he demanded an inquiry into the encounter at National Unity Council's meeting, the then former security advisor, M K Narayanan, opposed  it.

Reports say Digviajy Singh's visit to Azamgarh had the blessings of Rahul and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi as they wanted the party to reach out to the minority community.

On 20 January 2009 the then Union HRD Minister, Arjun Singh, had said that Batla encounter should be probed. After addressing the annual meeting of State Minorities Commission in the capital, the minister had said even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "is thinking" of  a probe into the encounter. "In democracies, it is always better to make things clear." Earlier, in a newspaper report on 19 December 2008 Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh had expressed his willingness to initiate an enquiry into the alleged encounter.

Reports said that Atif's father Mohammad Ameen and Sajid's father Ansarul Hassan refused to meet Digvijay Singh. Ameen called his visit as a "preparatory exercise of the Congress for the 2010 assembly elections." while Mr. Hassan said: "I am hardly interested in meeting those who had ordered the killing of my son." However, Saif's father Shadab Ahmad met him and demanded a judicial inquiry into the encounter. "Digvijay said a judicial inquiry would not be fruitful. He reminded him how the Librahan Commission dragged on for 17 years and still it could not deliver any fruitful result. He promised us that he would try to convince Prime Minister to hand over the inquiry to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). He said the NIA would be able to complete the inquiry within a given deadline," Ahmad said. Abid Hassan, a resident of Sanjarpur, alleged that Digvijay kept insisting during his one-to-one conversation with the villagers that the encounter was fake but he did not mention it in his five-minute speech. "He said that in his opinion it was a fake encounter. But when we asked him to declare it in public speech or at a press conference, he said he had his limitations." Meanwhile, Shahzad alias Pappu,  was taken to Okhla's Shaheen Bagh where he used to live in a rented room. Newspapers and channels have been churning out all kinds of outlandish IB-fed stories about his alleged terrorist past including a claim that he was a trained pilot planning to do a 9/11 in India!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-28 February 2010 on page no. 1

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