Ishrat Affidavits: Chidu Did It All, But He Is Still Being Economical With The Truth

Ishrat Affidavits: Chidu Did It All, But He Is Still Being Economical With The Truth

by R Jagannathan - Tuesday, April 19, 2016 12:00 PM IST
Ishrat Affidavits: Chidu Did It All, But He Is Still Being Economical With The TruthChidambaram (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Chidambaram needs to enlighten us on why these after-thoughts were critical enough to sacrifice a top intelligence official and sensitive anti-terror operations.

It was not ever in doubt. That former Home Minister P Chidambaram was the man behind the change in the affidavit filed in the Ishrat Jahan ‘fake’ encounter case was something he has himself acknowledged. It is now certain that even the first affidavit, filed in August 2009, which mentioned that Ishrat had Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) affiliations, was signed off by him. The second one, two months later, had deleted the reference to Ishrat’s LeT links, among other things.

Yesterday (18 April), with Times Now establishing yet again that both affidavits were Chidambaram’s handiwork, the only conclusion to be drawn is this: the former home minister has been way too economical with the truth all along. He is, of course, right to suggest that what he did with those affidavits does not change the reality that Ishrat and three others may have been killed in a “fake” encounter. He claims his “small editorial changes” were warranted by a better interpretation of facts.

He also claims that his changes were made after “due and full consultation with the home secretary and the attorney general”, but this is doubtful. You can discuss anything with officers and order them to do something, but this does not mean they agree with you.

In an interview to NDTV a few months ago, Chidambaram’s Home Secretary at that time, GK Pillai, said he was actually “bypassed”. This is what Pillai told NDTV: “Chidambaram called a lower functionary in the Intelligence Bureau and totally rewrote the affidavit. The draft was dictated by him so no one else could say anything. He shouldn’t say that the Intelligence Bureau and the Home Secretary were on board.” In other words, Pillai may well have signed off on the affidavit, as was his duty, but it was Chidambaram’s draft. The changes made by the latter were surely not “small editorial changes” but a draft “dictated by him”.

In short: Chidambaram made material changes to an affidavit that his officers didn’t quite agree with; he signed off on both draft affidavits, thus implying that something changed in-between.

The only point on which he has a figleaf to cover his actions is this: if the evidence shows it was a fake encounter, and it holds up in court, even if Chidambaram had stuck with the first affidavit, there could be a conviction. Where the affidavit change makes a difference is in deciding the level of guilt of the accused, if convicted. If those killed were indeed terrorists (it wasn’t all about Ishrat Jahan), the court could see redeeming factors in the crime. In this case, Chidambaram can be accused of holding back material facts in the second affidavit.

Chidambaram has been avoiding newspersons and more detailed questioning on his manoeuvres, but the questions he really has to answer are these.

First, how often does he personally look closely at the wording of affidavits in such cases?

Second, why did the changes he thought necessary in the second affidavit not occur to him when the first one came up for his okay? Did he sign off the first without reading it?

Third, why did he think he had to over-rule the interests of his own senior intelligence officers, and effectively make them an accused at a later stage? Is there any other case in which he (or any home minister before him) has done the same where, theoretically, his officials went overboard?

Fourth, it is obvious that Chidambaram changed his mind on the affidavit. Since it is unlikely that Manmohan Singh, who was his only superior in cabinet, had asked him to do this, the orders or directions must have come from above. The only politicians with motive enough to sacrifice intelligence assets and anti-terror operations were the Gandhis, who were threatened by the potential rise of Narendra Modi. This case was additional insurance to prevent his rise in 2014, when the idea was to project Rahul Gandhi as the future PM. Chidambaram needs to be asked if a message came from 10 Janpath, even if he is only going to deny it.

Fifth, all aspects of the Ishrat Jahan case happened after the UPA came to power: the encounter in June 2004, the two affidavits in 2009, the disclosures made by David Coleman Headley, and the charge-sheeting of a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer for complicity in the “fake encounter”. In other words, if there was a fake encounter in June 2004, the IB acted as if it had the tacit confidence of the UPA’s home ministry. The IB has always been a political animal, and any case with political impact it is unlikely to have acted without political concurrence. This implies that the decision to look more closely at the IB’s role in the fake encounter was an after-thought.

Chidambaram needs to enlighten us on why these after-thoughts were critical enough to sacrifice a top intelligence official and sensitive anti-terror operations. The “fake” encounter case, of course, can be decided on its own merits.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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