Will he now be called an anti-national for contradicting the lies spread by top BJP leaders? The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also issued notice to the government, taking suo moto notice of the so-called encounter. Will they too be so charged? More than a decade ago, when the NHRC chief, the late Justice Verma, held the then Gujarat government led by Narendra Modi complicit in the 2002 genocide, he was threatened and abused for supporting "anti- nationals." For the ruling regime at the centre, "nationalism" consists of burning the constitutional and legal provisions which uphold India as a democratic, secular republic.
When the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shri Shivraj Chouhan paid homage to the slain head warder of Bhopal Central jail, Shri Ramashankar Yadav and consoled his grieving family, was there even a fleeting moment of guilt that struck him when he laid a wreath? Did he feel any remorse when he met the daughter? Her wedding is scheduled for next month and according to his family, Shri Yadav was totally preoccupied with the preparations. Yadav was brutally killed allegedly by those whom Chouhan's government has described as "hardened Simi terrorists."
The Madhya Pradesh minister in charge of jails, perhaps not as well versed in duplicity as some of her colleagues, admitted "There were mistakes on behalf of the jail administration." She quickly added that she herself had taken charge only a month and a half ago. Shivraj Chouhan does not have this alibi. He has been Chief Minister since 2005. During this period, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Madhya Pradesh has had 28 jailbreaks, the second-highest number of jailbreaks in the country. In those cases too, as in the present case, jail officials were suspended or dismissed. But clearly the rot is deeper in the very system of governance in a state which has seen over 40 mysterious deaths in the Vyapam corruption scam, all passed off as accidents, seen the highest crime rate including of rapes, yet the conviction rates are low. It is in this state too, that in just three years, between 2010 to 2013, there have been 20 registered cases of "encounter killings," but more of that later.
So yes, Shivraj Chouhan should have felt guilt, remorse, a sense of responsibility at Yadav's funeral. A better man would have resigned. But not him. He came out of the slain man's home, guns blazing at the opposition for even daring to ask questions and of course, having named Yadav a martyr, accused the opposition of being more concerned about the "killed terrorists rather than the martyr." Nothing could be more hypocritical and self-serving. Yadav was martyred by the rot, the corruption, the callous governance in Madhya Pradesh.
The sarkari version of the so-called escape and the subsequent killing in cold blood of the eight men has been torn to shreds by the videos that have surfaced that graphically depict how they were killed. There is no need here to describe the shootings, nor to reiterate the many questions that have arisen because of the contradictory statements of ministers and officials. They are tripping over themselves (lies and liars tend to do that) every time they open their mouths. If one says the keys used to get out of cells were fashioned from toothbrushes, the other says the keys were snatched away from an assaulted guard. If one says they were killed in cross firing, the other says the alleged SIMI members were armed not with guns but with kitchen utensils and stones. If one says it could be an inside job, the other says there must have been outside help and so on. Manufactured, dubious and with no credibility whatsoever.
Those killed were also Indians with the right to a fair trial under the law, and, if convicted, be shown no quarter for the crimes they committed, but for the Law Minister, such legal niceties are apparently irrelevant. The spokesperson says "Will it not weaken the resolve of police forces, armed forces, the army, when questions are raised against them?" But even worse is the crude communal profiling and shameful justification of the fake encounter killings by the Chief Minister asking in his speech "How long will we keep feeding them biryani?" Are we to assume that he therefore thinks that extra judicial killings of undertrials are perfectly justified and should become the new normal if they are Muslims?
At the time of the fake encounters in Gujarat, including the gunning down of Ishrat Jahan, one of the main accused in the fake encounters, the then DIG of police in Gujarat VD Vanzara, in his resignation letter from the police wrote, about the encounter killings "With the passage of time, I realized that this government (referring to the Modi-led Gujarat government with Amit Shah as Home Minister) was not only not interested in protecting us but it also has been clandestinely making all efforts to keep me and my officers in the jail so as to save its own skin from CBI on one hand and gain political benefits on the other...
I, therefore, would like to categorically state in the most unequivocal words that the officers and men of Crime Branch, ATS and Border Range, during the period of years between 2002 to 2007, simply acted and performed their duties in compliance of the conscious policy of this government...we have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from the very close quarters."
Even though Vanzara is back in the BJP fold, he has not withdrawn those charges. Fake encounters such as those in Gujarat and now in Madhya Pradesh cannot take place without the sanction of the political leadership. The NIA investigation into the Bhopal killings, including that of Ramashankar Yadav, will not bring out the truth.
(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)
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