Retired 1984 batch IPS officer Karnal Singh’s book emboldens the saying ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. 


Author: Karnal Singh; Publisher:  Rupa publications; Pages: 220 pages; Format: Paperback; Price: Rs 295


The September 2008 Batla house encounter was arguably the most talked, dissected and written about police encounter in the history of the country.

The encounter, which was carried out by a special wing of the Delhi police—the Special Cell which was formed, coincidentally in September 1988—got headlines nationally and internationally for many reasons, but primarily because attempts were made by certain prominent section of the political class, supported by some from the civil society, to turn it into a case of a police encounter where “minorities were wrongly targeted”. All these allegations, as the book, too has stated, were ultimately found to be untrue by five different scrutinies that it went through.

Come 19 September 2020, 12 years would have passed of this encounter.

Though the memories of the series of destruction that was caused by terror group Indian Mujahideen (IM) in the early 2000 continues to fade from the mind of the common men, the supreme sacrifices made by the men from the Special Cell, who broke the back of the IM, continues to stay alive.

It is in this context that, “Batla House: An encounter that shook the nation” (published by Rupa publications), written by retired 1984 batch IPS officer Karnal Singh, who headed the Special Cell during those tumultuous times, becomes a must read for not just the ordinary men and women, but also for those in power and those out of it to understand the pain and the emotion the police officers go through and how painstaking it is to “crack” a terror case.

Once you have read the book of 200-plus pages, you will be left with two distinctive memories: First, the effort put by the author in remembering the officers and junior ranks, who are often forgotten by the media and people for their role in cracking the Batla house case, and second, the exhaustive details the book has, on the build-up to the Batla house encounter, how it happened, why it happened and how the Special Cell, in coordination with different state police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), identified, arrested and eliminated the terrorists of the IM.

Minute details, that flow from one page to the other without any hindrance, keep the reader tied to the book. There are few books that readers seldom complete in one sitting—this is one of them.

The book is captivating and does not let the interest of the reader wander. While reading the book, the reader would feel that it is Singh himself, sitting in front, narrating the content of the book and the memories of how and what the Batla house encounter was about.

Singh, who also headed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) later in his career, speaks softly and only shares what is needed. This is the style that he has adopted while writing the book.

While the content is exhaustive, yet, it is not repetitive as it gives details about how investigation is done in a terror case and how much effort the police officers have to put in even to get hold of seemingly “easy” information.

As one would expect, Singh has also written about the kind of external pressure, which some observers would say is a critical part of our democratic set-up, the men of the Special Cell faced post the Batla house encounter. All kinds of conspiracy theories, which were started by the politicians and fueled by a section of the media, engulfed the men who were a part of the cell at that time. The conspiracy theorists and the agenda raised by them did not even spare Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, who had died in the encounter.

Singh, just like he did his professional duties, has stayed away from political mud-slinging. Wherever the issue of the attempted politicisation of the encounter has come up in the book, it has been mentioned in a dignified manner.

Many bureaucrats, almost all of them in fact, write books about their exploits and their experiences that they had in their career, but rarely do they dedicate the book to a former colleague. Singh has dedicated this book to his fallen colleague Sharma and the “countless” others who lost their lives in the fight against terrorism.

“Batla House: An encounter that shook the nation” emboldens the saying, “truth is stranger than fiction”.