NEW DELHI: The Narendra Modi government is getting ready to prosecute former Home Minister and senior Congress leader Palaniappan Chidambaram for his alleged role in changing the “spirit” of the affidavit related to Ishrat Jahan, a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) operative, who was killed by the Gujarat police in an encounter in June 2004. Sources said that the government will seek permission to prosecute Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha member at present, from the Secretariat of the Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu.
Chidambaram is accused of “illegally” changing the content of the affidavit that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), headed by him at the time, had filed on 6 August 2009 in the Gujarat High Court, stating that Ishrat was an LeT operative and the encounter in which she was killed was bona fide action. However, the MHA filed a “revised” affidavit on 29 September the same year, which was ostensibly drafted by Chidambaram himself, who is an experienced lawyer, stating that the content of the previous affidavit “needlessly misinterpreted” Ishrat’s link to LeT, thereby initiating a narrative that Ishrat was not associated with LeT.
Since then, several government officers, who were involved in the matter, including former Intelligence Bureau Special Director Rajinder Kumar, former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and former MHA officer R.V.S. Mani have come on record to state that the content of the second affidavit, absolving Ishrat Jehan of having any links with the terrorist group, was prepared done by Chidambaram without any official inputs and for “political reasons”.
In April 2016, Chidambaram, while sharing his thoughts on the Ishrat case, had tweeted that the demand to change the content of the affidavit had come from “Gujarat”.
“Although I have no recollection of seeing the first affidavit, let us presume that I did. Then came the report of Magistrate S.P. Tamang. This report caused an uproar and there was demand mainly from Gujarat that Government of India should clarify or dispel misinterpretation being placed on the First affidavit. This is why a second, short affidavit was filed!” Chidambaram had tweeted on 26 April.
The Sunday Guardian, in an earlier report (Manmohan ministers tried to implicate Modi in Ishrat case, 21 February 2016), had stated that a top Congress leader from a western state had written to the Prime Minister’s Office in the first week of September 2009, expressing dismay that because of the first affidavit, the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could not be framed in Ishrat’s encounter. The Congress leader was unhappy that the MHA’s affidavit had placed on record that Ishrat was a terrorist.
Sources said that the second affidavit filed by the MHA in the case, in which it dropped the reference of the slain girl being a part of the terrorist module, was changed by the ministry at the behest of the top leadership of the Congress party, and the then UPA government. Man Mohan Singh’ PMO was kept in the loop on this.
According to an official, it was in the second week of September 2009, just weeks after the MHA had filed the first affidavit in the Gujarat High Court on 6 August 2009, stating that Ishrat was part of an LeT module, that the instructions to change the spirit of the affidavit was issued by the political leadership of the country and the PMO.
This was done after a senior Congress leader stated that the affidavit needed to be changed as the present affidavit, by mentioning that Ishrat was a part of LeT, had taken away the opportunity to grill the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in the case. The MHA then resorted to “course correction” and dropped the reference to Ishrat being a part of the LeT.
An official familiar with the case said, “After communications were received by the MHA from the top leadership of the Congress and the government, the file relating to Ishrat was sent to the Home Minister’s office on 23 September, after which the then Home Minister ‘amended’ the affidavit.”
“The most notable amendment was removing any statement that mentioned Ishrat being a part of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. It was then sent to the executive branch of the MHA, following which it was filed in the Gujarat High Court on 29 September. It was made sure that the same officer (Mani) filed the second affidavit, as filing the second affidavit through another officer would have raised eyebrows,” he added.