Trouble begins when these are exploited for partisan ends.
Let us not pretend. Encounter killings have been an integral part of the arsenal of every state, developed or developing, since time immemorial. The only caveat is that the developed countries have since refined their methods to put away people deemed a threat to their existence.
India, in sharp contrast, is still at a stage when neutralising inconvenient persons in sanctioned fake encounters is not uncommon. Rulers know what is happening but wouldn’t whisper a word edgeways, while more often than not the police personnel who eliminate marked persons are rewarded.
But given the sharp degradation of politics and administration, rulers across the entire political spectrum have abused what should be the rarest of rare tools to remove from the scene those who they believe pose a threat to them or to simply wreak vengeance and settle scores with those who had the temerity to stand up to them.
Seen from this perspective, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy’s direction to eliminate the alleged killers of a party worker should not cause surprise. The CM was caught on tape assuring the district police head that he need not fear any repercussions, he was there to take care of the fallout, if any.
Votaries of constitutional rule were expected to react the way they have after the taped conversation became public. We too count ourselves among those who insist on a strict adherence to the rule of law. Fake encounters or encounter killings certainly violate the law of the land both in word and in spirit.
Having said this, we however cannot close our eyes to the reality of the present-day India. Long before we attained freedom and since then, we have practised selective killings of elements considered inimical to the state. In parts of Punjab, especially the erstwhile PEPSU, police were given a free hand to eliminate brigands and dacoits who had menaced the people for decades.
The operation was so successful that a senior police officer under whom it was executed, was decorated with many medals and social sector awards. Why, in Punjab again the threat of terrorism was quelled with selective killings of suspects under the leadership of the celebrated cop, K.P.S Gill. In the 1960s, the challenge posed by Naxalites in West Bengal was extinguished by Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray. Thousands of youths in thrall of a flawed ideology and Mao’s Red Book were killed in cold blood by the death squads of the special police force constituted under the direct supervision of the Chief Minister.
Why, one of the assassins of Indira Gandhi was killed inside the compound of her house even after both her Sikh guards had surrendered immediately. In Maharashtra, the cop who allegedly became an “encounter specialist” had a movie made after him, Ab Tak Chhappan. The point: encounter killing too is statecraft, especially in those countries which are yet to refine their governance systems and lack a responsible and educated citizenry.
But a caveat may be necessary. When the state abuses that rarest of rare tools to target political rivals one is duty-bound to protest. The Karnataka Chief Minister’s order to the police does not meet the criterion of a threat to the established order. Here there was no higher purpose at stake but sheer vengeance which found expression in the Chief Minister’s illegal orders. This is unacceptable. However, Kumaraswamy would not apologise, simply saying he was emotional after he came to know about the murder of a party member.
Meanwhile, if selective encounter deaths have been an integral part of the statecraft we have practised from the time India attained freedom, it is also true that investigations into these too have been used selectively for partisan purpose. It is a public secret that the encounter deaths in the Sohrabuddin case were seized upon by the Congress-led UPA government to prevent the rise of the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the national level. Then Home Minister P. Chidambaram ignored the input of the Intelligence Bureau, which duly confirmed that Sohrabuddin and his woman accomplice were Lashkar-e-Tayyaba operatives ordered to target Modi.
Though all the accused in that case, including BJP president Amit Shah and a few top IPS officers of Gujarat, have at long last been acquitted by the Special CBI judge, there is no denying that thanks to a vengeful Central government a lone case of encounter death was selected for investigation, while several hundreds more under its own watch were brushed under the carpet without even a preliminary scrutiny.
The Special CBI Court in its order minced no words, condemning the UPA bosses for latching on to the Sohrabuddin case for a witch-hunt against Modi. However, if the killing of Sohrabuddin in an encounter under Modi was wrong, which it was, so were hundreds of other encounter killings elsewhere, including that of the assassin of Indira Gandhi in 1, Safdarjung Road.
There was, therefore, nothing but vendetta and political revenge in foisting CBI investigations in the Sohrabuddin case. Both Modi and Shah along with a number of top police officers were put through the ringer. And those who think justice has not been done in this case, ought to spare a thought for the thousands of encounter deaths under the aegis of the very party which singled out only the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case for investigation. A sense of perspective and a nodding acquaintance with ground realities will lead to a balanced outlook.
Meanwhile, it is significant that the Congress Party, which keeps the Kumaraswamy government afloat, has not allowed its professed faith in constitutionalism to demand the Chief Minister’s resignation. It is significant that even the Great Chidambaram, the architect of the Sohrabuddin plot to fix Modi, has not uttered a word edgeways to tick off the Karnataka CM for his audacity to order an encounter killing.
A retired Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court was admitted formally into the Congress Party last year. Rahul Gandhi personally welcomed him. Among several “judicial” orders by His Lordship were:
* He sent Amit Shah, then an accused in the Sohrabuddin case, into jail; the case was dismissed subsequently and all accused acquitted honourably;
* He pronounced that “judiciary has failed” in the Best Bakery case;
* He granted bail to Salman Khan within hours of his arrest in the Mumbai hit-and-run case;
* He granted bail to terror accused despite stiff opposition by the state counsel.
The name of the judge? AbhayThipsay.