The controversial Batla House encounter has been a cause of deep divide within the Congress as some senior leaders in a bid to woo minorities during the 2012 elections in Uttar Pradesh had questioned the veracity of the 2008 gunfight in Delhi.
The friction continues even now as outspoken general secretary Digvijaya Singh still maintains that the encounter was fake though his party and the UPA government had always held that the gunfight was genuine.
The Batla House encounter against suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists took place in September 2008 at Jamia Nagar, Delhi, leading to the killing of two Azamgarh residents Atif Amin and Mohammad Sajid.
Two others Mohammad Saif and Zeeshan were arrested while another accused Ariz Khan managed to escape. Delhi Police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma too suffered fatal bullet wounds and later died in the hospital.
Interacting with locals at Azamgarh in February 2010, Singh had expressed doubts over the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) probe into the encounter and talked about the alleged “police excesses” and “miscarriage of justice”.
But when Rahul Gandhi visited the Shibli Nomani College in Azamgarh in January 2012 ahead of the assembly elections, he faced angry reaction from the resident minorities.
This prompted Singh, who was accompanying Gandhi, to inform the gathering that he also believed the encounter was a fake and had demanded a judicial inquiry.
But he added that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then home minister P Chidambaram (now finance minister) overruled him. The UPA government and the Congress party were quick to dismiss his remarks, saying the encounter was absolutely genuine.
In his anxiety to be seen on the right side of the minorities’ opinion on the issue, union minister Salman Khurshid not only questioned the encounter but also claimed that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had cried on seeing the pictures of the gunfight.
“I had shown the photographs to Sonia. She requested us to not to show her the images and started crying bitterly. She then asked me to tell all this to the Prime Minister,” he had said in an election meeting in Azamgarh.
The party was upset with Khurshid for “unnecessarily dragging” the Congress president’s name in the controversy.
However, the attempts to polarise the UP elections by playing the Muslim reservation card and raking up the encounter issue proved counter-productive for the Congress and in fact benefited the Samajwadi Party.
The non-stop rants about the “fake” encounter angered the Muslims who felt the Congress was only playing with their emotions and had done nothing to get the incident thoroughly probed. The Congress was routed in the polls.
And as a Delhi court on Thursday held the controversial encounter as genuine, the Congress said all sections should accept the verdict and guard against politicising the issue so that the morale of police forces was not undermined.
Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi sought to downplay Digvijaya Singh’s statements questioning the genuineness of the encounter, saying individuals could have commented in a “surcharged atmosphere” but those should not be given credence now.
“Nobody has been as clearest and strident as Congress party in condemning fake encounters wherever they have taken place. But after the judicial verdict has come after going through all the facts, all sections of the society should accept it,” he said.
On his part, Chidambaram expressed satisfaction over the verdict and said he always felt the gunfight was genuine.
“I spent a lot of time pouring over the papers and talking to officers involved. And I was satisfied that it was a genuine encounter. Unfortunately, we have lost a brave police officer. It was also unfortunate that some of the suspects have escaped. I am told that the lone captured terrorist was held guilty. I am glad that the police have been able to prove their case,” he said.
Asked about statements of some Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh, doubting the genuineness of the encounter, the finance minister said they were reflecting the views of the families.
“I know that emotion was quite high. The families and residents of the area felt very strongly. I think my colleagues were simply reflecting the views they had heard. I do not think they had access to any independent material, independent access to materials. But I had access to the materials and I was quite satisfied that it was a genuine encounter,” he said.
But Digvijaya Singh has not changed his stand. Talking to reporters in Indore soon after the verdict, the Congress general secretary said, “I will never apologise. I still maintain that encounter was fake.”
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