The controversial Batla House encounter has always been a cause of deep divide within the Congress. The friction continues with outspoken general secretary Digvijaya Singh still maintaining that the encounter was a fake one, even though his party and the UPA government had always held the gunfight was genuine.
Interacting with locals at Azamgarh in February 2010, Singh had expressed doubts over the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) probe into the encounter and had talked about alleged “police excesses” and “miscarriage of justice”.
When Rahul Gandhi visited the Shibli Nomani College in Azamgarh in January 2012 ahead of the assembly elections, he had faced angry reactions. This prompted Singh, who was accompanying Gandhi, to say he also felt the encounter was a fake and had demanded a judicial inquiry. He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then home minister P Chidambaram (now finance minister) overruled him.
The UPA government and the Congress were quick to dismiss his remarks, saying the encounter was genuine.
In a bid to be seen on the right side of the minorities’ opinion on the issue, union minister Salman Khurshid had also questioned the encounter and 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 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 Congress’ attempts to polarise the 2012 UP elections by playing the Muslim reservation card and raking up the encounter issue proved counter-productive and benefited the Samajwadi Party.
The non-stop rants about the “fake” encounter angered the Muslims who felt the Congress was playing with their emotions. The Congress was routed.
And as a Delhi court on Thursday said the encounter was genuine, the Congress said all sections should accept the verdict and guard against politicising the issue.
Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi sought to downplay Digvijaya Singh’s statements, saying individuals could have commented in a “surcharged atmosphere” but those should not be given credence now.
On his part, Chidambaram expressed satisfaction over the verdict and said he always felt the gunfight was genuine.
But Digvijaya Singh has not changed his stand. Talking to reporters in Indore after the verdict, the Congress general secretary said, “I will never apologise. I still maintain that encounter was fake.”