The Congress on Thursday accused the Prime Minister’s Office of running a “dirty tricks department” amid reports that a senior official may have manipulated a probe into the alleged disappearance of documents related to the controversial Ishrat Jahan case.
A report in the Indian Express said a home ministry official tried to tutor a witness to defame former home minister P Chidambaram in the case, potentially setting the stage for a fresh round of political bickering over the 2004 killing of four suspected terrorists including 19-year-old Ishrat in Ahmedabad.
Several Gujarat police officials were later charged by the CBI for staging a “fake encounter”.
The missing documents relate to preparation of an affidavit that did not mention Ishrat’s terror links and filed by the previous Congress government in the Gujarat high court. An earlier affidavit had linked the 19-year-old Mumbai girl and the three others to the Laskar-e-Taiba.
The BJP-led government accuses the previous Congress regime of exonerating Ishrat of terror charges to suit its political agenda of targeting Narendra Modi, who was the Gujarat CM when the encounter took place in Ahmedabad.
The Congress latched on to the report to get back at the BJP.
“There is a dirty tricks department running at the top echelons of the government which is coordinated by the PMO,” party spokesperson and lawmaker Anand Sharma said.
“Their job is to leak and fabricate documents, carry out surveillance of political opponents and officers. Even judges have not been spared,” he said.
Chidambaram also accused the BJP-led government of creating a “fake controversy” over the missing documents.
Taking “full responsibility” for filing the second affidavit, he said it was “absolutely the correct thing to do”.
“The moral of the story is that even a doctored report (of the inquiry officer) cannot hide the truth. The real issue is whether Ishrat Jehan and three others were killed in a genuine encounter or a fake encounter,” he added.
BJP national secretary Sidharth Singh, however, said the news report does not absolve Chidambaram of his role in changing the affidavit to dilute the “fact” that Ishrat was a terrorist.
In February this year, former home secretary GK Pillai said the second affidavit was changed at the “political level” hinting at his then boss Chidambaram.
Home minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha in March that crucial documents pertaining to preparation of the second affidavit were missing and it included the draft affidavit corrected by Chidambaram.
Singh asked additional secretary BK Prasad – the officer named in the news report -- to probe how the documents went missing.
The news report reproduced a taped conversation purportedly between Prasad and Ashok Kumar, earlier a director in the home ministry and now a joint secretary in commerce ministry.
Prasad allegedly told Kumar the answers he was seeking for his report, which was submitted to the government on Wednesday.
Union home secretary Rajiv Meherishi said in Mumbai that the conversation was misinterpreted. “Jumping to conclusions by hearing only one official and without having understood the response from the other side was uncalled for.”
Prasad told HT on Thursday that there was no evidence to establish that Kumar testified after being tutored during his alleged conversation.
“Besides, all officers examined by me are or have been senior officers in the government and fully capable of answering questions related to the probe on their own and there is no question of tutoring,” said Prasad.
In his report, Prasad said “it appears that documents were removed knowingly or unknowingly, or misplaced” between September 18 and 28, 2009 when Chidambaram was the home minister.
“I have conducted a free and fair enquiry which my enquiry report will reveal,” he said in a statement later.
Kumar, however, refused to respond to the allegations saying he was not authorised to speak to the media.
A probe by a Gujarat metropolitan magistrate in 2009 found that Ishrat and three others were killed in a “fake encounter”. The CBI had later charged several Gujarat police and Intelligence officers of murder in the case.