The long arm of the law seems to be increasingly catching up with law-enforcers as the judicial probe into the sensational 2004 ‘encounter killing’ of Ishrat Jahan and three others in Gujarat reveals.
The four, according to the state police who eliminated them, were members of the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyeba who were on a mission to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Forensic evidence has given lie to the theory that they were killed in a frenzied chase. Instead, they were shot dead in cold blood.
This will be another blow to the ‘encounter’ culture, once made famous by the Mumbai police in their drive against the underworld. In fact, at that time, the so-called police encounter specialists were feted despite having acted outside the purview of the law. Encounter killings got further legitimacy, even a degree of public approval, after they were seen to have been effective in countering insurgencies in places like Punjab.
Apart from this case, the 2007 Sohrabuddin Sheikh case and the more recent killing of an MBA student in Uttarakhand have put the police on the mat as never before. There are several reasons why the police and their mentors are not able to get away with extra-judicial murders as easily as before. For one, there is a vigilant media that now has its reach in almost every nook and cranny.
Now many may dismiss the media’s intrusive role at times, but this does ensure that awareness about issues like fake police encounters reach as many people in as little time as possible. Civil society, too, is not as passive today as before. We have seen how persistent public pressure led to re-opening of controversial cases like the murders of Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo.
Many of these encounter killings were done with an eye on bigger rewards in terms of promotions and accolades. The fact that such a policy is yielding diminishing returns suggests a welcome cleansing of our law-enforcement system. With good governance having become a winning formula in recent times, it is increasingly becoming counterproductive for powerful politicians to shield guilty officers.
But, for Modi who has been trying, successfully, to re-cast himself as development-driven, this could not have come at a worse time. The damage can only be contained if the guilty are given exemplary punishment and that too without further delay.