Khurshid reveals Manmohan favoured Batla House inquiry
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh had agreed “in principle” to institute a judicial inquiry to probe allegations that the controversial 2008 Batla House police encounter in Delhi was fake, a book by former minister Salman Khurshid has revealed.india Updated: Dec 21, 2015 08:41 IST
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh had agreed “in principle” to institute a judicial inquiry to probe allegations that the controversial 2008 Batla House police encounter in Delhi was fake, a book by former minister Salman Khurshid has revealed.
In his soon-to-be released book The Other Side of the Mountain, Khurshid writes Kapil Sibal, then the minister of science and technology, even settled on former chief justice SP Bharucha to conduct the probe and drew up his terms of reference.
The decision was, however, postponed due to the impending Delhi assembly elections that were a few months away.
The revelations add a fresh twist to the politically-sensitive matter that is back in the news after reports that a section of the Jamia Millia Islamia alumni had asked the university authorities to withdraw an invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the chief guest at its convocation, in view of his reported attack on the institution after the encounter.
In a speech in Gujarat in 2008, Modi had criticised the university for offering to pay the legal fees of the two “terrorists” who were nabbed in the operation.
The September 2008 encounter took place six days after serial blasts across the city left 30 people dead and over 100 injured on a tip off that suspected militants involved in the explosions were holed up in a building in the neighbourhood.
A highly-decorated police officer was fatally injured in the ensuing shootout while two terrorists were killed and two other militants arrested.
Within days, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh demanded a judicial inquiry raising several questions about the genuineness of the encounter. But the Congress distanced itself from his remarks and the UPA government asserted the encounter was genuine.
It also became a major issue in 2008 Delhi assembly elections and the political slugfest continued in the run up to 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Among other factors, the “views” of incumbent chief minister Sheila Dikshit “prevailed” and the judicial inquiry was “postponed to after the polling date — October 29, 2008 — so as not to set off another controversy”, the book says.
The senior Congress leader writes he and Sibal went to the Batla House two days after the encounter because of “wild rumours” doing the rounds.
While leaving, Sibal told Khurshid he was “really shaken”. They spoke to Singh who “arranged for us to meet the Congress president and the prime minister.”
“Over the next two days, the three of us were able to persuade the prime minister to overrule the Delhi Police’s reservations about the low morale of the force and it was agreed in principle that a judicial inquiry would be instituted,” writes Khurshid.
Sibal checked with some judges and settled on Bharucha who “graciously agreed to give precedence to the inquiry over other engagements”. The draft terms of reference were drawn up by Sibal and sent to Khurshid by text message from Japan where he had gone for a brief visit.
In the mean time, then lieutenant governor Tejinder Khanna wanted to meet Khurshid.
“When I met him, once again, the moral argument was stressed repeatedly. Since I was not then in the government, all I could say was that we wait for Kapil Sibal to return and brief him more thoroughly. That did happen and changed the situation,” writes Khurshid.
Ultimately, however, Dikshit’s views prevailed and the inquiry was not instituted.
Khurshid writes he and Digvijaya showed close-up photographs of two boys shot by the police to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, “which caused her distress and she requested us not to show them to her again.”
He also writes about a “vile and venomous anonymous” letter that reached ministers during the UPA government’s negotiations with activists on the lokpal bill in 2011. When the letter was shown to India Against Corruption members, Arvind Kejriwal said they had nothing to do with it, “as though they were in the know already”.
“The letter addressed to me had wild allegations of sexual exploitation of women with a copy of a similar letter having been delivered against receipt to the PMO!... Pranab Mukherjee prevailed upon me to ignore the matter and so the world was deprived of some very salacious fiction about many of us and of an insight into the minds that were leading India’s new ‘freedom movement’ in the capital,” writes Khurshid.