Over a month after the gunning down of Atif and Sajid in Delhi’s Batla House on September 19 an encounter took place in a double-decker bus in Mumbai in which 25-year old Rahul Raj from Bihar was killed. Unlike the first incident, which has no eye-witness but only the police account, we have a televised version of how Rahul was brandishing a revolver after ‘hijacking’ a BEST bus. The television footage and fellow passengers as well as the conductors said that Rahul was venting his anger against the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief, Raj Thackeray. Initial reports said that he even opened fire injuring Manoj Bhagat, one of the passengers. Rahul was shot dead in a subsequent police action.
Advocating bullet for bullet policy, the Maharashtra deputy chief minister, R R Patil, justified the police action. However, the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who was then in Delhi, condemned Rahul Raj’s ‘murder’ by saying that the Mumbai Police have killed a chicken with a cannon. He dismissed the Maharashtra government story of the ‘hijacking’ of the bus and threat to life of the passengers and said that Rahul could have been easily overpowered by the police. Not only that, the following day, after his arrival at the Patna airport he drove straight to Rahul Raj’s sprawling home in Kadam Kuan locality to console the family members.
Other leaders from Bihar too condemned what they say “the cold-blooded murder of a young job aspirants”. They were all unanimous that Rahul was in fact an innocent youth and asserted that the one will have to understand the frustration and anger of the people of Bihar before passing any final judgement. The media in Bihar too adopted the same stand.
The BJP in Bihar, which always talks of tough action against any act of terror, was in the forefront of condemning the Mumbai Police and justified the step taken by Rahul Raj. This young man, who was treated as a terrorist by the Maharashtra government and called Bihari mafia by Shiv Sena boss, Bal Thackeray, was hailed as a martyr by the same BJP men. And when Rahul Raj’s body was brought to Patna a day after Diwali it was none other than Bihar’s deputy chief minister, Sushil Kumar Modi, himself a BJP leader, who represented the state government to the funeral. A day later Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad too paid a visit to late Rahul Raj’s house in Patna. The media gave ample coverage to the feeling and outburst of Rahul’s sister, a probationer officer of the State Bank of India in Kolkata.
There is absolutely no problem with all these actions. An objective assessment of the whole event suggests that Rahul perhaps wanted to raise the issue of the safety of Biharis, but adopted a wrong method to do so. His intention might not have been to kill Raj Thackeray. The Mumbai Police as elsewhere in the country appeared trigger-happy. Without using any other method they fired to eliminate him.
But what is true to Rahul Raj can easily be applied to other cases too. Here at least Rahul was seen by the whole world brandishing arms to terrorise the bus passengers. The anti-North Indian policies of Thackerays might have instigated him to take this extreme step. Even if the cause was genuine, one should not have taken to arms. Ideally the police should have overpowered and booked him under the Arms Act.
In contrast to what happened to Rahul we have no independent eyewitnesses to verify the Delhi Police claim that Atif and Sajid were the terrorists and were killed in an encounter. Not a single witness came up to back the police version. In fact everyone, even the vice chancellor of Jamia Millia, said that it was a fake encounter. There was no media footage to substantiate the police version in this case.
Yet the media trial of the two young boys from Azamgarh – Sajid was barely 17 – started on the very afternoon of September 19. The BJP people went to town and launched a great offensive against the UPA. The Batla House incident reminded the people of the colony of a similar killing of a youth at the hands of the police after the Lal Qila army camp attack in December 2000. It was also the month of Ramadhan and Lal Krishna Advani was the home minister of India then.
Whether Atif and Sajid were terrorists or not is not the issue here. After all there is no independent version and no police record, which say that they were criminals. In contrast Rahul did openly indulge in a crime yet the NDA leaders of Bihar, not to speak of politicians of other parties, are justifying his act, which they say was taken in great frustration. He is being hailed as a hero. But the same BJP leaders had a different stand on the two Muslim boys killed in Delhi.
Even in the case of the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur they are using the same arguments to justify her crime. Notwithstanding the proof against her and her venomous and provocative speeches available in CDs the Sangh Parivar and their partners are saying that she has been implicated. One of their leaders, in a way condoned the crime, by saying that a handful of Hindus might have triggered a blast or two because the Islamic terrorists have exploded so many bombs.
What they tend to forget is that it is not so easy for any state police to lay their hands on a serving army officer. In Malegaon and Modassa blast cases the Maharashtra Police have named both serving as well as retired army officers.
But why have the same logic not been applied in the case with Muslim terrorists? Even if one accepts the argument that Atif and Sajid were terrorists why are not the BJP people saying that they indulged in these acts out of sheer anger and frustration as they are saying in case with Rahul. In contrast the entire Azamgarh has been declared a terrorist hub by the officials as well as the media.
The Sangh Parivar is quick to present the death of police officer, Mohan Chand Sharma, to substantiate their argument against Atif and Sajid. This notwithstanding the fact that no bullet was recovered from his body and the post mortem report says that he was fired from behind. Sharma’s killing may remain a mystery as many other such cases in the past.
I have a personal experience of covering the ‘killing’ of a policeman at the hands of the so-called ‘Naxalites’ in Bihar two decades ago. That was the time when I was still in my 20s and was the staff correspondent of the Times of India posted in Gaya. I was new to my job, yet one fine morning I learnt from a newspaper report that a police sub-inspector and a Naxalite were killed in an attack on the police outpost in Khajuri village under Konch police station of Gaya district the previous night. I, along with Pravin Bagi of Hindi daily Navbharat Times (now he is in ETV), headed for the spot. When our bike was about to reach the police outpost, which in fact was a school building occupied by the police in the non-descript village of Khajuri we smelt something foul. Almost a furlong before the police outpost was situated a Dalit hamlet and we heard women-folk weeping. When we approached the hutments we were told a very strange story about the attack on the police outpost. The menfolk told us that the previous night a policeman was killed and another one injured in a brawl among them over dinner. Perhaps they were drunk and exchanged fire. Soon after the incident other policemen posted there swarmed down on this Dalit hamlet and picked up a youth. They took him near the outpost and shot him dead. Then these policemen fired some rounds on the school buildings to show that it was actually attacked. Then they sent the wireless message to district headquarters in Gaya and then subsequently to state headquarters in Patna that a big attack had been repulsed and that a police sub-inspector lost his life along with a Naxalite.
But the local MLA of Konch, Ramashray Prasad Singh, who incidentally was then a minister in the then Congress government (he is now a minister in the Nitish cabinet too), got the news that something wrong had happened. He rushed to the hamlet from Patna, gave some money, clothes and food to the family members of the deceased. All this was apparently done to hush up the matter. By the time we were in the village he had left for Patna.
After learning this version from the people we still proceeded to the nearby outpost, which was said to be attacked. We did not talk much to the policemen deployed there as they said that cops posted on the outpost at the time of ‘attack’ have been shifted. Those present there did not want to tell the true story. The reports filed by me got good coverage in all the editions of the Times of India.
M C Sharma’s case may be entirely different. But what the Gaya incident suggests is that one can accept the police version only with a pinch of salt – be it in Gaya, Mumbai or Delhi.