New Turn in the Parliament Attack Case


Background
Five armed persons entered the Parliament complex in New Delhi on 13 December 2001 at about 11.30 A.M. when Parliament was in session. On being challenged near the carcade of the Vice-President of India, they opened fire. For half an hour, a fierce battle raged outside the building; inside, around 200 trapped and terrified politicians listened to gunfire and grenade explosions. By noon, it was all over. All five persons died on the spot before they could enter inside the Parliament building. Nine other people, including some members of the security forces, died in the attack while sixteen persons from the security forces were injured. A much larger catastrophe was barely averted. In terms of the scale of the attack and its symbolic significance, it was perhaps the most daring terrorist assault on the Indian soil in recent years.
 
Keeping to the subcategory that Noam Chomsky calls “doctrinally acceptable” – their terror against us, there is no doubt that the problem of terrorism is serious and complex. As such, any probe into terrorist outrages demands skills of management and deliberation of a high order, especially with respect to sharing and dissemination of information. As long as the institutions of a democratic state are able to display over-all transparency and human concern, the general public will appreciate the constraints under which these institutions are compelled to function. The task is not easy, but it must be undertaken for democracy to function. Thus, in the context of December 13, Chomsky hoped that “Indian democracy and its legal system will rise to the challenge, … and ensure that human and civil rights are properly protected.”
 
In contrast, what followed after December 13 was the opposite. Soon after the attack, four people were arrested for their alleged role in the conspiracy, and the government, aided by the media, cited ‘evidence of overwhelming credibility’ that terrorists operating from Pakistan had organized the attack. This enabled the government to push the country to the brink of a nuclear war with Pakistan, and enact the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which was used in turn to attack political opponents, journalists, minorities, dalits and poor people. In Gujarat, the Muslim population was subjected to horrendous atrocities by Hindu mobs during the communal carnage of February-March 2002; while over 2000 Muslims lost their lives, several hundred thousand were forced to take shelter in ill-equipped refugee camps for years.  Yet, POTA was used “with great precision”  so that out of the 287 persons booked under them in Gujarat, one is a Sikh and the rest 286 are Muslims.  (For a general discussion of the geo-political meaning of the Gujarat riots in the context of post-9/11 Islamophobia, see Mukherji, “Gujrat and the World Order”, www.zmag.org/content/SouthAsia/ mukherji_gujrat-world-order.cfm)

The Trial
The four accused – Mohammad Afzal, Shaukat Hussain Guru, Afsan Guru, and SAR Geelani, all Kashmiri Muslims – were tried in a “fast-track” trial in the Special Court for POTA offences. The trial was marked by two significant features, among others:

1. As documented in detail by human rights activists and lawyers ( Nandita Haksar, “A Presumptuous Judgment”, www20.brinkster.com/sargeelani; Peoples Union of Democratic Rights, “A Trial of Errors”, www.pudr.org), the Special judge was quite openly biased and prejudiced, and much of the “evidence” produced by the police was clearly fabricated and concocted to frame the accused.
2. The mainstream media was in total complicity with the police and the political executive in declaring the accused as guilty of terrorist conspiracy even before the trial began (this is fully documented in Mukherji, “Media and December 13”, www.zmag.org/content/showarticle. cfm?SectionID=32&ItemID=6332)

Not surprisingly, the Special Court found each of the accused guilty. Afzal, Shaukat and Geelani (a lecturer of Arabic in Delhi University and a scholar of Urdu poetry) were sentenced to death, while Afsan was given 5 years rigorous imprisonment. After the judgment, human rights forums slowly found the spirit, in the face of unprecedented mass prejudice orchestrated by the state, to campaign against the judgment. The case of Geelani was found to be particularly vitiated by mistrial. Two campaign committees – All India Committee in Defence of SAR Geelani and Delhi University Teachers in Defence of SAR Geelani – were formed to organize public protests against the judgment; Noam Chomsky called the trial of Geelani “absurd and tragic.” (The political role of the intelligentsia in the context of state-sponsored “war against terrorism” was analyzed in Mukherji, “Teachers and the war on terrorism”, Economic and Political Weekly, www.cse.iitk.ac.in/~hk/hss742/Teachers.epw.html)

It is now generally acknowledged that, partly due to the vigorous campaign, the High Court in Delhi, which heard the appeals against the lower/Special Court, opted for a “balancing act” and acquitted Geelani and Afsan of all charges, while retaining the death sentences of Afzal and Shaukat (See Peoples Union of Democratic Rights, “A Balancing Act”, www.pudr.org).

The defence lawyers Nitya Ramakrishnan and Nandita Haksar asked the most obvious questions about the police and the judiciary within hours of the High Court judgment. Ramakrishnan asked: “Why had the police, with the best legal advice and in such a high-profile case, not paused to consider if it had sufficient evidence to prosecute the case?” Haksar commented: “the question that remains to be answered is how did any court sentence a man to death on no evidence at all?”  The issue is simple: the grievous miscarriage of justice for Geelani and Afsan cast an extensive shadow on the very credibility of the functioning of the police and the judiciary, notwithstanding a partial amelioration of the judiciary in the High Court judgment. Why should we now believe in the prosecution’s story for the rest of the case? In particular, what justifies the underlying assumption that, although the police, the prosecution and the Special Court have been horribly wrong in one part of the case, they have been vindicated for the other parts?

Unanswered Questions
A fresh look at the short, sordid history of the case, suggests that the prosecution story is essentially false. Thus, we do not yet know who attacked Parliament on that fateful day. Could it be that the real culprits are still at large? In fact, when these doubts are read with proven acts of fabrication of evidence on the part of the police, it is difficult to dispel the apprehension of an elaborate scheme to restrict the case exclusively to the four accused, with Mohd. Afzal as the main link.

The alleged terrorists died on the spot; their alleged mastermind in Kashmir, one Ghazi Baba, reportedly also died in a recent encounter, and the dead don’t speak. Was there a real Ghazi Baba at all with his “camp” deep in the mountains of Kashmir guarded by scores of heavily-armed militants, or was the terrifying image “constructed” only for the purpose of the case, to be eliminated when the purpose was served? Is there an attempt here to close the story around Afzal, a past militant, and thus a natural suspect? If these conjectures are true, is it possible for the concerned officers of the investigating agency to come up with this extraordinary attempt on their own without directions from higher authorities?

From what we currently know, the Parliament attack case gives the impression of an elaborate scheme of fabrication and concoction on the part of the investigating agency. To mention a few cases: each arrest memo was fabricated, no recoveries were attested by reliable public witnesses, no public witness was asked to identify the accused on the basis of proper methods of identification, every disclosure and confessional statement was likely to have been secured under torture. The only explanation of this display of chilling arrogance is that the investigating agency must have thought that it can get away with anything in the prejudicial atmosphere created largely by the State in the name of “war on terrorism.” In fact, it did get away with awesome lies through two successive judicial proceedings. (These issues are discussed in Mukherji, “Who Attacked Parliament”, www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv10n2/parliament.htm)

To be explicit, once we set the prosecution story aside, it is difficult to escape the thought that the investigating agencies themselves planned and executed their own conspiracy at least for a part of the case. On one extreme, this could mean just that the investigating agencies took advantage of a genuine terrorist attack by falsely incriminating the accused to bolster their own image, and to close the case which they could not have otherwise solved from their resources. But, on the other extreme, reminiscent of the infamous Reichstag Fire in Nazi Germany,  it could also imply the stunning prospect of the state actually planning the attack itself. Virtually, an indefinite number of possibilities obtain in between. We just do not know.

In a recent interview, the eminent lawyer Shanti Bhusan complained that the government “pushed us to the brink of a nuclear war” following the attack on Parliament. However, “the police failed to crack the case” as “all the five militants died in the attack.” So the police, Shanti Bhusan suggested, “framed people” in order “to create a conspiracy case.” Later in the interview, Shanti Bhusan observed that “an inquiry commission is instituted when the government does not know the real truth of some incident, when there are different versions, and in order to get correct information.”  The demand for a serious and comprehensive public inquiry thus arises.

New Turn
As the case moved to the Supreme Court of India in view of fresh appeals, the people of India voted out the government led by the communal-fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the stunning elections of May 2004. With the change in the government and the growing revelations of the massive misdeeds of previous regime in case after case, there is a new opportunity to bring the Parliament attack case in the public domain, and to examine the entire structure of the post-9/11 “War on Terrorism” fuelled by US and joined by regimes across the world, including “democracies” such as India.
 
The recent murderous attack on SAR Geelani thus assumes immense significance in the light of the changed circumstances. Near the house of his lawyer, Nandita Haksar, five bullets were pumped into Geelani’s body on the evening of 8 February. The prompt actions of Ms. Haksar combined with sheer luck saved his life. For the last fortnight, the country is agog with speculations on who could have shot those bullets. Within hours of the attack, human rights activists, lawyers and others pointed their fingers at the law-enforcing agencies themselves – especially the Special Branch of Delhi Police who had subjected Geelani to illegal arrest, brutal torture in front of his family, and forced signatures on blank sheets. For the first time in recent years, the heat is on the police.
 
In a perceptive piece, recounting some of the more sinister aspects of the Parliament attack case, Arundhati Roy wrote, “I have no idea who pumped those bullets into S.A.R. Geelani. However, in deference to the general public unease with the Special Cell, the investigation ought to be conducted by an agency other than the Delhi Police. While it may be unfair to accuse them without evidence, they certainly cannot be considered above suspicion, and must be investigated.” (“who pulled the trigger…didn’t we all?”, www.sacw.net, Feb 20).

It is important to be clear that, scattered individual opinion notwithstanding, those who have officially demanded that the inquiry into the attack on SAR Geelani be handed over to an agency other than the Delhi Police HAVE NOT accused the Delhi Police of carrying out the attack. To keep the record straight, I will cite from two statements to show what exactly was said.

On 9 February, that is within a few hours of the attack, a large number of academicians, social activists, writers including Ms. Roy, artists and others gathered before the police headquarters. An open letter to the Home Minister was prepared and signed by hundreds of those gathered. In the letter, it was clearly stated: “ALTHOUGH WE DO NOT WISH TO PRE-JUDGE ANY SPECIFIC COMPLICITY IN THE ATTACK ON PROF. GEELANI AT THIS STAGE, we strongly feel that the involvement of the Delhi Police itself, especially its Special Branch, in the crime can not be ruled out” (emphasis added).
The letter then went on to describe the treatment meted out to Geelani and the other accused in the Parliament attack case; it also detailed Geelani’s refusal to submit to police pressures despite torture. Further, it described how “after his acquittal, Prof. Geelani has been a prominent voice in defence of democracy and human rights. Following his own bitter experience, he has drawn attention of the country to the abject violation of the rights of prisoners, especially Kashmiri muslims, in the Tihar jail.” Thus, the letter suggested, “No wonder his presence has been a thorn in the flesh of cynical power enjoyed by the Special Branch with the undisguised blessings of the erstwhile NDA government in the name of anti-terrorist operations.” (See the full text of the letter alongwith signatories at www.sacw.net/hrights/OletterHomeMin9feb05.html).

Then, on 14 February, Delhi University Teachers in defence of SAR Geelani, submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission. This document was also signed by a large number of academicians, human rights and social activists. After repeating the charges as above, the petition stated: “The needle of suspicion is thus directed at the Delhi Police UNTIL THEY ARE ABLE TO EXONERATE THEMSELVES WITH TRUTHFUL INVESTIGATION.”

As Ms. Roy has described the investigations carried out so far, it is hard to credit the Delhi Police with “truthful investigation” two weeks into the attack. Apart from the scandalous disinformation campaign reported by Ms. Roy and the NHRC petition, by now Geelani’s lawyer and her husband, Geelani’s brother, and most of Geelani’s academic friends have been repeatedly interviewed by the police, as if the “clue” to Geelani’s assassin is somehow hidden there. As the petition to NHRC stated after a careful review of these “investigations”, “these actions not only show the failure of the police to launch a serious investigation into this massive crime, there is an attempt to personalize what is clearly an enormous political crime. Who are the police trying to shield with these diversionary tactics?” (Full text of the petition at  www.sacw.net/hrights/letterNHRC14022005.html).

But there is no report as to whether the police have interrogated their own brethren in the special branch, the hoodlums that ransacked Senior Counsel Ram Jethmalani’s office when he decided to defend Geelani in the High Court, and the right-wing forces that burst crackers in front of the Special Court when Geelani was sentenced to death. In other words, people with demonstrated enmity towards Geelani have been systematically spared. At the same time, there is a constant attempt to implicate shadowy terrorist groups, persons lodged in prison, and even Geelani himself for “crafting” this attack.

Are we then too far off the mark in thinking that the police is trying desperately to keep the real issues away from sight and just buying time to await (or may be even prepare) for some “dramatic development”, perhaps involving international terrorism, that will be projected as a “breakthrough” in the “mystery”?

In this connection, it is important to reflect upon the interesting story just released under the auspieces of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.  Apparently, the Cell had arrested a person called “Aziz”, “the 53 year old chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s League”, which is a member of the Hurriyat Conference. Aziz was caught red-handed from the posh Chanakyapuri area with fake Indian currency and UAE dirhams apparently “obtained” from the Pakistan High Commission. Interestingly, Aziz was also a “Supreme Commander” of an “extremist branch” known as “Al-jehad”; prior to that, he “underwent a six-week training in handling of arms and ammunitions (in PoK) after which he returned with an AK-series assault rifle”. He had been frequently arrested by the Indian security forces, most recently in September 2001, and was released only in 2004. The Cell did not forget to mention that another character with a similar profile – but a woman this time – was also arrested two years ago; that woman happened to be a “socio-human rights activist” as well.

It will be interesting to know why this well-known shady character happened to roam the streets of Delhi with large sums of counterfeit money obtained from Pakistan High Commission in these charged days after the attack on Geelani.

The promising thing about this arrest is the convergence at the right place and time of the following: Kashmir and Hurriyat, “jehad”, training in PoK, Pakistan High Commission, fake currency, and possibly “human rights” via the suggested montage – the works. It is reported that the Cell plans to arrest and interrogate “his other accomplices”. We await their revelations.

Nirmalangshu Mukherji teaches at Delhi University. A footnoted version of this article is available from the author.

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