The unending saga arising out of Ishrat Jahan's alleged encounter took a fresh turn on February 11 when Pakistani-American terrorist and one of the prime accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks David Coleman Headley told a Mumbai court that the 19-year-old woman from Mumbra near Mumbai was a suicide bomber of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The moment the news broke, the social media was flooded with messages attacking those who have been defending Ishrat and holding the opinion that she was innocent. As usual, name-calling was resorted to and Ishrat's sympathisers were also labelled as "anti-nationals".
Ishrat's supporters were clubbed with the JNU students, who, just a day ago, had unequivocally shouted anti-national slogan "Kashmir ki azaadi tak, jung rahegi, jung rahegi, India ki barbaadi tak, jung rahegi, jung rahegi" to observe the third "martyrdom day" of terrorist Afzal Guru.
However, in their excitement over Headley's "revelation", the so-called nationalists extrapolated the double agent's statement to even justify the alleged fake encounter, which is wrong. They also hit out at Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar even though he had never called Ishrat as "Bihar ki beti" (Bihar's daughter).
Ishrat was a terrorist, this is now almost certain. Headley himself, in his interrogation by both the FBI and NIA on earlier occasions, has admitted to this operation. Pakistan-based terror outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa had also claimed through Lahore-based Ghazwa Times that she was its activist and had been killed, though they withdrew it later.
But if she was bumped off in cold blood, it cannot be justified in a democracy. The issue has still not been decided by the courts. There are varying accounts so far. Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate SP Tamang ruled that the June 15, 2004 killing was case of "fake encounter" by Gujarat policemen including "encounter specialist" DG Vanzara. A SIT appointed by the Gujarat High Court too said that the encounter was not genuine.
However, the stand of the Centre vis-a-vis the encounter has been changing with the change of Union home ministers. With Shivraj Patil at the helm, the Centre categorically stated the stand that Ishrat was an LeT operative and that the alleged encounter was genuine.
But the stand of the Centre changed when P Chidambaram replaced him after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. There were attempts to implicate Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who was the then Gujarat chief minister) and BJP president Amit Shah for his role as Gujarat minister of state of home.
Far from trapping the two BJP leaders, the Centre could not find any evidence against them. However, as a face-saving measure, the CBI ended up implicating its own agency - the Intelligence Bureau (IB). It charged former IB regional director Rajinder Kumar and three others with criminal conspiracy in the case. Kumar, a 1979-batch IPS officer, was posted as joint director of IB in Ahmedabad when the encounter took place.
Now, with regime change, the Union home ministry has refused to grant permission to the CBI to prosecute the IB officials. Besides, the CBI has given clean chit to Shah. As far as Ishrat's sympathisers are concerned, they were wrong to defend her and call her "innocent". This may be the reason for the so-called nationalists to aggressively react now and attack them.
As a smart move and with no other saving grace, the Ishrat sympathisers have changed the narrative now. They say even if she was a terrorist, the state had no right to "abduct, detain, sedate and kill her in cold blood". They are completely justified till here.
But will they say sorry for calling Ishrat a "martyr"? Will they also regret starting a "Shaheed Ishrat Jahan" ambulance service?
Or, will senior leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (then Union agriculture minister) will apologise to Modi for blaming him for the killing of an "innocent" woman like Ishrat. Or, will NCP leader from Thane, Vasant Davkhare, who offered financial support of Rs 1 lakh to Ishrat's family say sorry to the nation?