'Polls in mind, Sheila wanted no probe on Batla House'

Former Union minister Salman Khurshid. (PTI File Photo)

The then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit did not want an enquiry into the controversial 2008 Batla House encounter in which Indian Mujahideen terrorists were killed, as she felt it would "hijack" the Assembly elections in which she was seeking re-election, senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid says.

It was not just Dikshit but then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Delhi Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna too was against such an enquiry, Khurshid says in his new book 'Visible Muslim, Invisible Citizen: Understanding Islam in Indian Democracy'.

Khurshid and some other leaders were lobbying for an enquiry into the Batla House encounter, which took place on 19 September, 2008 a week after serial blasts in the capital, as there were doubts raised about the police action in which Indian Mujahideen terrorists were killed. Encounter specialist Mohan Chand Sharma fell to the bullets of terrorists.

The Congress leader, who unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh, says "questioning the circumstances of an encounter has nothing to do with" pronouncing the culpability of the persons involved. 

However, he laments, "strident and some times vicious" public criticism of any "objective flagging of unclear and ambiguous details" of the encounter has "discouraged dispassionate" discussion.

Khurshid had taken the initiative to intervene soon after the encounter raised questions and he persuaded then Union Minister Kapil Sibal, who initially "felt some last-minute reservations", to join him to visit Batla House. 

Later, Khurshid, Sibal and Digvijay Singh met the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and later the Prime Minister, who was "cautious and sceptical about any inquiry because of police morale". It was the Prime Minister who suggested that they meet Khanna.

Khurshid met the Lt Governor as Sibal had left for Japan on an official tour after sharing the terms of reference for an enquiry with the former. Khanna was, however, "very clear" that an enquiry was "uncalled" and later the Lt Governor "convinced" Sibal that there was no point in "stirring things up further'.

“Meanwhile, Sheila Dikshit, anxious that her election barely a few weeks away would get hijacked, asked us to shelve the inquiry till after the elections. So we did. She won her election,” Khurshid writes.

“However, before we could get back to it, Inspector M C Sharma, a much decorated police officer who had won seven gallantry medal...was posthumously awarded India's highest peace-time military decoration, the Ashoka Chakra, on 26 January, 2009, and the inquiry was permanently buried,” he writes.

Khurshid goes on to say that some people say that the terrorist background of the accused should not be questioned.

“There is not difficulty on that score, but it is not a simple sequitur to accept that the encounter was as the police suggested,” he adds. (ENDS)

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