The nation’s attention is now riveted on the infamous Bhopal Encounter in which eight fugitives owing allegiance to the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), facing trial for various charges, have been killed within eight hours of their daring jail break at Eintkhedi village of Madhya Pradesh. If their ability to break through the high-security prison in Bhopal had raised many an eyebrow, the manner in which the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) ‘neutralised’ them in the hillocks abutting Eintkhedi, 12 km from Bhopal, was somewhat incredulous too. However, within hours of the claim of the fugitives being gunned down in ‘retaliatory’ fire by ATS personnel, videos surfaced showing how orders were being barked to open fire and most disturbingly, a police officer is seen firing a shot at a person lying on the ground who was barely moving. Obviously, the Madhya Pradesh government, which had patted itself for the success in tracking down the fugitives and killing them in an exchange of fire, found itself in a rather indefensible position. What fueled disbelief in the civil society was the contradictory statements made by Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bhupindra Singh that the fugitives were not armed with weapons while a senior police officer Yogesh Choudhary claimed that the police personnel, came under fire forcing them to kill all eight persons.
That there are many loopholes in official claims is very much evident and the Madhya Pradesh government must understand that merely employing gobbledygook to camouflage the discrepancies in the name of maintaining morale of the security forces would cut no ice with the civil society. At a time when there is a growing feeling among sections of society that the nationalist agenda being pursued by the Modi government is alienating people, especially the Muslim community, it behoves an elected government to come clean if it believes in the principles of democracy, as enshrined in the Indian constitution. Ordering mere investigation into the controversy by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) or by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) may not clear Opposition parties and civil society’s apprehensions that the probe would be impartial. Already, rhetoric is being engaged carefully to drive home the point that Opposition parties are politicising the controversy over the ‘encounter deaths’ to discredit the government. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan even wondered he was now aware of how political discourse was stooping to new levels on this issue. But the fact remains that the opacity that surrounds the developments will certainly be exploited by the Opposition parties. The controversy will only end when the NIA or CBI probe is monitored directly by the Judiciary. Will the Madhya Pradesh government ask for a Supreme Court-monitored probe?