SIMI encounter: demonetisation rescues Chouhan
Posted December 26, 2016on:
Announcement of demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the night of November 8 came as a big relief to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who had been literally embroiled in the suspected SIMI terrorists’ ‘escape’ from Bhopal Central Jail and ‘encounter’ a couple of hours later in the morning of October 31. With media breathing down his neck, Chouhan was literally at his wits’ end while reacting to the escape-cum-encounter incident, talking incoherently and incessantly changing his stand. The demonetisation announcement took the media attention away and he received the breather to plan out the strategy to bury the escape-cum-encounter scandal as he had earlier done many other scandals – such as Vyapam scam, Shehla Masood murder case, Petlawad illegal explosives blast which had killed nearly 100 persons, and the two Ratangarh temple stampede incidents which had also killed over 100 persons.
The Bhopal Central Jail is designed with high security features and those accused of terrorism or other brutal crimes are shifted here from other jails in the State. The jail had around 30 SIMI activists – some convicted and some under trial. Eight of them ‘escaped’ from the jail in the early hours of October 31 and were gunned down in what the police claims an encounter some ten kilometres away from the jail a few hours later. Seven of them were under-trials and one was a convict. Bhopal Zone IG police Yogesh Chaudhary announced: ‘when we located them, they fired on us and all eight of them were killed in the encounter’. Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Sanjeev Shami, however, claimed that all eight SIMI suspects were unarmed. Sanjeev Shami had led the firing squad in the ‘encounter’. The activists were identified as Amzad, Zakir Hussain Sadiq, Mohammad Salik, Mujeeb Shaikh, Mehboob Guddu, Mohammad Khalid Ahmed, Aqeel and Majid. They were said to have killed jail warder Ramashankar Yadav before escaping.
It appears that some ‘agency’ in the State planned the escape-cum-encounter incident and the Chief Minister was faced with a fait accompli. In any case, the whole operation was clumsily planned and the Chief Minister, the State’s Home Minister and various police officers were hard put to explain the operation. First, it was claimed that the eight SIMI activists had made a rope of bed sheets to climb the wall of the jail and climb down on the other side. This theory did not last long. It is a nearly 35-ft high steep wall without any nails to hook the rope or bedsheet. For a similar reason, the other theory also fell flat that they rode each other’s shoulder pyramid-wise to climb up and climb down the wall. Besides, there are watch towers atop jail roof and the entire jail campus is covered by several layers of security. All the eight escapees were wearing new clothes and new shoes as later was visible in the pictures and videos of the scene of ‘encounter’.
While ATS chief Sanjeev Shami was telling media persons that the escapees were unarmed, State’s Home Minister Bhupendra Singh was claiming that firearms were recovered from the bodies of the eight ‘terrorists’. Chief Minister Chouhan announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for information about each of the eight escapees. He said he had talked to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the whole incident would be investigated by National Investigation Agency (NIA). After the news of ‘encounter’ became viral, he congratulated the police for prompt action and announced cash awards for the police personnel who had participated in the ‘encounter’ and the award of Rs 40 lakh to the villagers who had ‘informed’ the police about their whereabouts.
There was a demand by opposition leaders for a judicial inquiry into the whole operation. Asked repeatedly by media persons, the Chief Minister stoutly denied that there was any need for a judicial inquiry. Even an investigation by NIA was no more required; only a CID inquiry would be held. Meanwhile, a petition was moved before the MP High Court raising questions on the police claim of an encounter with SIMI activists. As the High Court bench was about to issue notices to the State and others, Chouhan hurriedly announced a judicial inquiry into the whole gamut of escape and encounter by a retired High Court judge. The State counsel in Jabalpur informed the bench promptly. Accordingly, the division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Subhash Kakade said: ‘Finally, keeping in view various aspects of the matter, a commission of inquiry under the Commission of Inquiries Act, 1952 has been constituted with a retired Judge of this court, Justice S K Pande, as the officer to conduct the inquiry vide notification dated November 7, 2016’.