New Delhi, March 8
On September 19, 2008, a week after serial blasts tore through the capital, police stormed into a house in Batla House locality searching for terrorists.
What followed has been written into contemporary history as the ‘Batla House encounter’ that polarised the city, caused a media frenzy and was even cinematically recreated in Bollywood.
On Monday, the much-debated Batla House gunbattle in which one Delhi Police officer lost his life, two of his colleagues injured and two terrorists were killed was back in focus with a court convicting alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) member Ariz Khan.
Khan, who was arrested on February 14, 2018 after being on the run for a decade, was held guilty for the murder of inspector Mohan Chand Sharma of Delhi Police’s Special Cell and other offences in connection with the encounter. He faces a maximum punishment of death while the minimum sentence is life imprisonment.
The case stirred a political storm, raised questions from rights activists on the actions of Special Cell officers, divided public opinion and became a raging controversial topic in the media that continues till date.
Karnal Singh, then chief of the Special Cell, recapped many details of the police operation that fateful day at house number L-18 in the Batla House locality of Jamia Nagar in south Delhi in his book “Batla House: An Encounter that Shook the Nation”.
Fake news and “street rumours” were picked up by a section of politicians, activists and media to paint the 2008 Batla House encounter of IM terrorists as staged, he had said last year while talking about his book.
Six days earlier, on September 13, 2008, a series of five blasts in the national capital killed at least 30 people and left over 100 injured. Karnal Singh spearheaded a probe into the blasts as the head or joint commissioner of police of the elite Special Cell that was raised specifically to undertake counterterrorist operations.
The gunfight that broke out is viewed by many to be among the most politicised police encounters in the country. It saw sparring between the Congress and the BJP with many leaders of the former raising questions over the encounter and those from the saffron party accusing their Congress counterparts of appeasing minority community and going soft on terrorism.
Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s reported remarks that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi cried seeing the encounter images also resulted in a political firestorm with the BJP accusing the Congress of playing appeasement politics.
According to political observers, elections in Delhi till then were about development issues when it came to wooing voters but the Batla House encounter changed that. The politics of polarisation became part and parcel of the political landscape of the national capital after that.
Political commentator and senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai said there were earlier some kind of undercurrents of polarising politics in the capital, which has been like a melting pot of the country, but it became very pronounced after the Batla House encounter.
The incident gained traction in political discourse because it was a matter involving national security and politicians used polarising language which made matters worse.
The encounter also formed the basis of an action thriller film by the same name directed by Nikkhil Advani. John Abraham and Mrunal Thakur starred in the movie.
On Monday Additional Sessions Judge Sandeep Yadav convicted Khan and said “the evidence produced by the prosecution duly proved the case beyond reasonable doubts”.
After the encounter of September 19, 2008, protest rallies were organised against it by teachers and students of Jamia Millia Islamia University.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which had conducted an inquiry in the case on the direction of the Delhi High Court, gave a clean chit to Delhi Police.
Two suspected terrorists, Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajid were killed while two other suspects—Mohammad Saif and Zeeshan were arrested earlier. PTI