The Delhi court verdict in the Batla House case on Thursday led to a political war of words, with BJP slamming Congress leaders who had questioned the genuiness of the encounter while the ruling party hit back.
Contending that the BJP has the habit of criticizing it, Congress said all sections should accept the verdict and guard against speaking "irresponsibly" or politicizing the issue so that the morale of police forces is not undermined.
Digvijaya Singh, who had raised questions over the genuineness of the September 2008 encounter in South Delhi, said he "respects the judgement" but stuck to his demand for a judicial inquiry, saying it was "fully justified" stand.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, while apparently referring to Digvijaya's stand, said, "It was a bizarre situation. While the government honoured late inspector M C Sharma for bravery, senior Congress leaders and functionaries of the ruling dispensation had raised questions on the veracity of the encounter."
Finance minister P Chidambaram, who was the Home Minister at the time of the encounter, dismissed the BJP attack, saying it was the habit of the main opposition party to criticise the Congress party.
"If we say white, the BJP will say black. If the Congress will give some other colour, the BJP will give another colour. I don't think that is relevant. What is relevant is that the police has been able to prove their case against one accused they were able to apprehend," he said.
When referred to the doubts expressed by some leaders like Digvijaya Singh over the encounter, Chidambaram said they were reflecting the views of families who were affected or the people of that area.
"I know that emotion was quite high. The families and residents of the area felt very strongly. I think my colleagues were simply reflecting the views they had heard. I don not think they had access to any independent material, independent access to materials," he said, seeking to downplay the controversy.
Besides Digvijaya Singh questioning the genuineness of the Batla encounter, Union Minister Salman Khurshid had said that Sonia Gandhi had "tears" in her eyes after seeing the photographs of the encounter.
Noting that "we lost a brave police officer", Chidambaram said, "I looked into the evidence, spoke to the investigating officer and I was satisfied that it was a genuine encounter."
He said he had shared his assessment with his party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"I think, to be fair to the people who represented to me, they accepted the conclusion that are arrived at. Today, the court has found the encounter to be genuine and convicted one person," he said.
Contending that there is "no sense of vindication or cause of celebration" over the court verdict, Chidambaram said, "I think the accused has the right to appeal and he should use the right of appeal and after that the court will review the evidence again."
Commenting on the court verdict, Digvijaya Singh said, "I respect the judgement. It is for the aggrieved party to either accept the verdict or go into appeal."
He said, "I had asked for a Judicial Inquiry into Batla encounter which I felt was fully justified but it was denied. I reiterate my earlier stand."
Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said all sections should accept the verdict and guard against politicizing the issue so that the morale of police forces is not undermined.
He sought to playdown the statements made by Digvijaya Singh questioning the genuiness of the encounter, saying individuals could have commented in a "surcharged atmosphere" but those should not be given credence now.
"Nobody has been as clearest and strident as Congress party in condemning fake encounters wherever they have taken place. But after the judicial verdict has come after going through all the facts, all sections of the society should accept it," he told reporters.
Noting that stakeholders have the right to challenge the trial court verdict in an appellate court, Singhvi emphasized that today's judgement was "based on facts" and the encounter should not be politicized.
"Otherwise, you will be undermining the fabric of the democratic society and our judicial systems and will be speaking irresponsibly," he said.
"It is important not to undermine the morale of those who are policing us," he said.
When pointed out that Digvijaya Singh had raised questions on the genuiness of the encounter in which a Delhi Police Inspector was killed, Singhvi said the Congress had been maintaining that his "views" should not be treated as the party line.
"I am quite aware of statements which you are referring to. You forget that when those statements were made, contemporarily, Congress has clarified its stand. There is not an inch or milimetre of change in that stand. There is no inconsistency," he said.
Contending that anyone can have a "view" in a democracy, he said, "it is not good to refer to them at this time when the judgement has come.... It is incumbent upon all stakeholders not to return to statements made in surcharged atmosphere."
The noted lawyer said, "When the judgement is based on facts, unless appelate court changes it, this judgement should be final."
Singhvi's colleague and information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said "we have always maintained that there should be no politicization and communalisation of terror."
He referred to the stand taken by former home minister and current finance minister P Chidambaram and said he has always maintained that the encounter was genuine. "The fact seems to have been endorsed."