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Policemen take away body of one of the eight terrorists of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) who escaped from Bhopal Central Jail and were killed in a gunfight with police on the outskirts of the city on Oct 31, 2016.IANS

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be dismissive of any criticism over the manner in which eight under-trials of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) were killed on the outskirts of Bhopal on Monday, but the controversy over it refuses to die. Now, a former Supreme Court judge has called for death sentence to those responsible for the "fake encounter".

The under-trials, who were facing charges of terror attacks and murders, had escaped a high-security prison from Bhopal in the wee hours on Monday. 

Many BJP leaders, including ministers, have been defending the "encounter" and questioning the patriotic credentials of those raising questions, especially in the light of videos of the encounter site that have surfaced.

But politicians such as Congress leaders Digvijay Singh and Vivek Tankha and Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen have not only raised doubts over the police version of the killings, but called for judicial probe into both the incidents — the escape of the eight SIMI under-trials and their subsequent elimination on the outskirts of the city. 

Justice Markandey Katju has termed the "encounter" as "fake" and called for "death sentence" to those responsible for the killing of the eight men.

"From what I could gather, the so-called encounter in Bhopal was 'fake', and all those responsible for it, not only those who did the actual executions, but also those who ordered it, including politicians and senior politicians, must be given death sentence as held by my bench in the Supreme Court in Prakash Kadam vs Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta," Katju wrote in his Facebook post.

Over the past three days, BJP spokespersons and Madhya Pradesh government ministers have not only justified the killings, but also questioned their critics, branding them "anti-national." 

The controversy has brought into focus police encounters in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was chief minister of the state.

Some are equating the repeated "terror suspects" reference to the eight men with the BJP's top leadership itself. 

The clothes and accessories on the bodies of some of the men after their escape from the jail is being cited as indication of foul play. 

"We have no doubt it was staged. If they could get weapons, shoes and clothes soon after their escape, why couldn't they manage a vehicle? Why would they run away and expose themselves on a hillock?," Shabir Hussein Nagori, brother-in-law of slain SIMI suspect Abdul Majid, asked, according to a report in the Hindustan Times.