Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Cannon Fodder

Cannon Fodder

After Kashmir, Gujarat is rocked by allegations of staged killings Updates

Cannon Fodder Cannon Fodder
Cops Turn Killers

Here's why a fake encounter by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad has shocked the nation:

  • Three senior police officers were involved in the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh.
  • The victim was passed off as an LeT operative who was plotting to kill senior Gujarat politicians, including chief minister Narendra Modi.
  • The case came out into the open only after the Supreme Court ordered an investigation.
  • A witness to Sheikh's killing has also been bumped off in an encounter.
  • There is a question mark over five other encounters to which one of the three officers is linked.


Gujarat's official response to allegations of innocents being branded as Islamic terrorists and bumped off in fake encounters has always been dismissive. But that lie was nailed last week with the arrest of three top police officers—two from Gujarat and one from Rajasthan—for the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on November 26, 2005. Sheikh was passed off as an LeT operative on a mission to kill top politicians, including CM Narendra Modi.

The arrests came as a surprise to the three officers—DIG of police D.G. Vanzara, SP intelligence Rajkumar Pandian and SP Udaipur M.N. Dinesh Kumar. They thought they were being summoned for a routine procedural call when they responded to a notice under section 160 for recording statements in connection with Sheikh's death in an "encounter". On April 24, the trio called on DIG CID (crime) Rajnish Rai, the officer investigating the case, with no inkling of what was to follow. After exchanging pleasantries, Rai stepped out of the room and soon returned to tell the three officers they were under arrest. Vanzara put up a brave face, but Pandian was shaken, say police sources. The officers were produced before the metropolitan magistrate in Ahmedabad and remanded to seven days' police custody.

Insiders say the arrests caught even Gujarat DGP P.C. Pande unawares. He first came to know of it when his Rajasthan counterpart rang up to enquire about the arrest of one of his officers. Later, he got a note from Rai informing him of the arrests. An upset Pande reportedly flung away the file and refused to meet mediapersons. Rai, a no-nonsense officer who had an earlier stint with the CBI in Gujarat, was apparently not too keen to take up the case and had informed some seniors that he'd be unable to bail out the guilty officers. He pointed out that the previous DIG looking after the case, Geeta Johri, had done a fairly watertight job and he'd have to go by her report and findings.

Well aware that the political leadership as well as the police top brass sympathised with Vanzara and Pandian, Rai had kept matters strictly to himself without taking anyone into confidence. It was thus that the three officers summoned were taken by surprise when arrested.

The arrests came as a sequel to a petition filed by Sohrabuddin's brother Rubabuddin before the Supreme Court. The petition stated that Sohrabuddin and his wife were picked up by a team of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and Rajasthan Special Task Force on November 25, 2005, en route to Nashik from Hyderabad. However, the ATS and STF on November 28 claimed that Sheikh was killed in an encounter near Ahmedabad. His wife Kausarbibi has been missing ever since. The police say Sheikh was in the city with the intention of targeting senior political leaders and to engage in subversive activities. They claimed Sheikh was an LeT operative. Based on the petition, the SC issued a notice to the Centre, which directed the Gujarat government to submit a report to the apex court. The office of the DGP, Gujarat, entrusted the investigation to DIG CID (crime) Geeta Johri, who submitted two interim reports.

Even as Sheikh's family approached the SC, in another development, Tulsiram Prajapati, Sheikh's friend and the third person arrested along with him and his wife, was killed in an encounter on December 26, 2006, near Ambaji in Banaskantha district. Prajapati knew all the police officers involved in Sheikh's killing. It is suspected that Prajapati paid the price for it. Coincidentally, Vanzara was the ATS chief when the Sheikh encounter took place, and posted as DIG border range (in which Banaskantha district falls) when Prajapati was killed.

It was only in the first week of April 2007 that the state government admitted to the SC that there was prima facie evidence to suggest a fake encounter and sought three weeks time to submit an action taken report.

Vanzara's arrest has brought back into focus five other encounters that occurred when he was deputy commissioner, Ahmedabad crime branch, head of the ATS and DIG, border range. Samirkhan Pathan was killed on October 3, 2002, for allegedly plotting political assassinations. Ditto Sadik Kamal on January 12, 2003. Mahendra Jadhav and Khute were gunned down on June 23, 2003, for planning terrorist activities. Ishrat Jahan Javed and two Pakistanis were killed on June 15, 2004, for allegedly plotting to kill top politicians.

The arrest of Dinesh Kumar, the officer from Rajasthan, led to protests from the state administration. State home minister Gulabchand Kataria, accompanied by police top brass, flew down to Gandhinagar. Kataria met Gujarat home minister Amit Shah, state DGP P.C. Pande and the additional DGP state CID (crime) O.P. Mathur. Kataria alleged serious violation of procedures in Kumar's arrest.

The officers' arrests don't bode well for the Modi government in an election year. The state government is believed to have washed its hands of its most favoured officers and has let the law take its own course. "It is a matter between the Supreme Court and the state CID (crime) and the government has no role in it," said home minister Shah.

So, why was Sheikh bumped off? One theory is that he was extorting money from rich marble traders in Rajasthan who run businesses along the Gujarat border. A politician with links in both states offered a supari of Rs 50 lakh for Sheikh's head days before his death. But there is no evidence to back this claim. As of now, all we know is that Sheikh was bumped off as an LeT operative by Vanzara & Co. But police investigations reveal he had nothing to do with the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit. Nor was he plotting to kill Narendra Modi.