From Shankersinh Vaghela to Keshubhai Patel to L.K. Advani, Narendra Modi’s career is pockmarked with friends who turned foes the higher he rose and the bigger he grew. IAS officer Pradeep Sharma, many say, could be similar collateral damage. After he put Bhuj back on track following the devastating 2001 earthquake, Modi had praised the man he had handpicked to rebuild the district as “one of the state’s brightest collectors”. But as the Amit Shah tapes show, by 2009 a mysterious turn of events had turned Sharma into a hunted man, whom the “Saheb” wanted tailed.
“When I was posted as SP (operations) in the anti-terrorism squad (ATS), Amit Shah directed me several times to watch the movements of Pradeep Sharma, who was then posted as municipal commissioner, Bhavnagar,” the suspended IPS officer G.L. Singhal had said in his statement to the CBI in April 2013, when he handed over the 267 phone conversations he had recorded with Shah, Gujarat’s then MoS for home.
Multiple sources have told Outlook that collector Sharma was introduced to Madhuri (not her real name) sometime around 2004. The young architect, whose family hailed from Bhuj, was interested in a project that involved landscaping a landmark public recreation park in the district. When Narendra Modi came to inaugurate it in 2005, she was introduced to the chief minister who also held the home portfolio.
The architect seems to have shared her interactions with the CM with her close friends. When Madhuri wrote a mail to the CM’s official e-mail address, she was surprised to get a response. The correspondence flowered and continued on what some claim was a “secure” e-mail account. According to those in the know, the familiarity also spilled over to some text messages.
Business Standard reports that Ecolibrium, a firm run by Madhuri’s family in 2008, appears to have benefited from her acquaintance with Modi. When Pradeep Sharma was posted in Bhavnagar as municipal commissioner, the CM directed Madhuri to meet him for a project in Alang. All along, Madhuri, who looked upon Pradeep Sharma as a guide and mentor whom her family trusted, kept him in the loop, even showing him bits of the text messages she had exchanged with Modi. When Madhuri’s mother wanted her to get married and settle down with a local boy, Pradeep Sharma was enlisted with the responsibility of convincing her that her future lay in Bhuj, not Bangalore.
However, Pradeep’s troubles started soon after. His IPS officer brother, Kuldip Sharma, then a state additional DGP, was in Shah’s crosshairs “for issuing directions to his subordinates to submit an interim report to the court in the Sohrabuddin encounter case and to vigorously pursue the inquiry”. This, many believe, led to the arrest of Amit Shah in October 2010.
As the transcripts show, not just Pradeep Sharma but Madhuri’s entire family came under the Shah-ordered surveillance. The commissioner got wind of what was happening when some of his colleagues appeared to know of his whereabouts. In one transcript, when he hears that Madhuri is sitting with Sharma at a popular ice-cream parlour, Amit Shah hollers: “I want him in jail for as many days as Vanzara has been jailed for.” (DIG of police D.G. Vanzara was jailed for a series of fake encounter killings.)
In 2009, when Kuldip Sharma hosted a wedding reception for his son, both Modi and Shah attended and blessed the newly-weds. Eight months later, in January 2010, Shah’s police arrested Pradeep Sharma on charges of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust. There was no notice, no summons. This was followed in quick succession by the filing of two more FIRs. The city superintendent of police waited for Sharma at his residence to arrest him. When Pradeep Sharma was placed in police custody, the first family who came to pay a visit him was Madhuri’s.