Meanwhile, cutting its losses, the state has shifted out DIG Rajnish Rai from the case. It was Rai who had arrested encounter specialist D.G. Vanzara and two other officers, albeit without consulting his superiors including home minister Amit Shah. Rai has been replaced by IGP Geeta Johri, who had conducted the original probe on the fake encounters and had filed the first damning reports in the SC. Ostensibly, she was reinstated after the apex court asked the state to furnish reasons for her removal from the case. But police sources say Rai's removal may actually work to the Gujarat government's advantage. There had been fears that he would conduct a narco-analysis test on the three officers at the Forensic Science Laboratory, Gandhinagar. This would have been a huge embarrassment for Modi, for Vanzara was a hand-picked encounter specialist. The narco-analysis could have revealed the political links of the officers.
Still, if the SC rules in favour of a central agency, the scope will broaden. This will mean opening the books on other encounters carried out during the last three postings of Vanzara (following the '02 riots) till his arrest last month. Many police officers and BJP politicians, including home minister Amit Shah, will then be in the ambit of the probe. Sources say the panic is such that even if the probe is left to the Gujarat police, the state may sacrifice Vanzara and other officers who exceeded their brief. Even Shah could be axed to protect Modi.
Vanzara's sloganeering supporters
With the SC now monitoring investigations, Gujarat DGP P.C. Pande has been pushed to a corner. The DGP has ordered procedural steps which, on the face of it, are aimed at speeding up the probe, but may actually bog it down. Like his making it mandatory for additional DGP O.P. Mathur to oversee investigations on a day-to-day basis. In effect, Mathur's approval is now required for all searches, arrests, any custodial interrogation and even the future line of investigation.
Now, coming to the victim himself. Sohrabuddin, labelled a terrorist and an LeT operative, was actually an extortionist who operated in the marble/mineral-rich Udaipur-Beawar belt of Rajasthan. Apparently, he had made life difficult for the marble traders in the region. It is believed that some of them with political links in the Gujarat BJP decided that Sohrabuddin should be bumped off. This, many suspect, was the genesis of Vanzara's fake encounters. The terrorist tag on Sohrabuddin came because in 1994 Gujarat police claimed to have recovered 36 AK-47 rifles from a well in Sheikh's farm in Ujjain district of MP. Ten people were then arrested but all were let off later by the court for want of evidence.
Besides Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi, the third 'encounter victim' was Tulsi Prajapati, a small-time gangster and friend. In fact, it is believed that Tulsi was used by the police to track down Sohrabuddin. Another friend of Tulsi, Udaipur-based Sylvestor Daniel Christian, was picked up along with him on December 12, 2005, by the Gujarat ATS. He too is still missing.
Post Vanzara's arrest, more cases of 'encounters' are spilling out every day. Shamima Raza, mother of 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan who was shot dead along with three others on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June '04, is on record saying her daughter was also a victim of a fake encounter. The police had gone to town saying the three were LeT operatives out to assassinate chief minister Modi. Ishrat was a first-year student of Khalsa college in Bombay. Remarkably, Vanzara was at hand in this episode too, as DCP Ahmedabad.
Then there's the case of Samirkhan Pathan, an Ahmedabad youth killed in the Usmanpura locality on October 22, '02. Next comes Sadik Jamal of Bhavnagar, bumped off near the Galaxy cinema in Ahmedabad on January 13, '03. His parents, Zeenabibi and Sarfraz Khan Pathan, are emphatic that their son was killed in a fake encounter. More recently, on March 17, '06, four presumed 'Kashmir terrorists' were shot dead near Vatwa in Ahmedabad. All these incidents are now under a cloud as they happened under Vanzara's watch. Ironically, in every instance he had claimed that Modi was the target.