Dionne Bunsha

(The Hindu, April 26, 2007))


The arrest of three police officers on Tuesday for allegedly killing three persons in a fake encounter outside Ahmedabad has opened up a can of worms, bringing up questions about Chief Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders’ responsibility for the shootings and raising doubts about other police “encounters” in the State.


The three police officers, D.G. Vanjara (DIG, Border Range, Gujarat), Rajkumar Pandyan (Superintendent of Police, Intelligence Bureau, Gujarat) and Dinesh Kumar (Superintendent of Police, Alwar, Rajasthan), were charged with murder for the fake encounter that took place on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on November 26, 2005. They killed Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausar Bano and Tulsiram Prajapati, who was the only witness to the encounter. At the time, Mr. Vanjara and Mr. Pandyan were officers in the Gujarat police’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and Mr. Kumar was Superintendent of Police of Udaipur. They claimed that Sheikh was part of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and had planned to kill political leaders in Gujarat.


Soon after Sohrabuddin’s death, his brother Rubabuddin Sheikh sent a letter to the Supreme Court asking for an inquiry. Later, he filed a writ petition in January 2007 asking for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the death of his brother and Kausar Bano, who has been `missing’ since the killing. Her body has not yet been found.


Before Mr. Rubabuddin’s petition was filed, the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat Director-General of Police to look into the case based on his letter. The DGP ordered an inquiry by Geetha Johri, CID officer, into the killings Later, when the Union Government responded to Mr. Rubabuddin’s petition, it confirmed that the encounters were fake. In December 2006, Ms. Geetha Johri filed her interim report. It exposed the ATS’ crimes. The Gujarat Government had her removed from the investigation and appointed Rajneesh Rai to complete it. “Following Ms. Johri’s report, the Gujarat Government admitted to the Supreme Court that the encounters were fake,” said Rajeev Kumar Bansal, advocate for Mr. Rubabuddin


On the night of November 22, 2005, Sohrabuddin and Kausar were travelling on a bus from Hyderabad to Sangli when the police officers allegedly stopped the bus on the highway to Belgaum at 1.30 a.m. when a Qualis van overtook the bus and made it stop. Two persons in plainclothes claimed they were the police and checked the bus. Then, three other men with revolvers entered and took Sohrabuddin, Kausar and another man off the bus.


The identity of the other man is not yet confirmed, bit it is suspected that he was Tulsiram Prajapati, Sohrabuddin’s associate and an alleged police informer, who tipped off the police about Sohrabuddin’s whereabouts. Mr. Vanjara’s team took the trio to Ahmedabad and an encounter was staged. It is suspected that Kausar Bano was later raped and killed near Himmatnagar, Mr. Vanjara’s hometown.


Sohrabuddin, a resident of Rajasthan, had cases of extortion, murder and kidnapping against him, but none relating to terrorist activities.


Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria rushed to Gandhinagar to express his anger at the arrest of the Rajasthani police officer. Mr. Vanjara was known to have a lot of political influence with the Modi Government. He oversaw nine encounters in which 15 persons were killed. These include the controversial killing of Ishrat Jahan from Mumbra in Mumbai and Sameer Khan Pathan, both alleged to be terrorists who wanted to kill Mr. Modi. Again, questions are being raised about the authenticity of these encounters.


The Gujarat Congress has demanded a CBI investigation into the role of the Chief Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah in the killings.


 “No encounter can take place without the consent of the Chief Minister and Home Minister. We want an independent CBI inquiry into this. Why has the Government tried to thwart the Johri report’s investigations? What are they afraid of,” asked Arjun Modhvadia, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.


“There is an encounter in Gujarat every two months. The police’s explanation for all of them is the same,  terrorist, ISI links, Dawood associates who have come to Gujarat to kill Mr. Modi,” Mr. Modhvadia said.


“This is done to create insecurity amongst people, garner public sympathy and project Mr. Modi as a hero against terrorism.”

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