Even before the break of dawn, the team spotted a blue car driving into the city with suspicious looking passengers. On signalling to stop, there was firing from inside. The crime branch team retaliated and in the crossfire four ‘terrorists’ lay dead. One of them was Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old teenage girl from Mumbra, a muslim dominated locality on the outskirts of Mumbai.
The crime branch team was quick to announce the ‘prized’ encounter. It had killed an LeT module which was on a mission to eliminate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. This was the third `prized’ encounter by the Gujarat police post-2002 Godhra riots lead by a senior IPS officer, D G Vanzara. Prior to this, the crime branch had successfully ‘eliminated’ two more ‘terrorists’ in similar operations. Thirty-year-old Ahmedabad youth Sameer Khan Pathan in 2002 and Bhavnagar resident, Sadiq Jamal Mehtar in 2003. In all these cases, the police officers boasted of having dented a terror plan to eliminate the top political leadership of the state.
But several years later, the ghosts of these encounters have returned to haunt the infamous police officers. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) which was constituted by the Gujarat High Court after the family members of those who were killed alleged foul play, has established that the Ishrat Jahan encounter was stage managed and the Mumbra teenager and three others were killed in cold blood. The skeletons are beginning to tumble out. Sadiq Jamal case has been handed over to the CBI for investigations and Sameer Khan Pathan’s parents have approached the high court for an independent probe. These are not isolated cases but a few among the almost two dozen encounter cases in the state post-2002.
In fact, just a year after the Ishrat Jahan episode, the Anti Terrorist Squad of the Gujarat police lead by D G Vanzara again ‘eliminated’ an alleged criminal, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, in an encounter. Interestingly, the encounter took place just few months after Vanzara was shifted from the Ahmedabad crime branch to the ATS. But after Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubbuddin filed a petition in the Supreme Court, the Gujarat CID carried out a probe and found that this encounter too was a fake one.
The ATS team not only killed Sohrabuddin but also eliminated his wife Kausar Bi since she was witness to the abduction of her husband. The modus operandi in both Ishrat and Sohrabuddin cases seemed to be strikingly similar. In both the cases the ‘terrorists’ were found to be in the custody of the police officers even before the encounter.
“Our investigations have clearly indicated that Ishrat, Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were in the custody of the crime branch at least two days before they were killed in the so called encounter,” stated the probe report of the SIT placed before the High court.
Even in Sohrabuddin case, investigations had revealed that the alleged criminal along with his wife were kept at a farm house on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. While Sohrabuddin was taken to the encounter site on the outskirts of the city and killed, Kausar Bi was killed in the farm house and her body burnt at a dried out river bed in Vanzara’ s ancestral village, about 100 km from Ahmedabad. The two encounter cases, Ishrat and Sohrabuddin, which have been established as fake, have interesting sub texts.
They not only reveal a diabolical plan of police officers to earn rewards and political patronage but also have seen many attempts of subsequent cover up. Interestingly, in the Ishrat case, it was not just the Gujarat police which came under a scanner but the Central Intelligence agencies too came under a cloud. During the course of hearing in the Ishrat case in the Gujarat High Court, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had submitted an affidavit admitting that the inputs on Ishrat being an LeT operative was given by the Central Intelligence Bureau.
Apparently, the intelligence input of the IB that the Union Government had relied on while filing an affidavit justifying the killing of Ishrat and others was based on the intelligence report sent from Gujarat by the then joint director of IB Rajendra Kumar. Former cops even suspected the role of the former IB officer.
“As the chief of central IB in a state, he was expected to share his actionable intelligence with the DGP or at best with the commissioners of police. But, Rajendra Kumar used to frequently visit Ahmedabad Crime Branch office at Gaekwad Haveli to meet D G Vanzara, who was its then chief,” said former Gujarat Director General of Police R B Shreekumar.
“As the chief of state intelligence during that period, all the IB inputs I have seen were against Muslims with nothing against Hindu groups, who were wreaking havoc in the state,” says Shreekumar.
And much to the embarrassment of the centre, Modi government used this affidavit in the court to put across its point that the encounters were genuine. A red faced MHA later filed an amended affidavit in which it did admit that its agency had given the input but stated that it didn’t ‘mean that there was a sanction for a fake encounter.’
In the Sohrabuddin case, though it was the Gujarat CID which had nailed the cops in the fake encounter, its follow up probe led by senior Gujarat IPS officer Geeta Johri was also shrouded in controversy. Following a plea by Sohrabuddin’s family that CID investigations were `compromised’, the apex court had passed strictures against the officer and transferred the case to CBI.
Political linkages to the encounter emerged. The agency claimed that Sohrabuddin was eliminated at the behest of then MoS, Home, Amit Shah, by his trusted police officers. Shah was arrested and is now out on bail. About a dozen of his policemen, including Vanzara, are in jail.
Gujarat, famed for Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s development model, is equally infamous for its police encounter killings post-Godhra riots. The Ishrat Jahan encounter killing declared ‘fake’ by a Special Investigation Team last week, is only the third shootout by Gujarat police that has turned out to be spurious. The first two were of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his accomplice Tulsiram Prajapati, while a fourth encounter of Sadiq Jamal Mehtar is under investigation by CBI.