Narendra Modi had once brazenly upheld Sohrabuddin’s fake killing. Now, as the CBI the arrests top cops,the dirt begins to unravel in Gujarat, says Rana Ayyub
TEHELKA has persistently tracked the unraveling of the ‘encounter’ killings by Gujarat Police
IS THE noose tightening around Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over his administration’s alleged complicity in the 2002 massacre of Muslims? Is nemesis, as the cliché goes, finally catching up with him for a string of allegedly fake encounter killings of “terrorists” by his police? It may be too early to call curtains for arguably India’s craftiest politician that Modi has turned out to be over the last eight years. Yet, the arrest of a top police officer in Gujarat by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) may well begin to unravel the Modi era.
Indeed, so thoroughly alarmed are the BJP, Modi, and others implicated in the Muslim massacres and the encounter killings, that there is a clear last-ditch attempt at preventing the CBI from establishing the truth. The latest round started on january 12 this year when the supreme Court ordered the CBI to reinvestigate the 2005 encounter killing of Gujarat businessman sohrabuddin shaikh, his wife Kauserbi, and an associate of his, Tulsi Prajapati. Sohrabuddin, a small time extortionist, was killed in a joint encounter by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police in November 2005 when he was travelling with his wife Kauserbi, on charges of being a Lashkar-e-tayyeba member on his way to Gujarat to assassinate Modi. A similar theory was given at the time of the Ishrat Jahan encounter a year before and later proved as fake by the justice tamang Committee.
Sohrabuddin’s brother, Rubabuddin, had earlier moved the supreme Court, virtually accusing Modi’s police of killing his brother in cold blood. Modi’s administration has been accused of attempting to derail the trial of the several police officers who have been jailed on charges of killing sohrabuddin, his wife and others over nearly three years since 2002.
In its january order, the Supreme Court (SC) slammed the Gujarat police, its CId and its officer-in-charge, Geeta Johri, for bungling the investigation. It was found that the Gujarat government was misleading the court by filing dubious Action taken Reports (ATRs)— as many as eight of them — in the case. What alarmed the BJP most is that the sC directed the CBI to also investigate “the possibility of a larger conspiracy”. evidently, this has opened a pandora’s box, leading to the arrest, on April 29, of DCP (Crime) Abhay Chudasama who, as acting joint Commissioner of police (JCP) controlled criminal investigations in the state. Chudasama is the same cop whose corrupt practices TEHELKA had first exposed in its investigation of Gujarat last year, when a key witness used by Chudasama to implicate innocents arrested in the Gujarat blasts had revealed in an exhaustive interview to TEHELKA, that he had been forced by the DCP to make those confessions. he had also confirmed that those arrested in the Gujarat blasts were innocent. With his arrest, the CBI may well be on its way to uncovering a series of cover-ups.
Chudasama was one of the most well connected police officers in Gujarat’s home Ministry, under which the police department falls. Right after his arrest, Modi flew down to delhi to meet BJP party president and confidant Nitin Gadkari and LK Advani at his residence. subsequently, Modi travelled to Nagpur to discuss the developments with Rss head Mohan Bhagwat. The effect showed in the form of LK Advani alongwith BJP party MP’s sitting on a dharna outside parliament to protest against the mishandling of CBI by the UPA government. subsequently, Gadkari also issued a three-and-a-half page statement on this, of which two pages were devoted to defending the Modi government’s record.
On the day of Modi’s visit, however, it was clear that all was not well in his kingdom. At a government celebration of Gujarat’s 50th founding day on May 1, home Minister Amit shah, long Modi’s second-in-command, was conspicuous by his absence. It soon became evident why shah, who had planned the mega event, had gone missing. two BJP leaders held a press conference the day after to express fears that the CBI “may also implicate some political leaders wrongly, and arrest them in connection with the case”.
Few have risen to be as powerful under Modi as Shah has, especially since Modi’s confidant-turned-foe, Haren Pandya, was murdered in 2003. After Chudasama’s arrest, hoardings ?appeared across Ahmedabad overnight, slamming the Congress party for trying to project “Sohrabuddin, the terrorist” as a hero. They suggested that the CBI’s arrests were an attack on the Gujarati nation. The BJP promised a state-wise agitation if the arrests did not stop. The very next day, the Gujarat Police cid arrested two police ?officers that the CBI was about to arrest, prompting the speculation that Modi didn’t want CBI to get hold of them.
The CBI claims that Chudasama was arrested after he was found tapping telephone calls of witnesses and CBI officers connected with the Sohrabuddin case. It claims that witnesses in the case had been speaking on the phone with Chudasama before showing up at the CBI offices for questioning. The CBI also says that police officers arrested earlier have provided it with evidence of Chudasama’s illegal wealth. The CBI has no less than 197 complaints of extortion and harassment against Chudasama, filed within days of his arrest. A fact that also went against him is that on the very day of his arrest, Rs 1.5 crore was deposited into the accounts of three family members of Chudasama, accounts which Chudasama thought won’t be checked by the CBI. On the day he was produced in the court, BJP workers turned up to shower petals on him and hail him a hero.
Indeed, Chudasama’s arrest also puts a question mark on the claim that he had “solved” the July 2008 serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad. (More than 60 Muslims accused of the bombings are currently being tried.) In fact, the CBI claims that Chudasama knew Sohrabuddin, a gangster-for-hire, and ran an extortion racket through him, allegedly collecting Rs 40 lakh in 2001 alone. The CBI says Chudasama also ordered Sohrabuddin to organise a shootout in Gujarat.
CBI officers from Mumbai have travelled to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan on this trail. Refusing to speak on record because the investigation is still continuing, a top CBI officer told Tehelka that Chudasama planned Sohrabuddin’s killing at the behest of a lobby of Rajasthan’s marble traders whom Sohrabuddin had begun to extort while he was still in jail.
The CBI says it now has recordings of phone calls between Chudasama and a few high-profile names in the Gujarat government, including a key minister, proving their involvement. The CBI ?believes that the DCP was also involved in two other extra-judicial killings. According to the CBI source, the marble lobby first approached a Rajasthan BJP leader, who in turn asked a minister in Rajasthan to organise Sohrabuddin’s killing. When that minister backed out, the marble lobby reportedly approached a minister in Modi’s government in Gujarat, who ?assigned Chudasama the task, says the CBI. The CBI claims Chudasama recorded his telephone chat with the minister, which the CBI has now sent for a forensic test.
So why hasn’t the CBI yet arrested this Gujarat minister? Because, says the CBI?officer, the Gujarat CID is obstructing its path. “The cid is stonewalling, despite the Supreme Court’s order that it [the CID] give us all evidence that it has collected,” he says. The CID has held the documents back on the pretext that it is still investigating the killing of Tulsi Prajapati, ? Another small-time outlaw, who was killed by the police in an encounter in Banas Kantha in December 2006, a year after Sohrabuddin’s killing. “The CID doesn’t want us to reveal the real names behind the encounters,” the CBI officer says.
Meanwhile, the CBI has moved the sc to access telephonic conversations of various police officers on the night they were involved in Sohrabuddin’s killing. It is said that these same police officers could also be behind the murder of Prajapati. The CBI officials say that the CID, in its report, had submitted that the third person who was travelling with Sohrabuddin and his wife was Kalimuddin, who dig Vanzara had taken to the spot were they were killed. However the CBI investigation has found out that the person travelling with Sohrabuddin was not Kalimuddin but Prajapati — killed a year later, most likely because he was the sole witness to the Sohrabuddin encounter.
HOWEVER, KALIMUDDIN’S identity too now has been revealed. A CBI officer told TEHELKA that Kalimuddin, who hails from Andhra Pradesh and had been a police informer in that state is, hold your breath, also an underground Maoist, who had been used by the Gujarat Police as an informer in several other cases. He is said to be alive and absconding. The CBI is now likely to produce the Andhra Pradesh police as witness to prove that the Gujarat cid had hidden Kalimuddin’s identity as a police informer, which would make him ineligible as a witness in the Sohrabuddin case.
Till now, the CBI has questioned at least 12 IPS officers in Gujarat. Its investigation team is entirely made of non-Gujarat ? Police officers. All the accused who have been arrested have been produced, not in a Gujarat court, but in a Mumbai court. Indeed, when the CBI sought the custody of two key police officers that were already in CID custody — Narendra Amin and VA Rathod — it refused to given any evidence to the Gujarat court except for a gist.
The CBI is also investigating if Geeta Johri, the then cid head, had deliberately modified records of telephone calls made to each other by the policemen the night of Sohrabuddin’s killing. Johri had handed over these allegedly doctored call records to Rajnish Rai, who took over the probe from her. The CBI now believes that the records were doctored to protect two ministers — in the Gujarat and Rajasthan governments — and other state-level leaders who might have been involved.
CBI officers claim they have evidence that Chudasama and one of the two above-mentioned ministers had illegal bank accounts and shareholding in two real estate projects in Dubai and elsewhere in the Middle East. This minister was in the news recently after an independent audit claimed that Rs 80 crore was siphoned off from cooperatives which he was involved in. The CBI could soon arrest another BJP leader, a confidant of this minister, who is also linked with the cooperatives. Another BJP leader from Rajasthan could be summoned as a witness, or even an accused, in the next few weeks.
Possibly with a view to slowing down the CBI charge, Gujarat Chief Secretary AK Joti and DGP SS Khandwawala met CBI director Ashwini Kumar in New Delhi last week. But will Modi rush to save his minister? According to a BJP insider, the answer is no. Many in the BJP and the RSS family are upset that Modi has failed to save Maya Kodnani, another minister, who stands accused of participating in the Muslim massacre of 2002 and who was arrested by the CBI earlier this year.
This minister also happens to be an arch rival of the Gujarat Revenue Minister Anandiben Patel, who is looking to become Modi’s number two. Patel controls numerous educational institutes and trusts in Gujarat. Modi has been grooming her as a possible successor in Gujarat, if he manages to propel himself to the national stage. A CBI officer said people claiming to be close to Patel have already approached the CBI and offered ‘help’ against the minister. The cracks in Modi’s house, it seems, are starting to open up.
With top cops and ministers under the scanner, few expect Modi to do much to save them
According to the opposition Congress party in Gujarat, the CID is complicit in Modi’s agenda to protect the police officers. Congress leader Siddharth Patel, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, thinks the state government is on a witch-hunt against the CBI. “When the Gujarat CID arrested 19 officers last year, they didn’t bat an eyelid. But when the CBI arrested one IPS, they started crying foul, from Delhi to Ahmedabad about CBI being corrupt,” he says.
The CBI should, in fact, broaden its scope and investigate the role of more policemen, according to retired IPS officer RB Sreekumar. The former DGP of Gujarat has gone on record claiming to have witnessed the role of Modi’s administration in allowing the killing of Muslims in the 2002 riots, and who claims that Modi’s officers killed innocents in encounters and passed them off as terrorists. “Many such officers superseded others and are today at the top,” Sreekumar says. “The CBI should investigate them.”
If the line of investigation and the forensic tests are taken into cognisance, then some of the big names in the Gujarat and Rajasthan BJP could soon be arrested. “We have evidence against the Gujarat police, in this case and others, details of which shall be provided to the respective agencies. We are just waiting for the forensic reports and new details which officers from five states are sending us,” added the CBI source, signing off. So is Sohrabuddin’s brother, Rubabuddin.