By Rana Ayyub
GUJARAT’S FAMOUSLY compromised investigators presented it as an open-and-shut case. Just 28 days after two terrorists attacked the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar on 24 September 2002 and were killed by the security forces, the state Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) declared that the perpetrators were Pakistani terrorists. This, at a time they hadn’t made any arrests nor had any leads in the case.
Many dramatic developments unfolded after that. Among these was the 2007 TEHELKA sting operation revealing the fraudulent nature of the police encounter in which Sameer Khan Pathan was killed, coincidentally, in the month following the Akshardham encounter. The Narendra Modi government tried to show that Pathan too was trained in Pakistan. The man at the centre of this controversy was the then Deputy Commissioner of Police, DG Vanzara, who is under arrest in the fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh — another man whom they tried to project as a Pakistan-trained terrorist, but who turned out to be just an extortionist.
In this culture of creating a fear psychosis about Pakistan-trained terrorists, it does not seem surprising now that the Akshardham attack too was quickly labelled as directed by an ‘enemy nation’. But TEHELKA has now uncovered a letter written by an upright IPS officer, Chittaranjan Singh, way back on 22 October 2002, which questioned this glib theory. The original letter was destroyed by compliant police officers and replaced with one that fit neatly into the conspiracy theory. But a diligent officer working under Chittaranjan kept copies for posterity.
The letter states: “It has been mentioned in the FIR pertaining to the attack on Akshardham that the two dead accused had arrived from Peshawar and Lahore. It has been found that no evidence in this regard has been found in the probe till this date by the ATS. Then, on the basis of what evidence was this fact written in the complaint on behalf of the state?”
This is what Ahmedabad’s then acting Commissioner of Police, Chittaranjan, wrote to then Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) PP Pande and Director General of Police K Chakravarti. The rest of the letter is a reaction to an FIR lodged on the morning of the Pathan encounter — only the first paragraph is relevant to the Akshardham case. The FIR says, “Pathan was planning to kill Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders and was sent to India after having been trained in Pakistan to unleash terror. This, after two terrorists trained from Peshawar, Pakistan, had attacked the Akshardham temple.” The temple is located next to the official residence of Modi.
The original letter was destroyed by police officers and replaced with one that fit into the conspiracy theory
The points raised by Chittaranjan, which could be damning for the government, concern not only the manner in which Pathan was killed but the holes in the ‘evidence’ to corroborate the theory that the terrorists had come from Pakistan.
It may be recalled that during the Akshardham carnage, in which 33 people were killed and 58 injured, there was nothing on record to prove the nationalities, identity and names of the attackers.
Testimonies of the five co-conspirators in the case, all of them arrested around the first anniversary of the attack, were put on record. Recorded under POTA, and though contradictory, the confessions of the five, who were arrested on the basis of a statement of a star witness, Ashfaq Bhavnagri, was used to establish that the two terrorists had come from across the border. Three of the five were awarded death sentences, while two imprisoned for life.
The names of the dead terrorists in the judgement were Murtuza alias Abdulla alias Doctor 2 and Ashraf Ali alias Doctor 3. However, as defence lawyer Khalid Shaikh points out, the confessions of two of the five co-conspirators, Abdul Qayyum and Chand Khan, did not match each other when it came to naming the slain terrorists. “In two different confessions, the names of the slain men are contradictory. The terrorists also carried a letter saying that they had come to attack India. The letter remained unstained despite several rounds of bullets being pumped into them and water jets sprayed over them,” he adds.
The lack of damage to this letter saved two of the accused conspirators — Adam Suleiman Ajmeri and Abdul Qayyum — from death. (The third accused, Shyam Mian alias Chand Khan, who too was awarded the death sentence, is yet to challenge his conviction). In response to a petition filed by lawyer KTS Tulsi, the SC stayed the death sentence on 9 July this year and sought the government’s response to a plea for reinvestigation by the CBI.
INTERESTINGLY, THE petition pointed to facts that would find resonance with the inter-departmental exchange of letters in 2002 between Chittaranjan, Vanzara, and other senior Gujarat Police officers that questioned the arrests made by Vanzara and his team. The petition says, “It is submitted that the investigating officer, ACP Shri Singhal, never visited Jammu and Kashmir or Hyderabad, which as per the prosecution was where the conspiracy was alleged to have been hatched. It is interesting to note that Vanzara, who as per the prosecution went to J&K, and was even otherwise a material witness, has not been examined by the prosecution.”
The plea in the apex court was that the police had falsely implicated the ‘conspirators’ and had not been able to establish the identity of the slain terrorists. While it is too early to comment on the investigation, what is unnerving is that the letter accessed by TEHELKA has till date not been brought on record, even in the Pathan case, in reply to whose FIR it was written. In fact, this letter (serial number 3788/02) was replaced by another, minus the first paragraph, after Chittaranjan was pressurised by PK Mishra, Modi’s chief secretary, to lie low. But copies were preserved by Chittaranjan’s junior, Satish Verma. Mishra, it is reliably learnt, had told Chittaranjan that Vanzara and his men were working against people who were terrorists and deshdrohis, and so, he should take back his letter.
Will the government persist with this sham, bending probes to its will and constructing scenarios that vilify Muslims, implying their loyalties lie across the border? The growing evidence against this web of deceit suggests it would be unwise to continue these attempts to fool the people.