The Noose Tightens Around Rajinder Kumar

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Illustration: Dinesh Mayanglambam
Illustration: Dinesh Mayanglambam

Over the past month, TEHELKA’s explosive scoops on the Ishrat Jahan encounter have triggered a nationwide debate on the role of intelligence agencies. For the first time in history, Rajinder Kumar, a joint director in the Intelligence Bureau (IB), was questioned by the CBI for his role in killing Ishrat and the men she was with, in a false encounter while they were in police custody, after framing them in a seemingly concocted terror conspiracy.

Now, fresh trouble is brewing for the IB in another damning case: the Sadiq Jamal encounter. This is a story that was first brought into the public domain by TEHELKA in late 2011 (Dead Man Talking by Rana Ayyub, 3 December 2011) and, in many ways, it is an even starker example of the IB, Gujarat Police and Kumar’s cynical game-playing with terror cases. Apart from what it had published earlier, TEHELKA has now scooped new and even more incriminating evidence in this case.

But first, a little of the back-story: Sadiq was a Class IX dropout who used to work odd jobs at his father’s garage at Bhavnagar in Gujarat and play cricket in the backyard. In 1997, he apparently got into an altercation with a neighbourhood youth and was hauled up by the police. Chided by his family, he ran away to Mumbai where he stayed in the bylanes of Mohammed Ali Road, a Muslim ghetto, home not just to traders, businessmen and hoteliers but also crooks and gangsters from the underworld.

Here, Sadiq apparently came in contact with men who promised to land him a job in Dubai. He took the offer. As it turned out, the teenager found himself deposited as a domestic help at the residence of  Tariq Parveen, a relative of Chhota Shakeel, and a key lieutenant of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. At some point, unhappy with his employers for not paying him his money, Sadiq made his way back to Bhavnagar, where he got involved in a gambling racket and was picked up by the police.

If Sadiq’s story had ended there, he would have just been one more of innumerable anonymous boys who fall off the map into the grey zone of petty crimes. But on 24 November 2002 — 10 days after Sadiq had already been produced in a Bhavnagar court in the gambling case — an intelligence input was sent by IB (Central Intelligence) Joint Director Rajinder Kumar to Gujarat Police DGP K Chakravarty.

This input — copies of which are with TEHELKA — said, “According to reliable information from a channel, one Sadiq Jamal, a Dubai-based person, was recently contacted by Salim Chiplun, a Pakistan-based gangster and a close associate of Anees Ibrahim and has reportedly been briefed about the task of targeting three important targets from the list of ISI and LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba). The targets are Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and VHP leader Pravin Togadia. Sadiq has reportedly landed in Mumbai and it is learnt that he has vowed to finish off the first available target during the ensuing Assembly election. He has been reportedly on the move between Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bhavnagar and Delhi. He is a native of Gujarat and closely associated with the Dawood gang. He is 22, unmarried and a heavy drinker. He is awaiting the delivery of weapons and money through hawala. He also holds a fraudulent Indian passport.”

This input triggers many questions. If the IB had suspected Sadiq as a potential terrorist because of his stint in Tariq Parveen’s house, it would have been understandable. But as Sadiq had already been arrested by the Bhavnagar police for gambling, surely they knew about his antecedents and whereabouts? At which point had he metamorphosed into the dreaded terror operative Kumar’s input made him out to be? How could he be “on the move between Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bhavnagar and Delhi” and be “awaiting delivery of weapons and money through hawala” while he was under the Gujarat Police’s watch?

In cold blood Sadiq was killed in an encounter in January 2003, Photo: AFP

Five days after this input, however, Kumar sent another intelligence input to the Gujarat Police. On 29 November 2002, in a message marked “secret” (a copy of which is with TEHELKA), Kumar wrote to Gujarat DGP Chakravarty, with copies marked to ADG (Intelligence) J Mahapatra and the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Ahmedabad.

The message said, “[email protected] Islam on Nov 29 till 1700 hours will be available at 1. Ajju bhaiyya: maternal uncle of Sadiq. STD booth, behind bus stand; 2. Garage of Rafique bhai: near Navrangpura, Kurtanmal Gate; 3. Telephone No. 02782516308 (Information also technically shared with SP, Bhavnagar, Gehlot).”

A month and a half later, on 13 January 2003, Sadiq was shot dead.

But, as the CBI has told the Gujarat High Court, this was not a genuine encounter. Earlier this month, TEHELKA published three damaging statements from other police and IB officers that expose Kumar’s dark role in these encounters. These statements have been made before a magistrate under clause 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code and are admissible in court. They categorically state that Sadiq had been cleared of all suspicion of being a terrorist. We have now scooped two more intelligence inputs that prove almost incontrovertibly that Kumar and his cohorts deliberately concocted a story to make Sadiq look like a terrorist when he knew he was merely a petty criminal.

Take a look at what the first three statements say. Ambady Gopinathan was an intelligence officer in the Mumbai State Intelligence Bureau in 2002. According to him, in the last week of October 2002, Gururaj Savadatti, another intelligence official, submitted a “source report” that Sadiq, a member of the D-gang, had arrived from Dubai and was scouting Ahmedabad with the intention of killing certain Hindutva leaders. This source report was graded ‘B’ and needed further verification.

In the second week of November, Gopinathan received orders to verify this report. A team of officers went to Gujarat to investigate the matter. Nothing concrete came of it. Savadatti then alerted the team that Sadiq had reached Mumbai. Sadiq was subsequently arrested by the Mumbai Police on 19 December 2002 and interrogated for a week by different officers.

According to Gopinathan, it was then concluded that there was “no substance in the intelligence inputs that Sadiq had any intention to harm VVIPs”. This assessment was forwarded to the IB headquarters in New Delhi and Sadiq was handed over to the Gujarat Crime Branch for further interrogation on 3 January 2003.

Gopinathan says he was shocked “to know from media reports” that Sadiq had been shot in an encounter on 13 January 2003 — while he was in police custody — and declared a terrorist.

Pravinbhai Ladhani, who was assistant central intelligence officer, IB, Mumbai, completely corroborated Gopinathan’s account in his statement to the CBI.

Here’s what the third officer, Anupam Singh Gehlot, told the CBI. Between 2002 and 2004, Gehlot was the DSP at Bhavnagar, where Sadiq was a resident. According to him, on 29 November 2002, J Mahapatra, an IPS officer who was then ADG (Intelligence), phoned him and told him to expect a call from Kumar. When Kumar called, he first sent Gehlot on a wild goose chase to look for a man named Ayyub Islam in the city.

“Later,” says Gehlot, “I got another call from Kumar and Mahapatra giving me the name of a person called Sadiq Jamal who lived in Bhavnagar, and was a trained LeT militant out to kill BJP leader Narendra Modi. I could make out that Kumar was keen on me detaining Sadiq Jamal irrespective, whereas Mahapatra was keen on me verifying facts.”

On 30 November 2002, Gehlot’s men went to Jamal’s house and found only his mother. Policemen posted at the local station told them they had booked Sadiq for gambling. “We found no evidence against him and this was reported to the central intelligence unit. It was election time and I was busy with election supervision. Then, on 13 January 2003, I received a fax from the Ahmedabad crime branch asking me to inform Sadiq’s family of his death and to collect the body.”

These officers have put two damaging facts on record. One, the Gujarat Police was given custody of Sadiq on 3 January 2003 — 10 days before he was bumped off in an encounter and declared a terrorist. Two, he had already been investigated as a terrorist and been cleared of suspicion. The question then is, why did Kumar, the Gujarat Police and the Modi government play out the elaborate and sinister charade of killing Sadiq and declaring him a terrorist?

Now, TEHELKA has accessed even more explosive evidence that Kumar and the country’s prestigious agency, the IB, will find even harder to explain.

On 6 January — three days after Sadiq had been handed over to the Gujarat Police and more than a week after he had already been interrogated by an entire team of IB and Mumbai Police officers — Kumar sent an intelligence input to Sudhir Kumar, Joint Director, SIB, Mumbai. This input — of which TEHELKA has a copy — states, “Please refer to earlier communications about Sadiq Jamal Mehtar. He has not been apprehended yet and is still absconding. Efforts to search him must continue.” On that very day, Sudhir Kumar replied to Rajinder Kumar saying, “Efforts to nab him are on.”

It would be blind not to recognise the dark game played by these two officers. Why did Rajinder Kumar declare Sadiq to be absconding when he knew Sadiq had been interrogated by the Mumbai SIB and police and been handed over to the Gujarat Crime Branch? Why did Sudhir Kumar — who had himself ordered Sadiq to be handed over to the Gujarat Police on 3 January 2003 — write that efforts were still on to nab him?

CBI officers investigating the case now believe this evidence is enough to book Rajinder Kumar and Sudhir Kumar for murder and conspiracy. However, it is quite likely that the course of justice will be thwarted. The documents accessed by TEHELKA have also been handed over to the Gujarat High Court in a sealed envelope. However, the IB headquarters has asked the court to not release or declassify the documents, arguing that it will jeopardise national security and expose IB agents working in the country.

This is a hard argument to swallow. Should it not be part of national security to weed out dangerous elements in the security establishment? Defenders of Modi often argue that fake encounters are not exclusive to Gujarat and that the numbers are much higher in other states. This is true. However, what makes the Gujarat fake encounters so disturbing is the sinister propaganda that was mounted around them. All those killed in these encounters — Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabbuddin Sheikh, Sadiq Jamal and Samir Khan Pathan — were falsely billed as LeT terrorists out to kill Advani, Modi and other ultra-Hindutva firebrands such as Togadia and Jaideep Patel.

In the communally charged aftermath of the 2002 riots, such false propaganda was like placing match to tinder. It is no one’s position that no Muslim boys were involved in terror blasts, but to manufacture threats and paint petty criminals as “terrorists” was extremely cynical. It tarred the entire Muslim community as anti-national and helped consolidate Modi as the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ — a man not only capable of teaching “Hindu’s enemies” a lesson, but one under constant threat from jihadi groups.

Just reading the FIRs in each of these cases is educative. Curiously, all of them begin with exactly the same paragraph: “After Partition in 1947, two nations, India and Pakistan, came into existence. Pakistan was created on the basis of religious fundamentalism, whereas India remained a secular state. In order to grab Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan fought three wars against India, the last insurgency was made in Kargil. It was the continuation of Pakistan’s warring tendency. In Gujarat, the Godhra carnage was followed by large-scale riots and arson. The ISI and jihadi organisations from Pakistan, in association with underworld gangsters and notorious gangs, took advantage of the situation arising from the riots to target Gujarat. This fact is clearly established by various acts of terrorism such as the attack on Akshardham, the conspiracy to kill Narendra Modi and Pravin Togadia in Ahmedabad by local LeT terrorists, namely Shahid Bakshi and Samir Khan Pathan, and the firing on VHP general secretary Jaideep Patel.”

Unfortunately, while filing these FIRs, the Gujarat Police couldn’t have predicted that the two ‘terrorists’ it cited — Samir Khan Pathan and Shahid Bakshi — would later be exonerated. The Pathan encounter has been termed a fake one and Bakshi has been acquitted. Now, the rest have begun to unravel.

While the Sadiq encounter gathers new heat, investigations into the Ishrat case are also ahead. The CBI may have stopped short of naming Kumar and other officials as accused in its chargesheet three weeks ago. However, it did not mince words while pointing to the culpability of the IB. It termed the Ishrat encounter as a joint operation between the IB and the Gujarat Police, and listed several witnesses who corroborated that Kumar was complicit in planning the conspiracy and encounter with DG Vanzara, who was then chief of the Gujarat ATS.

TEHELKA has already published a CBI report that suggested Kumar actually knew one of the men killed, Javed alias Pranesh Pillai — who worked for him as a foot-soldier in the murky underlayers that make up intelligence networks. The CBI is now trying to investigate Javed’s links with Zeeshan and Amjad, the two Kashmiri men who were killed in the same encounter, and uncover who really directed Javed to get in touch with them and bring them to Gujarat. In a crucial development, the CBI has got hold of Javed’s call records for May 2008, the month preceding the encounter. It believes analysing this data will cast important light on Javed’s connection with the IB.

Two other crucial leads are being investigated. The first is a PCO from which three calls were made on the same day — one to the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, another to Javed, and the third to a number in Dubai. Uncovering who made these calls and why, is likely to further cement the link between Javed and IB officials.

The other lead is a businessman (who runs a human resources agency) from Nagpada, a suburb in Mumbai, who Javed worked for and whose business involved supplying manpower to foreign countries. It now appears the businessman and his partner were also IB informers who were in touch with senior IB officials in the state. The CBI will be grilling them to ascertain their role in the IB-Javed-Ishrat mystery.

For Rajinder Kumar, who is already feeling the heat in the Ishrat case, the new evidence in the Sadiq case could well prove to be the final nail in the coffin.

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