SINCE THE sensational arrest of Gujarat junior Home Minister Amit Shah last week, the BJP has been crying hoarse about a Congress conspiracy; about the CBI being a “Congress bureau of investigation”; and of how the case against Shah is built on legally flimsy grounds.
There are grains of truth in all of this. Shah’s arrest measures very high on India’s political Richter scale. It is not just that he is the first serving minister in the history of independent India to be arrested on charges as serious as murder, extortion, suppression of evidence and conspiracy, among other things. What makes his arrest even more explosive is the fact that a political hyphen joins him to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Not only did Shah hold an astonishing 10 ministries in the Modi dispensation, he was the Minister of State for Home, which was helmed by Modi himself. There is very little Shah could have been doing without Modi’s knowledge: there is very little mud one can throw on Shah which would not stick to his mentor.
So, yes, it would be difficult to deny the ambiguous roles the CBI has played recently in cases involving Quattrocchi, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Congress certainly has a lot to gain from trumping Narendra Modi, and through him, the BJP. And it is true some aspects of the evidence against Shah would probably look thin in court.
But unfortunately for the party, the scales weigh heavily in favour of Shah’s complicity and direct involvement in a vast spectrum of crimes. TEHELKA has been tracking the Sohrabuddin ‘encounter’ story since 2007 and was the first to publish the call records that proved to be Shah’s undoing (Gujarat Home Minister called cops arrested for killing Tulsi Prajapati, 3 July). Now, it has fresh information that proves Shah will find it extremely difficult to subvert the wheels of justice that have begun to grind around him.
“There is no doubt this arrest is a big challenge, but we will fight it legally. How can you call this evidence?” says a senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity. “What value do the stings have? Will they stand in court?”
To counter these questions, the story so far in a nutshell. Sohrabuddin, an extortionist, was killed by Gujarat police on 26 November 2005. His wife Kauser Bi was raped, sedated with chemicals and burnt. Sohrabuddin was declared an LeT terrorist on a mission to kill Modi, the ‘encounter’ touted as a badge of Gujarati pride. A year after the first ‘encounters’, in December 2006, Tulsi Prajapati, the only eyewitness and a Sohrabuddin accomplice, was also shot dead.
Soon after the murders, the cover-ups began. The case was handed over to the CID, which functions directly under the Home Ministry — Shah and Modi — and was batted to several police officers, who either diluted the evidence under political pressure or were transferred if they failed to comply. And so the case straggled on.
Finally, dismayed by the obfuscations, Sohrabbudin’s brother Rubabuddin petitioned the Supreme Court, which handed the case over to the CBI in January 2010, with a directive to uncover the “possibility of a larger conspiracy”.
Since then, the skeletons have been tumbling out. On 29 April, the CBI arrested Ajay Chudasama, DCP (Crime) and Joint Commissioner of Police, who has 197 complaints of extortion and harassment against him. Chudasama features in another TEHELKA story, in which a Muslim boy who admits to being part of a terror conspiracy speaks of the officer forcing him to implicate innocents (8 August 2009). Alarmed by Chudasama’s arrest, the state CID arrested several other officers to prevent the CBI from taking them into custody. But the truth had begun to spill.
So no matter how much the BJP tries to blunt the issue, Shah and Modi face a minefield of evidence and uncomfortable questions. And there are many new developments they need to fear.
First of all, there is a battery of disgruntled and complicit police officers now willing to turn approver or prosecution witness. IGP Geeta Johri is one of them. Handed the case twice, she is an example of the complex ways in which Modi and Shah seem to have weighed in on officers handling the case. Johri was forced to go along when ex-CID chief OP Mathur allegedly tampered with Shah’s call records. She filed a secret note to the Supreme Court complaining of “political pressure.”
Despite this, Johri changed course and was later chastised by the Supreme Court for “not conducting the investigation in a fair manner”. Now the CBI is set to make her a witness when she returns from London on August 8. Johri should have much to reveal. For instance, when she and fellow officer VL Solanki asked GC Raigar, ADGP CID, for permission to interrogate Tulsi Prajapati, they were fobbed off till Prajapati was shot a week later.
Another officer thwarted in the line of duty was DGP CID Rajnish Rai, who arrested killer cops DG Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandyan and Dinesh MN in 2007. When he sought to put them through narco analysis, he was swiftly sidelined. He is now on study leave.
Damagingly, a CID note to the CBI talks of “uncalled for restrictions on the movement of officers” and of how “progress in the investigations was communicated to the accused persons allowing them the opportunity to influence witnesses”. It also speaks of how Rai’s arrests were frowned upon by the “political dispensation”. As a “consequence”, it says, the government issued an order dated 27 March 2007 stating that Raigar would henceforth oversee the case.
Interestingly though, the CID note says the CBI must look into why a departmental inquiry pending against Johri’s husband, IFS officer Anil Johri, which included serious charges of corruption, was diluted in October 2008. This could explain why Johri, who began zealously, seemed to have compromised on her investigation later.
Crucially, Raigar himself is now set to become a prosecution witness. He is likely to talk first-hand about a meeting in which Shah directly asked him and Johri to stall the investigation, which was first reported by TEHELKA (23 January 2010).
There are many more damning questions of interference and favour that Shah and Modi can be asked to answer:
• Why was NK Amin brought in to assist Rai when Rai had specifically written in an official communication that no officer who had previously worked with tainted officers Vanzara and Pandyan should be involved in the case?
• Why was DIG Vanzara transferred as DIG Border Range just days before Prajapati’s encounter?
• Why was ex-CID chief OP Mathur — now due to be arrested by the CBI — rewarded with a posting as Commissioner of Police in Ahmedabad City? Why was a departmental enquiry against his “moral turpitude” dropped in September 2008, followed by a promotion in February 2009?
The moment the CBI takes over the Prajapati case, it will look into the factors that led to his encounter and the attempts to change the course of the investigation. That buck is not going to stop with Shah: since each of these orders were given by the Home Ministry, it will roll all the way to Modi’s door.
• TEHELKA has previously published (July 3; July 17) a detailed analysis of the context and disconcerting volume of calls — over 155 of them — between Amit Shah and several cops like Vanzara, Pandyan and Agarwal, who are directly implicated in the murders of Sohrabuddin and Tulsi Prajapati. The calls were being monitored in a case under the Official Secrets Act, 2005. The case diary mentioned that the frequency of calls was “unnatural and uncommon in nature” and “not part of official decorum”. But the case was closed in 2009 without further investigation. Why did Modi not act on any of this information?
• The reason there are no calls, as the BJP asserts, between Shah and the cops on the days the three victims were killed is because the call records were fudged. In a foolhardy slip, though, Mathur seems to have erased the calls only on the days of the murders and immediately after. The CBI now has a copy of the original records, which show that Shah did call the killer cops on those dates. Who ordered these records to be fudged?
• TEHELKA also now has an incriminating copy of call records between Shah and NK Amin, the cop who administered the sedative to Kauser Bi after she was raped between 23 and 29 November 2005, which straddles the exact dates when Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi were kidnapped till they were killed. Amin has turned approver and Shah and Modi have much to fear from his revelations, as he has implicated himself in all the crimes. Amin, a shrewd cop who has a shady history of custodial deaths, was also involved in the ‘encounter’ of Ishrat Jahan, another Muslim girl projected as a dreaded terrorist. The CBI has now found that Ishrat Jahan and Javed Pranesh Pillai were kept at the same place — Arham farm — where Kauser Bi was incarcerated and killed. The owner Rajendra Jirawala has been arrested. Another Pandora’s box awaits.
• Among the cops in custody for these encounters, Balkrishna Chaubey is alleged to have raped Kauser Bi and Vanzara is alleged to have burnt her body. But who gave the order to kill? In a shrewd move, Amin has a sting recording of NV Chauhan, a co-accused in Sabarmati jail, who says Vanzara kept getting calls from Shah while Kauser Bi was in their custody and it’s he who ordered that she be bumped off. Lawyers say this can be taken as evidence under the amended Section 29 (A) of the Evidence Act, especially as there are corroborative statements by the same witnesses before judicial magistrates.
• While the Gujarat riots have stained Modi indelibly with a communal taint, as was demonstrated recently in the face-off with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, he has ridden strong on a reputation of financial probity. However, that too seems under serious assault now. Contrary to the claim of protecting the Hindu nation from Muslim assault, it turns out that Modi’s protégé, Shah, was involved in an extortion racket run by select cops under him, in conjunction with men like Sohrabuddin and Prajapati. As has now been widely reported, Sohrabuddin was allegedly bumped off on the request of an irate marble lobby in Rajasthan, from whom he was demanding an extra cut.
• There are also complaints by Raman and Dashrat Patel, who own Popular Builders. In a complicated story, their office was apparently shot at by Prajapati and another accomplice called Sylvester at Shah’s behest, so as to implicate Sohrabuddin in a false case. These men now allege that Shah had asked them for Rs 70 lakh through Ajay Patel, chairman of the Ahmedabad district co-operative bank (which is headed by Shah). These men also conducted a sting on Ajay Patel, in which he apparently talks of how they needed to fix Sohrabuddin and Shah’s collusion in it. At best, though, this sting can only serve as additional evidence.
EVERY MODI-WATCHER knows the state of Gujarat has become too small for him: he wants a play at the bigger crown. But as events unfold in Gujarat at a rapid pace, that crown looks increasingly a distant dream. A senior BJP leader says the party is willing to walk the “tightrope” and risk alienating their NDA allies for a while to take up cudgels for Shah — or more accurately, the man whose shadow he walked in. But things look bleak for Modi: he has already been cut to size. He has not been able to protect either Maya Kodnani, who resigned as minister of state for education last year and surrendered before the Special Investigation Team, or Shah or the many officers who ran the state’s dirty tricks department. The iron man is starting to look a little flabby. Yet, if he strikes a more strident note, the larger crown will slip away further as his untouchability grows.
If he could have foreseen this Shakespearean twist in his life, Narendra Modi would probably have played it more wisely. But how could he know that the murder of a petty extortionist — cynically masqueraded as a terrorist — would come back to haunt him like Banquo’s ghost?