Encounter killings as State Policy?
– subhash gatade
Resignation letters of suspended officers – who are in jail under serious charges- are never a cause of concern for the powers that be. But with Dahyaji Gobarji Vanzara, suspended DIG of Gujarat police and head of its Anti Terrorist Squad, who once happened to be very close to the powers that be and has the potential of further embarrassing them, situation is entirely different. It is not for nothing that the government led by Narendra Modi has decided to reject the said resignation by not forwarding it to the Central government.
Imagine a murder accused sitting in jail who wants to leave the government service and the state government – which has received enough opprobrium because of these murders – wants to keep the accused in service. The only logical explanation seems to be that the accused officer must be privy to secrets which the government does not want to divulge in public. It is a known fact that till his arrest, Vanzara had been privy to the entire goings on in Gujarat since 2002, which included 2002 riot investigations which were handled by the crime branch, the Pandya murder case and the Akshardham attack, apart from the fake encounters.
As a recap it need be mentioned here that it has been more than six years that Vanzara, is languishing in jail for his alleged role in the encounter killings which saw 15 deaths. All these killings followed a very similar pattern. May it be the case of Ishrat Jahan, the student from Bombay or Sameer Khan Pathan or for that matter Mr Soharabuddin, all these encounters took place at night wherein none from the police force received any injuries, despite the ‘terrorists’ being armed with ‘latest automatic weapons’ (as was announced later) and the rationale provided for these killings was that they had come to kill Mr Modi and his other colleagues from the Hindutva brigade.
Through his ten page resignation letter Vanzara has made some important points. Expressing no regrets over these killings he maintains that because of these killings only Gujarat remained free from similar terror attacks. According to him the trumpeted success of the ‘Gujarat’s model of development’ was only possible because of the ‘sacrifices made by me and my officers in thwarting the onslaught of initial disorder in the state’. Commenting on the unprecedented situation wherein more than thirty officers working with him were now in jail – which includes few officers of the IPS rank also – he maintains that between 2002 and 2007, he and other officers of his ilk “simply acted and performed their duties in compliance of the conscious policy of this government” and yet his political bosses betrayed him. The letter targets Narendra Modi- Amit Shah – who handled the home portfolio then- duo for their continuous neglect of these police officers who were just implementing the policies formulated at higher level and demands that the policy formulators should also be questioned and punished. Although the letter seems more harsh on Amit Shah and even calls Modi his ‘God’ whom he adored but the deceptive eulogy acts as mere cover for a full blown attack on him whom he accuses of “marching towards Delhi” without a thought to the jailed police officers who were merely following the Chief Minister’s orders.
According to him
..the CBI investigation officers of all the four encounter cases of Sohrabuddin (Sheikh), Tulasiram (Prajapati), Sadiq Jamal and Ishrat Jahan have to arrest the policy formulators also as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government, which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters… I’m of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinangar, should either be at Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai or at Sabarmati Central Prison in Ahmedabad.”
(Excerpts of the letter sent)
Undoubtedly, the sudden appearance of this letter has definitely put the duo of Modi and Amit Shah on the defensive. As of now the CBI might have said that the said letter has more ‘political value’ but it has not brooded over the fact that Vanzara can strengthen prosecution’s case by providing many important details. It is important that it reexamine the letter for any evidentiary value it might have. A copy of the letter has been marked to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) itself and Vanzara could be called to explain the charges made in the letter that the top echelons of the government were in the loop on encounter deaths. As an aside it may be mentioned here that not some time ago when the Ishrat Jahan investigation was on, it was reported that the CBI has evidence on tape where one of the accused police officers in this particular case has claimed that Vanzara had told them that both Safed Dadhi (White beard, alluding to Modi) and Kali Dadhi ( Black beard, alluding to Shah) were in the know of things.
According to analysts, with Modi’s strongest loyalist coming out in open against him, police circles are agog with speculation on who from the 32 cops in jail in fake encounter cases would decide to go public against Modi. Earlier, Superintendent of Police G. L. Singhal has put in his papers but did not speak openly against the government. The buzz is that after Singhal and Vanzara, IPS officer Rajkumar Pandian, an accused in Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati case would quit service.
As expected the BJP has formally refused to attach any importance to Vanzara’s letter calling it politically motivated, but it very well knows the possible devastating impact it can have on the Prime Ministerial ambitions of Modi. According to senior journalist Bharat Bhushan ‘The damning letter …is a time bomb with a long fuse.’ ‘It will also change the shape of the election campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’ (Asian Age, 7 Sep 2013).
In fact the more Modi or for that matter BJP tries to distance itself from these actions by these police officers, its position would become more vulnerable.
It was the year 2007 when Narendra Modi was campaigning for his reelection as chief minister. The fake encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and disappearance of his wife Kauserbi had already become a big issue then .The special police team formed under the instructions of the Supreme Court had already filed charges against 13 police officials, including D G Vanzara, and had been sent to jail.
Notwithstanding the fact that the state police had already trangressed established rules of law in the killing and it had lot to answer for, Modi had praised the fake encounter by emphasising that Sheikh “got what he deserved.” He had asked the crowd, “What should have been done to a man from whom a large number of AK-47 rifles were recovered, who was on the search list of police from four states, who attacked the police, who had relations with Pakistan and was eyeing to enter Gujarat” deliberately obfuscating the fact that Sohrabuddin and his wife were travelling in a bus and were forced to get down by the police and were unarmed at that time. And the frenzied crowd had replied “mari nakho-mari nakho” (kill him, kill him). Emboldened by the slogans of the people, Modi who had kept home portfolio under him had asked, “Does my government need to take permission of Soniaben [Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi] for this? Maut na Saudagar [merchants of deaths] will be dealt in the same fashion on the land of Gujarat.”As it usually happens with him when his ‘endorsing a murder’ came under widespread criticism he had tried to make amends by adding that he had been provoked. It has been more than six years that Modi ‘endorsed murder’ in public and received reprimand but the issue has refused to die down.
Perhaps it would be opportune here to look at the ‘revealations about the counter terrorism plan of the Gujarat police’ (The Rediff Special, Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad, How Gujarat plans to counter terrorists, July 15, 2004) shared by Vanzara himself when he was in good books of the state administration. It was the same period when the saga of fake encounter killings was unfolding itself. The said ‘counterterrorism plan’ had then sent shivers down the spine of the religious minorities in the state especially the Muslims which were yet to rrecover from the trauma and tribulations of the post Godhra carnage. It is a different matter that despite danger it posed to social fabric it could not become a matter of debate at the national level then. .
The implicit understanding (as per the Gujarat government) behind this plan was that the ‘state has become a haven for terrorists’ ( read Islamic terrorists)’. In an interview to the same emag the additional CP of Ahmedabad Mr Vanzara ( as of now behind bars) hammered this point home in no uncertain terms plainly stating that “..After the Godhra carnage and the subsequent riots terrorists of a variety of types and shapes are aiming at Gujarat. Gujarat has become the destination for terrorists.”(The Rediff Interview July 27,2004) .
As a precursor to this plan a detailed survey of the number of mosques, madrasas at the state level was done and the various Islamic organisations active inside the state and their alleged linkages with other national-international organisations was also noted. As per the plan every policeperson from the constable level upwards had been instructed to keep a close watch on the situation at the ground level. S/He had been asked to keep tabs on meetings at masjids and the goings on in the Madrasas. Activities of the Tablighi Jamaat were also going to be keenly watched under this plan.
It is clear to even a layperson that the neatly designed ‘counter terrorism plan’ of the Gujarat government at the behest of the state government stigmatised the whole minority community in uncertain terms. The most ironic part seems to be it does not even bother to mention the extremist elements within the Hindu community at whose behest the post-Godhra pogrom of the minorities mainly Muslims was undertaken. And the need to keep a close watch on the controversial activities of the plethora of organisations of the Hindutva Brigade and its leaders is scuttled. It was during that period only that the ‘intelligence bureau people overseeing the national scene had warned the central government to rein in elements like Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal if it was keen to nip the fresh sources for terrorist activities in the bud.’ (Jansatta, Hindi Daily, 5 th Sep, 2003, Delhi, ‘Intelligence bureau warns the government about Togadia and Singhal )
According to the top bosses of the Gujarat police the plan traced its origins to the murder of former state home minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Haren Pandya. It is being said that the murder of Mr Haren Pandya opened up the eyes of the state government that the state has become a breeding ground for terrorists belonging to organisations like the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Ofcourse it is another matter that till his death Mr Vithalbhai Pandya, father of Mr Haren Pandya had consistently maintained that his son’s murder was politically motivated and had pointed his fingers at the higher ups in the state BJP for their complicity in the same. As a mark of protest against the state government’s reticence to investigate his charges, he had even contested as an independent candidate against Mr L.K.Advani.
Looking at the track record of the state government in pursuing matters of governance and the way its whole apparatus unfolded itself in a partisan manner during the 2002 pogrom , the ‘counter terrorism plan’ did not sound surprising. Innumerable reports on that period have come out which give details of the way police and state administration behaved when the carnage started. Many victims of the riot later reported categorically that the police, instead of protecting them, had handed them over to the rioters.
It would be naïveté to think that the said action plan which was partisan in nature and communal in content would have seen the light of the day without the directions from the top bosses of the Parivar. Even a cursory glance at the action plan – which largely went unnoticed in the rest of the country – makes it clear that it had provided a free hand to the law and order people in the state to continuously harass minorities as part of their ‘mission’ of countering terrorism. The next step then becomes catching hold of innocent people belonging to the minority community at regular intervals and bumping them off supposedly to provide a post facto justification of the ‘success of the action plan’.
Isharat Jahan, Sami Ali Pathan or Soharabuddin Sheikh and many of their ilk – independent citizens of a secular nation, then merely become ‘trophies’ which are displayed from time to time to convince the pliant masses the danger such ‘other’ people present to the tranquility of the state
There is no doubt the likes of Vanjara and all his associates in the encounter killing who have committed crime against humanity be given exemplary punishment but simultaneously we should enhance our efforts so that the real culprits in this game are not allowed to go scot free. People who have been peddling agenda of hate for the last eighty plus years, people who have no qualms in presenting the Gujarat genocide 2002 as ‘successful experiment’, people who promote such ‘Dirty Harrys’ to do the ‘needful’.
Perhaps Bharat Bhushan recognises this and adds :
Mr Modi’s woes, however, are unlikely to be over soon. Mr Vanzara only has to add one more sentence to the revelations in his resignation letter — that Mr Modi was aware of what the police were doing. Mr Modi’s goose would then be cooked. If the court is convinced that even though he has not been named as an accused, but he appears to be associated with one or more fake encounters then he can be summoned in any one of the cases under Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code. He is liable to be tried for the same charges as the accused police officers…
If, under these circumstances, the BJP insists on naming Mr Modi formally as its prime ministerial candidate, then it is quite likely that even the 25 spokespersons it has defending him on television day after day might fall short.