The CBI is set to submit before a court next week a testimony that claims Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was in the know of a conspiracy by policemen to kill four people, including a woman, in 2004 and falsely pass them off as terrorists. The testimony is from a police officer who claims to have overheard a conversation between two other officers, one from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the other from the police, who were both said to be close to Modi at that time.
The CBI would submit this testimony with its chargesheet in the case on 4 July. The testifying officer is an accused in the pre-dawn killing of the four people, including Ishrat Jahan, 19. The killings were carried out on 15 June 2004 by men of the Crime Branch of Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city that adjoins state capital Gandhinagar. Police said the alleged terrorists were headed to assassinate Modi.
To be sure, the alleged conversation — between Rajendra Kumar of the IB, a Central agency, and Crime Branch officer DG Vanzara — did not mention Modi by name. The testifying officer, who belongs to the IPS and whose identity TEHELKA has decided to withhold to protect him from intimidation, claims Vanzara told Kumar in his presence that the conspiracy to kill the four people had been approved by both the “safed daadhi (grey beard)” and the “kali daadhi (black beard)”.
The CBI believes that the former is a reference to Modi and the latter to Amit Shah, Modi’s longtime confidant who was then the state’s junior home minster in charge of the state police. Modi, as chief minister, had kept the home portfolio with him then, as he still does. The CBI plans to tell the court that in view of this officer’s testimony, it wants to probe Modi’s role in the killing. The testimony was sworn before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code and is admissible as evidence. A CBI officer confirmed that Kumar would be named as an accused in the chargesheet. (The CBI has 21 sworn testimonies in the case, 14 of which are from IPS officers.)
The CBI chargesheet will also claim that the alleged leader of the four people killed, Javed Ahmed Shaikh, had, in fact, worked as an informer for Kumar, who at that time had headed the Gujarat unit of the IB. The CBI says evidence suggests Kumar had asked Shaikh to come to Ahmedabad on the pretext of carrying out an assignment for him and then organised Shaikh’s killing along with that of the three others, including Jahan. On 18 June, the CBI had questioned Kumar, currently a Special Director with the IB, at Gandhinagar. It is learnt that the CBI might arrest him in a few days. TEHELKA had last week reported that more than one police officer has in sworn testimonies made before a magistrate claimed that Kumar had masterminded the extrajudicial murders.
Also, TEHELKA reported that GL Singhal, one of the accused police officers, has given the CBI an audiotape he says he secretly recorded in November 2011. It reportedly contains a conversation between Singhal and several top guns of the Modi government. The CBI says the group discussed ways to sabotage the investigation into the killings to save the officers involved from prosecution. The tape is also part of the chargesheet.
TEHELKA has now learnt the identity of two others in that conversation who it had not named last week. They are Pradeep Singh Jadeja, the minister for legislative affairs, and Bhupinder Chudasama, the education minister. Others in that conversation are Praful Patel, the then junior home minister who left the government after losing in last December’s Assembly election; GC Murmu, an IAS officer who is a confidant of Modi’s; and the government’s topmost lawyer who appears in this case, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi.
The meeting was reportedly held the night before a Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up on the orders of the Gujarat High Court was to submit its findings. In the tape, Trivedi is heard telling the others: “If the SIT tomorrow declares the Ishrat Jahan encounter fake, all of us will have to collectively stand up and shout that the SIT is fake.” Murmu allegedly says no harm should come to the state or its officers. The SIT report submitted the next day said the police kidnapped the four people and killed them in cold blood.
Modi’s government maintains that Shaikh, Jahan, who was a college student from near Mumbai, and the other two men, both allegedly Pakistanis, were terrorists. It claims that the police challenged them outside Ahmedabad and killed them in an exchange of gunfire. The IB had provided the intelligence input that a Pakistani terrorist outfit, Lashkar -e- Toiba, had sent the four to avenge a massacre of about 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 by Hindu zealots linked to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The CBI chargesheet will now accuse Kumar of fabricating that intelligence input. TEHELKA had reported last week that the CBI also has testimonies from officers alleging that Kumar visited Jahan while she was in illegal police custody before she was killed, and that an AK-47 gun found on those killed had been sourced from Kumar’s IB office and planted there.
The CBI chargesheet will also suggest that the other two men killed that night — Zeeshan Jauhar and Amjad Ali Rana — were not Pakistanis but possibly secessionist militants from Jammu & Kashmir with some connection with terror groups. It says Kumar had earlier introduced the duo to Shaikh, the informer, and “encouraged” him to stay in touch with them. Before the killings, it was Kumar who had asked Shaikh to get the duo to travel to Ahmedabad, which Shaikh had then organised, say CBI sources. The CBI will be seeking an extension from the trial court for further probe on precisely how the four were introduced to Kumar.
In fact, says the CBI, Kumar made the three men phone their alleged counterparts in Pakistan and recorded those conversations. It was these recordings that the English language television news channel, Headlines Today, broadcast earlier this month to suggest they were terrorists heading to kill Modi, say sources. These cell phones used to make the calls to Pakistan were planted next to their bodies.
The CBI says Kumar scripted Shaikh’s travels in the days preceding his arrival in Ahmedabad that led to his killing. It was Kumar who arranged for Shaikh to travel to Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, to buy a locally-made pistol. It was at Kumar’s behest that Shaikh travelled to Aurangabad city in Maharashtra. In every hotel he stayed in, Shaikh used aliases as Kumar had told him to do so, say CBI sources.
Both Vanzara and Shah, the former junior home minister, are also accused in another alleged extrajudicial killing in 2005 of a married couple, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi, who, too, were branded as terrorists killed in a shootout. Vanzara has been arrested in both the 2004 and the 2005 killings. Shah was arrested in 2010 in the Sohrabuddin-Kausar Bi killings and bailed three months later. Two months ago, the BJP put Shah in charge of the party in UP, India’s politically most influential state where the BJP hopes to win big to return to power in New Delhi in next year’s General Election.
But Shah faces bad news next week. The CBI is planning to summon him for questioning in yet another case, that of the extrajudicial killing of Sadiq Jamal, a 22-year-old Muslim youth the police killed in Ahmedabad in 2003.
The CBI says Shah had connected with Kumar, who figures prominently in Jamal’s killing, on the day of the alleged encounter. Currently investigating four cases in which the police are accused of killing people in cold blood in Gujarat and labelling them terrorists, the CBI says Kumar’s culpability is starkest in the shooting of Jamal. Last week, TEHELKA reported that former and current IB officers from Maharashtra had given sworn testimonies against him.
The CBI has interrogated two senior IB officers in the neighbouring state, Datta Palsagikar and Gururaj Savagatti, who it believes falsified the intelligence inputs about Jamal being a terrorist and became part of the conspiracy to kill him. The CBI has also interrogated a suspended Mumbai Police officer, Pradeep Sharma, who had once gained notoriety as an “encounter specialist” for shooting dead over a hundred alleged criminals. Jamal had been in Sharma’s custody before he was handed to Gujarat Police. Sharma is serving a sentence in Mumbai for similarly faking an encounter killing there.
A police officer that the CBI has already arrested in Gujarat in Jamal’s killing is Tarun Barot, a DSP who allegedly took Jamal’s custody from Mumbai. Barot is also an accused in the 2004 encounter killing. The CBI, which has filed a first chargesheet in the Jamal killing, says it is investigating the role of the IB in fabricating the intelligence input about Jamal that the police cited in killing him.
The CBI’s interrogation of Kumar has been long in the waiting. For a year the IB stonewalled the CBI’s attempts to question Kumar. But when lately Kumar’s complicity became increasingly evident in both the killings of Jamal and of Jahan, IB chief Asif Ibrahim, CBI director Ranjit Sinha and Union Home Secretary RK Singh met over days to discuss ways to proceed. It is learnt that Kumar arrived in Gandhinagar this month to meet the CBI after his bosses told him they had been promised that he would not be arrested. Satish Verma, a CBI officer on the case who the Gujarat government has accused of being biased against it, refused to join the interrogation in protest.
Though the CBI is armed with a slew of testimonies, they are relying more than the others on Singhal, who promises to be a key witness. Once a star policeman but now disgraced, Singhal is said to have decided to speak the truth after his only child, his 17-year-old son, committed suicide this year. “This is divine justice, sir,” he told CBI officers during a conversation, breaking down. “I have been punished as I killed the innocent.”