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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 6 New Delhi January 26, 2019 - Republic Day Special

Gujarat: Haren Pandya refuses to ‘Die’

Monday 28 January 2019

by R.K. Misra

On November 3, a key witness in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case told a Mumbai court that the murder of senior BJP leader and former Gujarat Minister Haren Pandya in 2003 was a contract killing executed at the behest of former IPS officer D.G. Vanzara.

The deposition of Azam Khan, an Udaipur based small-time gangster, before the CBI court has brought to life the most speculated and worst-kept secret of the time—that the murder of the up and coming Gujarat BJP leader was a political extermination at the behest of some of the most powerful in the land of the Mahatma.

Vanzara terms it as yet another conspiracy to defame him. ”Azam Khan is a criminal. There are cases against him in Gujarat, Rajasthan and some other States. Even today he is in jail. Moreover his evidence is hearsay. It does not account for much under the Indian Evidence Act and is not admissible under law. Moreover when the CBI recorded his statement, he did not say any such thing.”

Khan, though, had said during further cross-examination, that he had told the CBI officer, N.S. Raju, about the contract killing but it was not taken on record on the pretext of not creating new complications...

Though fake encounters by cops have taken place earlier, these acquired a pattern during Narendra Modi’s stint as the Gujarat Chief Minister. These encounters included those of Sadiq Jamal (2003), Ishrat Jahan and two others (2004), Sohrabuddin and his wife Kauser Bi (2005) and Tulsiram Prajapati (2006). Almost all of them were labelled as handles of Pakistani terror agencies out to get the CM. Most of the time, the senior cop unravelling these conspiracies was led by Vanzara. Interestingly 32 police officers including six IPS officers were incarcerated in connection with a series of police encounters in Gujarat.

According to a published report, during an interrogation by a CBI team of Vanzara led by DIG Sandeep Tamagde in Sabarmati jail in September 2013, he had hinted at a political conspiracy behind Pandya’s killing. He also reportedly spoke of Sohrabuddin’s role in Pandya’s murder in March 2003. His interrogation took place after he had written an explosive letter resigning from the IPS in which he reportedly blamed the then Gujarat Ministor of State for Home, Amit Shah, for the encounters.

What transpired within the CBI after Vanzara’s interrogation is not known but the fact remains that Azam Khan’s revelation echoed what the accused IPS officer had hinted in 2013—that Pandya’s killing was political.

Haren’s father, Vithal Pandya, also termed his son’s death as a political conspiracy orchestrated by Vanzara at the behest of the then Chief Minister. The octogenarian, who passed away in January 2011, went down fighting. He did not agree with the CBI’s line of investigation and was livid with the then Union Home Minister L.K. Advani for blaming the ISI and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, days before the CBI took over the probe...

Haren Pandya, was a rising star in the BJP in Gujarat and was immensely popular within the party. He held the Home portfolio in the Keshubhai Patel Government and Revenue in the first Modi Government. The first point of friction between the two was Modi’s choice of Pandya’a Ellisbridge seat to enter the Vidhan Sabha and Pandya’s refusal to oblige. Modi was subsequently elected to the Assembly from Rajkot, on a seat vacated by Vajubhai Vala, the present Governor of Karnataka.

In the immediate aftermath of the Godhra train carnage, Pandya is reported to have opposed bringing the burnt body remnants of the passengers by road from Godhra to Ahmedabad, at a Cabinet meeting. He said it would further ignite communal passions, but he was shouted down. What followed is history. Though kept confidential, it is known that Pandya had testified before the Concerned Citizens Tribunal on the 2002 Gujarat riots. It comprised of three retired judicial luminaries. That Pandya was a marked man thereafter was known. He had also expressed fears of his likely liquidation to chosen contacts in the media as well...

The last has not been heard in the matter though the fate of Haren Pandya and many other encounters have inextricably got linked to a political see-saw.

[The above is an abridged version of an article by the author.]

The author is a veteran journalist based in Gujarat.

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