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The journalist who cracked Gujarat fake encounter case

By A Correspondent in Ahmedabad
Last updated on: April 25, 2007 15:10 IST
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On Tuesday, the Gujarat police arrested its Deputy Inspector General (Border Range) D G Vanzara and Rajkumar Pandian, superintendent of police with the Intelligence Bureau, and M N Dinesh Kumar (Rajasthan police) on the charge of murdering Sohrabuddin Sheikh.

Sohrabuddin was killed by the Gujarat police in a fake encounter on November 26, 2005. None other than the Gujarat government has accepted this before the Supreme Court. The Gujarat government's lawyer A T S Tulsi told the court, 'The preliminary inquiry has found that it was a fake encounter.'

The sensational admission by the government itself has been intriguing because Vanzara was known as a favourite officer of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and state Home Minister Amit Shah.

Then, why did the Gujarat government confess before the apex court that senior state police officers have "killed" Sohrabuddin?

State Congress leader Arjun Modhawadia has already charged that "the government has arrested the police officers to save the skin of Home Minister Shah."

But, sources in Gandhinagar claim, "A senior Bharatiya Janata party leader from Rajasthan is apprehensive about his name being dragged into the case. And, to stop the case from getting messier or becoming political, police officers have been arrested. Remember, along with Vanzara and Pandian, IPS officer Dinesh Kumar from Rajasthan has also been arrested." 

The "encounter", which is now admitted to be a fake one, was a joint operation of the Gujarat and Rajasthan police. The police claimed Sheikh was a Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative and while trying to escape, he was killed near Vishala Circle in Ahmedabad.

Just after Sheikh got killed, his wife Kausar Bi had gone missing. Rubabuddin, Sohrabuddin's brother, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court claiming that the Gujarat police's encounter was fake and he wanted to know where his sister-in-law Kausar Bi was.

That's a question the Gujarat government doesn't want to answer.

After the Supreme Court's intervention, an inquiry was ordered in March 2007, which eventually forced the Gujarat government to admit in court that it was a fake encounter, and that it was further investigating its officers in the case.

Interestingly, Prashant Dayal, one time rickshawallah-turned-journalist, played a spirited role behind these sensational arrests.

The Gujarat police's version to media claimed that Sohrabuddin had links with the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation. Sohrabuddin had come to Gujarat from Rajasthan to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The Rajasthan police tipped off its Gujarat counterparts about him and the Rajasthan police even accompanied the Gujarat police to identify the man during the joint operation to nab him. When he was trying to escape on a motorcycle, he was killed, went this version.

Dayal, a senior reporter with the Gujarati daily Divya Bhaskar, who broke the story first in November 2006, told, "The police version and reality are completely different. There is much more to the story than meets the eye. It is alleged that Sohrabuddin was a big goon in Rajasthan, involved in extorting ransom from big marble merchants and rich builders. My sources in Gujarat police claimed that some Rajasthan-based people arranged for Rs 2 crore supari (contract killing) for killing Sohrabuddin. But the stage was set in Gujarat, instead of Rajasthan."

However, due to the absence of hard evidence, Prashant refuses to reveal the names of people who allegedly gave the supari on Sohrabuddin.

As things become clearer now, the Gujarat government will be in a tight spot over at least six encounters in the last four years. In all of them, the state police had claimed to have killed "terrorists" who allegedly had plans to kill Modi.

"The police picked up Sohrabuddin and his wife along with a close aide Tulsi Prajapati from a bus near Sangli, Maharashtra. The inquiry by upright police officer Geeta Jauhari brought out some important facts. Police officers took three of them to a farmhouse near Ahmedabad, tortured them and then killed Sohrabuddin in the fake encounter.

"Then, the police officers feared that Kausar Bi would spill the beans. She might have been eliminated. No one knows what happened to her. Tulsi was let off at that time, as he was an informer of Vanzara. But when newspapers started reporting the fake encounter, expectedly, the news about Tulsi being killed also came out. We were told that he was also killed in an encounter in Banaskantha district," Dayal said.

Banaskantha district falls under Vanzara's jurisdiction.

Dayal said when he first filed the story, editors were hesitant to go with it, as "there can't be documented evidence" of such crimes.

Dayal said he has cultivated a habit of drinking alcohol with police officers, "where I drink within limit, so that I can listen and grasp what the officers say when they open up after a few pegs."

Prashant revealed that on one such evening, officers involved in the Sohrabuddin encounter case boasted before him how they had "punished" and eliminated some anti-national elements.

With this clue, the next morning Dayal cross-checked the details of the case. "I got confirmation from the farmhouse in Ahmedabad that three persons were kept there. Then, from my sources in Vanzara's native village, I confirmed that Vanzara was there with his team during the period. At the farmhouse, the servants confirmed that a lady in burkha was kept there. I suspect she must be Kausar Bi," he added.

All these facts matched with what he was told by the drunken police official, Dayal claimed.

Dayal himself has seen a lot in his short life. He was so weak in studies that he failed in all subjects in Class 8. Then, he decided to finance his own education instead of wasting his parents' hard-earned money.

He started working in a garage. When in college, he started driving an autorickshaw at night. After a degree in journalism, he managed to land a job but was refused salary, which is quite common in Gujarati journalism. Trainees and stringers are rarely given money. Instead, they are asked to earn through commission on advertisements.

But Dayal was so enthusiastic to earn a name as a reporter that he worked without a salary for more than a year. As a result, he had to continue driving the autorickshaw at night after reporting news stories during the day.

In his over 19-year-career in journalism, Dayal has switched jobs almost 14 times. "I have never seen an increment or bonus in my career, because I could never settle down in a newspaper. Everyday, I used to have a fight with the editors over stories."

He has earned a name as a crime reporter and fame for having keen eyes to dig out stories beyond the obvious. Dayal is also known for his column called Jivti Varta (living stories), which probes ordinary yet outstanding lives from a very soft angle.

"The state government is trying all it can to save the culprits, but I am sure, there will be more arrests and big names will come to light in the near future," Dayal said.

Caption: Prashant Dayal

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A Correspondent in Ahmedabad