India Politics
Gujarat killings put Modi in a tight spot
May 6, 2007 - 9:15:56 AM

Gandhinagar, May 6 - The shocking revelations about the killing of a Muslim man in 2005 by Gujarat police in a staged shoot out, coming only months ahead of the assembly polls, may put Chief Minister Narendra Modi in an unenviable position.

The cold-blooded killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and murder of his wife may lead many even among his supporters to question his ways.

Gujarat has seen a number of 'encounter deaths' - a police euphemism for killings in shootouts, real or faked - since 2002 when the state witnessed one of the worst communal clashes. That was when Modi with his Hindutva image, was re-elected with an unprecedented majority at the head of his Bharatiya Janata Party -.

Jaspal Singh, a former Indian Police Service - officer who also served as a minister in the previous BJP government, estimates there might have been about 40 'encounter deaths' since 2002.

A common pattern among them all, raising suspicions of foul play, has been that there were no survivors, no witnesses, and no injuries to any members of the police teams in these 'encounters'. And all slain 'terrorists' were said to be plotting to kill Modi or BJP leader L.K. Advani or Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadiya.

One of the most talked-about 'encounters' took place in the wee hours of June 15, 2004 when an Anti-Terrorist Squad - team killed four 'terrorists', including a young woman from Mumbai, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

Another point common to many 'encounter killings' has been the presence of D.G. Vanjhara, former ATS head and now a deputy inspector general of police who along with a fellow Gujarat officer and another from Rajasthan was arrested April 24 in Ahmedabad.

The arrests followed the government's admission before the Supreme Court in March that the November 2005 killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh was indeed a stage-managed affair led by Vanjhara, who was always known to be close to Modi.

A Criminal Investigation Department - inquiry following a Supreme Court directive found that the cops acted on the orders of Minister of State for Home Amit Shah, according to media reports. Shah is maintaining silence.

Sohrabuddin's wife was also summarily killed and her body burnt.

While Modi has faced many allegations from rights activists in the past, ranging from the partiality of the administration during the 2002 violence to ignoring the plight of the violence-hit people living in temporary camps even five years later, all that he did or encouraged until now only helped to bolster his image as a hardliner Hindutva leader.

The latest revelations about 'encounter deaths', however, are different. If proved, they show the political establishment ordered cold-blooded killings with the sole purpose of projecting Modi as a prime target of terrorists and to increase his popularity.

To put it plainly, Modi's supporters feel they have been taken for a ride. Although no one is willing to speak on record, BJP leaders here admit that many ,if not the majority of diehard Modi supporters, may be forced to rethink about the chief minister's ability to deliver electoral victory for the party.

The opposition Congress, on back foot for long, believes it has finally got an opportunity to corner Modi. It has demanded Modi and Shah be arrested and subjected to narco-analysis test to bring out the truth.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court asked the state government to submit in two weeks the probe report that is expected to reveal more about the sordid affair.

It, however, remains to be seen if the 'encounter' episode will impact the assembly elections due by December.

The party may find itself on the defensive if the ambit of the probe against Vanjhara and other officers is enlarged to include other shootouts.

On the other hand, the inter-state nature of the crime - police teams from other states including Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh are also under the scanner - may take the focus away from the Gujarat political leadership.

Adding to BJP's troubles is the arrest of party MP Babubhai Katara from Dahod constituency of Gujarat.

Katara was nabbed at the Delhi airport April 18 while trying to smuggle out a woman and a teenager to Canada on the diplomatic passports of his family and has been in police custody.

While the state BJP has distanced itself from Katara, the party stands to lose in Dahod -- part of the all-important tribal belt where it was gaining over the Congress in recent times.

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