In cold blood In 2011, the SIT told the court
that Ishrat was killed in a fake encounter
Photo: Trupti Patel
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)is set to drop a bombshell in a case of extrajudicial killing of four alleged terrorists by the Gujarat Police nine years ago. TEHELKA has learnt that the CBI will testify before a trial judge in Ahmedabad that one of the accused officers has, in a sworn testimony, identified Rajendra Kumar, now a Special Director with the Intelligence Bureau (IB), as a mastermind of the encounter killing of a woman and three men, all Muslims, on 15 June 2004. The agency, on the directions of the Gujarat High Court, is expected to file its chargesheet before the trial court on 4 July.
Explosively, a testimony by another officer claims that Kumar met the 19-year-old woman, Ishrat Jahan, while she was in illegal police custody before being killed. Another testimony by a cop claims that an AK-47 assault rifle, which the police said belonged to those killed, had actually been sourced from the Gujarat unit of the IB, to which Kumar belonged then, and planted on the four dead bodies.
The allegations, if found true, would not only fix Kumar’s lead role in the murder of the four people. It would also unequivocally demolish the state government’s long-held claim that the four were terrorists on their way to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and were killed by the police on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in a predawn exchange of gunfire. The testimonies are especially stunning as this is the first occasion in India’s history that the IB, an opaque Central agency that functions virtually with no public oversight, has been dragged into the middle of a sordid crime.
It is the CBI’s case that Kumar knowingly provided false intelligence to the state police, claiming Jahan and the three men with her were terrorists. On 18 June, the CBI questioned Kumar at length in Gandhinagar, the state capital. An intra- agency war has broken out with IB Director Asif IBrahim accusing the CBI of targeting Kumar. But the evidentiary material with the CBI could make it difficult for the IB to continue backing Kumar.
Shockingly, one of the testimonies with the CBI also implicates Amit Shah — a Modi confidant who was Gujarat’s junior home minister at that time — as the one who ordered the cold-blooded killings. The CBI’s upcoming submission in the court on 4 July is bound to kick up a massive political storm as Modi has been tasked to lead his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in next year’s General Election, making him a contender for the job of the prime minister. Shah has been put in charge of the party in Uttar Pradesh, India’s politically most influential state that the BJP must win to rule New Delhi.
TEHELKA has exclusive information that the CBI also possesses a secret audio recording made by a key accused, GL Singhal, who was one of the police officers who shot the four that fateful night. That recording of November 2011 is a conversation among Gujarat’s then junior home minister, Praful Patel, who had succeeded Shah in the job a year earlier; Additional Principal Secretary Girish Chandra Murmu, an IAS officer who has served in Modi’s office since 2008 and considered to be one of his closest advisers; the state government’s most senior law officer, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi; his deputy, Additional Advocate General Tushar Mehta; an unnamed lawyer; and Singhal. (Patel, not to be confused with a namesake who is a Union minister, lost in the Assembly elections in December and did not find a place in Modi’s new cabinet.)
In the conversation the participants allegedly discuss ways to cover-up the crime by sabotaging a probe by a Special Investigative Team (SIT) of police officers appointed by the Gujarat High Court in 2009. The conversation shows the participants aimed to prevent the SIT from fingering the officers for the shootout. On 21 November 2011, the morning after the conversation, the SIT told the high court that there had been no shootout and Jahan and her companions had been killed in cold blood. The CBI will submit the audio recording, which has already been sent for a forensic examination, to the judge on 4 July.
According to a CBI officer who spoke to TEHELKA, Singhal has admitted he recorded the conversation as he feared he might be arrested and wanted to save the proof of the wider conspiracy. Indeed, Singhal is emerging as a crucial talking head in the case — as the one who has identified both Kumar and Shah as the masterminds. TEHELKA is aware of the identity of the other police officers who have given sworn testimonies to the CBI implicating IB officer Kumar and the others. However, we are withholding the names in order to protect their identities before 4 July, when the CBI would submit their signed testimonies to the court.
Additionally, a curious occurrence has come to light. Two days before the encounter, someone made two separate phone calls from a public telephone booth an hour apart from each other. One of them was made to the Ahmedabad office of the IB’s state wing. And the other was made to the mobile phone of Javed Gulam Shaikh (formerly a Hindu named Pranesh Pillai), who is the central figure among the four alleged terrorists and who was bringing them to Gujarat in his car. Who was making those phone calls and who did the caller speak with at the IB office? What did he speak of with Shaikh? The answers to these questions would further implicate Kumar, according to the CBI officer.
An Indian Police Services (IPS) officer since 1979, Kumar has been tying himself in knots since the CBI zeroed in on him. He reportedly told the CBI this week that he could not remember details of the events leading up to the shootout. In any case, he told the CBI, he merely provided the intelligence input and did not ask the police to kill Jahan, Shaikh and the two others. But CBI officers have sourced videos that news channels shot at the scene of the encounter where Kumar is prominent among the swarming police officers. CBI officials say Kumar, an intelligence officer, had no business being there.
In fact, two other testimonies the CBI has recorded afresh, directly implicate Kumar in another case: the extrajudicial killing of a Muslim youth, Sadiq Jamal, in January 2003. An officer with the Manipur- Tripura cadre stationed by the IB in Gujarat as joint director during 2000-05, Kumar had provided an intelligence input that said Pakistani terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) had tasked the 23-year-old Jamal to assassinate Modi. (A year later, Kumar forwarded an identical input that LeT had despatched Jahan, Shaikh and the two other men, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar, both allegedly Pakistanis.)
The CBI is probing Jamal’s killing, too. Police had arrested him in 2002 for gambling and presented him before a judge in Bhavnagar, 175 km south of Ahmedabad, 10 days before Kumar sent out the intelligence input about Jamal being a terrorist on the prowl. He followed it up with a second missive to the state’s then Director General of Police K Chakravarty, giving out the various locations in Bhavnagar where Jamal could be found.
Subterfuge GL Singhal’s (circled) tape of the cover-up talk implicates many others in the case
Photo: Mayur Bhatt
One of the new testimonies with the CBI is by an intelligence officer named Ambady Gopinathan who was serving with the IB’s state wing in Maharashtra when the intelligence input about Jamal cropped up first in October 2002. He says a colleague of his in Mumbai submitted a “source report” that Jamal, “a dreaded terrorist had arrived from Dubai to kill certain right wing leaders”. It further said Jamal was in Ahmedabad and was “busy surveying the targets for his nefarious designs”. Gopinathan, who subsequently retired as assistant director with the IB’s Maharashtra unit, forwarded the report to two other state IB officers who in turn forwarded it to the IB in New Delhi.
Gopinathan’s testimony blows to smithereens the story that Jamal was a terrorist who the Ahmedabad crime branch killed in an encounter. He says that on 19 December 2002 Jamal was arrested from a hotel in Andheri East, a Mumbai suburb. “For about a week different SIB (State Intelligence Bureau) officers used to… interrogate Sadiq,” Gopinathan says. “We came to the conclusion that there was no substance to the input that Sadiq had any intention to cause harm to any VVIPs. The interrogation report containing the details and conclusion was sent to the central intelligence unit of the IB.” On 3 January 2003, Jamal’s custody was handed over to the crime branch in Gujarat. Ten days later, “I came to know from the media that Sadiq was killed in a police encounter”.
Surprisingly, even after being given a report of Sadiq’s innocence, Kumar claimed he was an absconder, in a third input generated soon after.
A CBI source told TEHELKA that two intelligence officers from Mumbai are also on its radar. One of them, Gururaj Savadatti, is a “suspect” as he was the one who had submitted the original “source report” about Jamal being a terrorist. The other officer is Sudhir Kumar, who was then IB central director, western zone, and who Gopinathan had sent the source report. The CBI believes the two Kumars, Rajendra and Sudhir, conspired to label Jamal a terrorist, which led to his encounter killing in Gujarat.
The other fresh testimony with the CBI is by a senior IPS officer in Gujarat, Anupam Singh Gehlot, a deputy inspector general in charge of coastal intelligence posted at the state police headquarters in Gandhinagar. Gehlot had been a deputy superintendent of police during 2002-04 at Bhavnagar. Jamal was a resident of Bhavnagar and the intelligence about him was sent to the city police for verification. Gehlot has now told the CBI that J Mahapatra, an IPS officer who was then director general of police in charge of statewide police intelligence, telephoned him and told him to expect a call from Rajendra Kumar. When Kumar called, he sent Gehlot on a wild goose chase by telling him to go look for a man named Ayyub Islam in the city.
“Later I got another phone call(s) from Rajendra Kumar and Mahapatra giving me name of a person called Sadiq Jamal who lived in Bhavnagar, a trained LeT militant (who) was out to kill BJP leader Narendra Modi,” Gehlot says. “I could make out that Kumar was keen on detailing Sadiq Jamal irrespective whereas Mr Mahapatra was keen on me verifying facts.” On 30 November 2002, Gehlot’s men went to Jamal’s house and found only his mother. The local police station told them they had booked Jamal for gambling. “We found no evidence against him and this was reported to the central intelligence unit. It was election time and I was busy with election supervision. On 15 January 2003 I received a phone call from the Ahmedabad crime branch asking me to inform the family of his (Jamal’s) death and to collect the dead body.”
The CBI says Mahapatra has been questioned and he is cooperating. Expect fireworks on 4 July.