This is the second of a two-part story. Read the first here.
Hyderabad: Haren Pandya was Gujarat’s home minister between 1998 and 2001, under Keshubhai Patel’s BJP dispensation, which was overthrown in an internal coup. The clash between Pandya and the new chief minister, Narendra Modi, is part of BJP lore, right up to the two testimonies Pandya gave about the Gujarat riots, including one before a citizens’ tribunal headed by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer.
Not long after taking over as chief minister, Modi stripped Pandya of the home portfolio and made him junior minister of revenue. By August 2002, Modi had elbowed Pandya out of the cabinet entirely, and in October, Pandya was denied a ticket in the upcoming elections, which the BJP won with a resounding margin thanks to the violence.
This would have been enough to keep most men down. Other sources of opposition had been similarly dealt with. Remember Sanjay Joshi? If you don’t – there endeth the lesson.
Pandya, however, wasn’t afraid of speaking out. He had already testified before two commissions and as a former home minister, he knew where the skeletons were buried.
There was another rising politician in Gujarat who got himself killed in similar circumstances: the Congressman Rauf Valiullah. He was shot dead in October 1992 as he left the Madhuban building in Ahmedabad, reportedly with a typed list in his hand carrying the names of politicians, cops and gangsters in cahoots with each other. Several people were arrested and tried for Valiullah’s murder. The list, however, disappeared.
Pandya was murdered on the morning of March 26, 2003. The police, the prosecuting attorney and the Central Bureau of Investigationan claimed he was killed in his car in front of Law Gardens, in the heart of his constituency. They said he was shot five times, through a slightly open car window and received seven injuries, including one in his neck and one in his scrotum.
Picture a small Maruti car with all doors and windows closed, except the driver’s side window down 2-3 inches from the top. Then picture a tall man behind the wheel and the positions of his neck and his scrotum. Finally, picture a shooter standing just outside the driver’s side door.
There were seven bullet injuries and, at a minimum, six entry wounds (possibly seven). Only five bullets were ever found, all in the body and none in the car.
An entry wound on Pandya’s neck (i.e. the top of his body), showed a left and downward trajectory. But the one in his scrotum had a right and upward trajectory. As the doctor who conducted the post-mortem testified, this wound needed a weapon below and left of the scrotum pointing upwards, an impossibility in a car. Not a drop of blood was found on the seat though he had bled profusely from the genital region. To anyone looking at the evidence, this was clearly impossible.
Such a case went to trial, and, wonder of wonders, 12 men were convicted and sentenced to life. The judge, Sonia Gokani, was elevated to the high court not long afterwards.
The crucial stages of a murder case
The crime scene and the first 48 hours of the investigation are crucial in a murder case. Most states have a special branch or crime branch to handle homicides. In the normal course of events, the Gujarat crime branch would have immediately taken over the investigation into a former home minister’s assassination. During Pandya’s trial, however, the prosecution argued that since the Central and state governments had decided on day one to hand over the case to the CBI, the crime branch had not been involved. It argued further that, for the first 48 hours, the investigation was handled by a senior police inspector from the Ellisbridge police station, an officer named Y.A. Shaikh.
At Shaikh’s behest a mobile forensic team examined the car, found no trace of blood, gun shot residue or damage of any kind to the car. The CBI did not study this report or match it with PM findings, as its investigating officer candidly admitted in court.
During the trial, Shaikh served two functions. He took responsibility for all the evidence that went missing from the crime scene or was never collected due to apparent incompetence. And he was the fall-guy whose job it was to keep the name of every other policeman out of the trial.
The only problem was, Shaikh wasn’t the first cop at the crime scene. He wasn’t even the fifth cop at the crime scene. In fact, while he rose majestically to the defence of the investigation and took ownership of the entire first two days, he was hard pressed to place himself at the crime scene for any length of time at all.
Instead, the then crime branch DSP D.G. Vanzara is clearly identified at two locations. One is inside the post-mortem room. The other is at the crime scene itself.
The Indian Police Manual has very detailed instructions on how to handle a crime scene. Investigators are meant to be specially trained, periodically tested on this and are required to carry an investigation kit in their official motors. Crime scene investigation is not just for the movies – it is very real, and if Indian investigators mess it up, they sometimes do so for a reason.
An inadvertent photo of Vanzara
While Shaikh was out organising security for the VIPs who landed up for Pandya’s funeral – including the then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani – a crime branch photographer inadvertently took a photograph of Vanzara at the crime scene. The picture left Shaikh fumbling for words when he was confronted with it on cross-examination. But one crucial piece of evidence was never taken from the car that day – fingerprints. Another was the call log on Pandya’s phone. It showed no missed calls though everyone was calling him that morning. The third thing that went missing was the footwear of the dead man who had come out for a morning walk.
Vanzara was also present in the room during Haren Pandya’s post-mortem. To be fair to him, so were a lot of other people who had no business being there. However, it was Vanzara who was constantly in and out. Each time a bullet was taken out of Pandya’s body, Vanzara would emerge and signal to the press about the number by holding up fingers. The last time he came out was at the count of five.
Yet, there were seven injuries and, at a minimum, six entry wounds (possibly seven). Only five bullets were ever found, in the body and none in the car.
Far more importantly, the bullets recovered from Pandya’s body did not match the ones that were presented in court in description or in form. The post mortem report signed by three doctors mentions white metal bullets, which suggest jacketed cupro nickel bullets used in pistols. When presented in court, however, the bullets were greyish black lead used in revolvers. Bullets that were marked as ‘tip damaged’ in the PM report were found tip intact at the forensic lab. These are non trivial differences. Were they replaced? Described wrongly? For what reason and by whom, and on whose orders?
Whoever it was, it is clear that it wasn’t any of the three gangsters who would soon be dead – Sohrabuddin, Tulsiram Prajapati and Nayeemuddin. Nor is it any of the others who still worry about their lives. None of them had access, either to the room during the post-mortem or the bullets afterward. The weapon of offence is another story.
Abhay Chudasama was attached to the CBI investigation for a while, and was later replaced by Tarun Kumar Amrutlal Barot, better known as T.A. Barot. Both were also accused in the Soharabuddin and Prajapati cases. Chudasama secured a discharge in 2015. Barot is prosecution witness 114 and had a long and overt relationship with the case throughout.
Shaikh had recorded the statements of Pandya’s friends and secretary, all of whom had reached the spot before the police. They were the first to view the body. The CBI ignored them, even though one spoke of Pandya’s knees virtually coming on to his chest when he opened the door of the car.
The CBI disclaims any investigation of Pandya’s phone, the state of the car, or the state of Pandya’s body in the car when first noticed, Although called in only two days later, the CBI did little to review the evidence collected or missed soon after the crime. Yet, the CBI prepared a site plan on March 28 itself, in which the name Asghar Ali is discernible despite every effort to erase it. But their case is that they did not know of this man until much later. Ali was the man later put on trial and convicted, until the high court saw the absurdity of the CBI’s case and acquitted him and 11 others.
So, what exactly did the CBI investigate? And what role did the Crime Branch, Vanzara and his mates have in the investigation. Was the CBI given a pre-recorded script and by whom?
So many crime branch officers had indirect but deep connections with the Pandya investigation that a final question to ask is: did the CBI investigate the Pandya murder at all?
Sarita Rani is an engineer turned reporter of 18 years. She is currently engaged in research for an independent project.