Narendra Modi faces another fake encounter charge

Even as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi looks certain to be the Bharatiya Janata Party's nominee for prime ministership in the 2014 general elections, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today charged him and his former ministry colleague Amit Shah with complicity in a police 'encounter' that left four alleged terrorists, including a woman, dead.

The victims in the June 2004 shooting were Ishrat Jahan Raza, a 19-year-old student in Mumbai, and three of her male companions. They were nabbed on an empty stretch of road between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar by officers of the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch.

An 'encounter' in Indian parlance refers to a shooting by security forces where they claim the alleged criminals were armed and opened fire first; it is generally a euphemism for officially-sanctioned murder.

In the Ishrat Jahan encounter, there seems no evidence that the victims were armed.

The shooting team was led by Deputy Inspector General D G Vanjara, who has subsequently been jailed for his involvement in another allegedly fake encounter that killed Sohrabuddin Sheikh.

An Ahmedabad metropolitan court ruled in 2009 that the Ishrat Jahan encounter was staged.

The decision was challenged by the Gujarat State government, and taken to the Gujarat High Court where it is pending.

The CBI now claims to have the testimony of a cop who heard Vanzara telling Rajinder Kumar of the Intelligence Bureau that both 'safed dadhi' (grey beard) and 'kaali dadhi' (black beard) had approved the plan to kill the four. The words greybeard and blackbeard were allegedly codenames for Modi and Shah.

The central investigation agency is expected to file its charge-sheet on 2 July, which will name both Modi and Shah.

According to an NDTV report, the alleged main conspirators - Vanzara, Rajinder Kumar and P P Pandey - had discussed the Ishrat case two days before the encounter, on 13 June 2004. Both Kumar and Pandey were at that time senior Indian Police Service officers in the Ahmedabad Crime Branch.

The CBI records show that Vanzara exchanged several calls to both the senior politicians accused before staging the encounter.

Already, almost 10 police officials have been booked in the case. Vanzara, already in jail for the Shorabuddin case, was remanded in judicial custody in the Ishrat case earlier this month.