There was never any doubt that Ishrat Jahan, her friend Javed Shaikh, and two others, all alleged players in a 2004 plot to kill Narendra Modi, were murdered in cold blood. The Gujarat government’s account of why and how the four were liquidated — referred to in police jargon as ‘encountered’ — was too full of inconsistencies to hold up to scrutiny. But the details that have unfolded in the Central Bureau of Investigation’s primary charge sheet against seven Gujarat policemen — among them senior Indian Police Service officers D.G. Vanzara and P.P. Pandey — are too horrific even by India’s notorious policing methods. What is worse, the charge sheet names the Gujarat police and State intelligence officers as collaborators in the operation, with the latter said to have been in on the kidnapping of the victims and to have supplied the weapons that were recovered from their bodies. The charge sheet discloses that Ishrat and Javed Shaikh were abducted from Valsad in Anand on June 12, 2004 and held captive for three days at various interrogation hideouts in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar before being drugged, blindfolded and driven to an isolated spot where they were shot dead along with their alleged co-conspirators from Pakistan, Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana. Incredibly, the charge sheet says that the FIR relating to the ‘encounter’ was drafted before the event.
A crucial point that has emerged is that Johar and Rana were themselves not together and had been taken into custody one month apart, in April and May 2004. In other words, the would-be assassins hatched their plot to kill Mr. Modi even as they were under custody of the Gujarat police in different locations. While this fact by itself is hard to square with the widely circulated theory that Ishrat was a trained suicide bomber associated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the charge sheet has avoided going into this area for now. Another contentious question concerned the role played by Rajinder Kumar, the IB’s Special Director posted in Gujarat at the time. Mr. Kumar has not been formally charge sheeted but his name figures among those who the CBI says planned the killings. A supplementary charge sheet will likely elaborate on the conspiracy, and who participated in it. Though the aim of this murderous plot was evidently to generate a fear psychosis in the State and burnish the credentials of the Gujarat Chief Minister, there is nothing as yet in the public domain to justify holding Mr. Modi directly responsible. However, the fact that officers holding some of the highest posts in his administration could plan and execute these custodial killings indubitably tarnishes his political credentials.