A Murder Most Foul: How Haren Pandya was silenced

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: July 5, 2019

Many things about the Gujarat 2002 genocidal violence, then and in the years since have been unique not least due to the depth of the response and vast documentation exposing the role of the state in the violence.


Haren Pandya Murder Case: SC Convicts 12 Persons For Killing Ex-Gujarat Home Minister
Image Courtesy: outlookindia.com

Within this wider narrative the slaying in cold blood of HarenPandya, a former minister of the state, on March 26, 2003, a year after the breakout of violence, adds a twist to the sinister tale.

HarenPandya’s journey: A quest for redemption?
The life and death of HarenPandya make for a rather curious tale. Born into a family committed to the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), he represented as does his father VithalbhaiPandya a worldview that was and is committed to the political transition of Hinduism (a privately held belief) into Hindutva (a political, possibly exclusionary worldview).

A dynamic man who had won three successive elections from the Ellis Bridge constituency in Ahmedabad, Pandya was home minister in Keshubhai’s cabinet and also revenue minister of Gujarat when the carnage was unleashed in 2002. Paldi that falls within his constituency saw extensive damage to property belonging to the Muslim minority and there were some eye witness testimonials that claim to have seen Pandya in the mob.

With this background he contacted me. I was convenor of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal –Crimes Against Humanity Gujarat 2002 and Pandya deposed before us on Ahmedabad in May 2002, at the end of the Tribunal’s sittings all over the state. Justice PB Sawant a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Hosbet Suresh, retired from the Bombay High Court and KG Kannabiran, doyen of the human rights movement in the country apart from myself were present at the time.

For 17 days since May 1, 2002, the Tribunal had scoured the ravaged districts of the state and met thousands of affected families and recorded the testimonials of the gruesome violence. Police officials, commissioners and collectors of districts had testified before the tribunal. The picture that had emerged before us was chilling. A detailed outline of a conspiracy, already hinted at in sharp bursts of media coverage, revealed a picture of a plan hatched at the very highest level to actively render the police force and other agencies of law protection and enforcement neutralised and impotent. 

Yeh andar ki baat hai, Police hamaare saath hai

Brave and erudite reporting by the media especially the Times of India  and Indian Express as also Communalism Combat’s investigative Genocide 2002 issue (March April 2002) had documented secret meetings and illegal directives to help draw this vivid picture.

Yeh andar ki baat hai, Police hamaare saath hai, (it is an open secret that the police is with us) was the victorious slogan of karsevaks heading to Ayodhya from Gujarat before and after February 15, 2002. CC had for five years before 2002 detailed extensively distributed hate literature by non-state groups and actors supported by the state as also figures and documents that revealed a deep level of infiltration of rabid cadres of organisations involved in the violence into both the police, administration and other wings of governance.

For the tribunal to build on this foundation, and, in conclusion of its analysis of the violence unleashed in 2002, to definitively state that this complicity of the state executive flowed out of the direct action of holding an illegal meeting at which the chief minister specifically issued unlawful directions, a direct testimonial from someone in officialdom to confirm that such a meeting did actually take place on the night of February 27, 2002, was mandatory. As convenor it made my task more herculean to convince someone from officialdom to speak up. Dozens of efforts were made, only some proved successful. Finally the confirmation came from none less than a sitting minister in the Modi cabinet. This testimonial elevated the CCT’s three volume report from a substantive and courageous Inquiry Document into a truly historic document.

What HarenPandya told the CCT
Haren Pandya, when he responded to my efforts and met us, provided that valuable testimonial. We met him in Ahmedabad, a rendezvous cloaked in secrecy, and recorded what he had to say. I put questions to him as framed by the panel. Why had he not prevented the violence in the Paldi area of Ellis Bridge his own electoral constituency, we asked reminding him that he had been seen by some to be in the mob. The mob was enraged he replied, I diverted them away from taking lives to merely destroying property. The frenzy of the crowd had to be felt to be understood, this was not the normal vengeful reaction to a communally surcharged situation. The police were wilfully inactive, he asserted, because there were instructions from the very top. He could testify to a meeting that had taken place where, he confirmed some ministers of the Gujarat cabinet, the director general of police K Chakravarty, commissioner of Ahmedabad, PC Pande and few other critical officers from the secretariat and CMO were also present.

At this meeting the chief minister had allegedly issued clear-cut instructions to the police. There would be palpable Hindu anger visible on the streets the day after the Godhra incident on February 27, 2002. The police should allow this anger to vent itself. In short, do nothing to control it. Pandya provided the official confirmation to the tribunal that the blatantly subversive and unconstitutional acts by the state of Gujarat were born not simply of non-functioning or paralysis when spontaneous communal violence rages on the streets but were calculated and perpetrated actions, at various levels, to allow mass rape and killings.

My later investigations especially after the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry into the complaint filed by Zakia Ahsan Jafri dated June 8, 2006 revealed the names of those bureaucrats and policemen who attended that fateful meeting.

Why did Pandya do it?
His response to the tribunal was that he found the violence sickening and cynically induced and could never be party to such wilful acts of rape, murder and revenge. He also gave us an instance of how he had himself, using his privileged security helped escort the DawoordiBodhra religious chief living in Saraspur, the Chhotamullahas he is known, to the airport to escape safely to Mumbai.

In the violence ravaged areas, testimony after testimony of affected victims and even criminally errant policemen corroborated the three days long (72 hours) wilful inaction by the police who had been instructed not to act. We have a three day holiday, it is your turn to die, is what PI of Naroda police station KK Mysorewala told women who were stripped and chased naked by a virulent mob before many of them were killed at Naroda within Ahmedabad. Over 120 people met an unspeakably humiliating and violent end that day in this outskirts of a city, not five-eight kilometres away from Gulberg society at Chamanpura, another site of the worst violence.

We also recorded evidence of similar secret meetings held at Godhra and Lunawada to chalk out the attacks on the minorities in villages in the Panchmahal and Dahod districts. After Ahmedabad, Panchmahals that saw the gruesome killings in Kidiad and Pandharwada, apart from the gang rape of BilkeesBano and killings of her family, was the worst affected district in terms of loss of life.

Pandya’s ordeal post testimony before CCT
News of Pandya’s wilful betrayal inevitably reached the ears and eyes of the state government and soon thereafter reached the media around June 2002, a month after his meeting with the tribunal. Political ostracism and venomous exclusion was the price that Pandya had to pay. Modi brooked neither dissent nor healthy competition. Pandya had in his life represented both. Outlook's story, A Plot from the Devil's Lair bears this out.

It was no surprise then that Pandya was soon charged with anti-party activities and by July 2002, he was out of the ministry. Modi, riding on a post genocidal electoral high, defied pressures from Advani and Jaitley and did not even re-nominate Pandya for the December 2002 state polls. When Modi rode back to power, Pandya was completely marginalised, reduced to his morning walks and even playing golf. It was just before a morning walk three months later he was shot dead. His body lay where he was killed for nearly hours without anybody reporting it.

Law Gardens, where Pandya was found dead inside a white Maruti car is a fashionably busy part of Ahmedabad but there were no inconvenient witnesses to the incident that day. The thelas selling banjaracostumes andcholis that litter the border of the garden had been evicted from the area just a few days before Pandya’s murder.

Ellis Bridge is the closest police station to Law Gardens but mysteriously it was the Navrangpura police who first arrived at the spot. Officers of the Ellis bridge station had been mis-directed and initially told to go to the Piramal Gardens, not Law Gardens where the incident was supposed to have occurred. Halfway there, someone guided them back to the correct spot.

Was Pandya placed under surveillance?
A remarkable document critical to understanding the Gujarat genocide of 2002, that has not received the attention it deserves is the ‘Personal Register’ maintained by then additional director general of police RB Sreekumar between April 16 and September 19, 2002. This document that runs into 207 pages has received exclusive treatment in my narrative later. But it also has a specific relevance here. All entries in Sreekumar’s register are crucial role in understanding the Machiavellian and evil levels to which both Modi and his mentor, LK Advani, then minister for home affairs and deputy prime minister to boot, went to obfuscate evidence post the genocide and facilitate cover-ups in the registration of offences and their investigations. Some entries specifically point to efforts at the highest levels to stalk Pandya misusing state government machinery after his testimony to the tribunal.

An entry made by Sreekumar in this personal register on June 7, 2002, reveals that the chief minister’s principal secretary, PK Mishra was desperate on behalf of Modi, his boss to ascertain whether or not it was Pandya who had met the Concerned Citizens Tribunal. Mishra asked Sreekumar on that day to find out which minister from the Modi cabinet had met a citizens’ enquiry tribunal (looking into the Godhra and post-Godhra violence) of which retired Supreme Court judge, VR Krishna Iyer, was a panel member. Mishra told Sreekumar that minister of state for revenue, HarenPandya, was suspected to be the man concerned. He also gave Sreekumar the number of a mobile phone (No. 98240 30629) and asked him to trace details of this meeting through Pandya’s telephone records. When Sreekumar did not jump to obey, Mishra repeated the instructions on June 12, 2002, saying that HarenPandya was believed to be the minister concerned who met the tribunal. In his register Sreekumar states that though he had stressed to the chief minister’s principal secretary that the matter was a sensitive one and outside the SIB’s charter of duties, he provided the call details of the above mentioned mobile phone, and handed these over to Mishra through his IGP OP Mathur soon thereafter.

A month before this, while Sreekumar was busy recording all the illegal instructions he was receiving from chief minister Modi another entry made by him on May 7, 2002 is significant. Thirteen days before this date, ADGP Sreekumar had made a detailed assessment on the communal situation in Ahmedabad (April 24, 2002) wherein he had confirmed independent assessments made by rights’ groups and the CCT (especially related to the subversion of investigations by non-registration of FIRs, clubbing of complaints, dropping names of powerful accused etc). This report by the state’s IB chief clearly did not suit Modi since, by sticking to constitutional norms of governance and law enforcement, it veered away from the state’s chosen policy of partisan rule. Little wonder then that this report had bitterly irked the Modi government.

On that afternoon, the chief minister, NarendraModi himself summoned Sreekumar for a meeting unwilling to trust this task to even his trusted coterie. He first asked the ADGP for his assessment of the continuing violence in Ahmedabad. Sreekumar promptly referred to the irksome note on the prevailing communal situation where upon Modi said that he had read the note but believed Sreekumar had drawn the wrong conclusions. The chief minister argued that the violence in Gujarat did not necessitate such am elaborate, professional analysis – it was a natural uncontrollable reaction to the incident in Godhra. That was that. He then asked Sreekumar to concentrate on Muslim militants instead.

Sreekumar pointed out that it was not Muslims who were on the offensive in Gujarat and moreover, he urged the chief minister to reach out and build confidence within the battered and beleaguered minority community. Modi was visibly annoyed at Sreekumar’s suggestions, the register records.

There is another critical entry in the register that I link to the narrative concerning Pandya’s murder. On June 28, 2002, then Gujarat chief secretary SubhaRao had convened a meeting of top officials in the context of the annual rathyatra to begin that year from Jamalpur Ahmedabad on July 7, 2002. Key favoured officers from the coterie of the chief minister were also present. The ADGP Intelligence had suggested a cancellation of yatra given the fragile situation and the newly appointed commissioner of Ahmedabad, KR Kaushik had endorsed the ADGP (Intelligence)’s views. Sreekumar had opined that retributive anger of Muslim youth could fuel tensions. He also shared intelligence inputs received from central agencies about plans of Pan – Islamic militants and Muslim terrorists out to cause harm to both the rathyatra and Hindus. While others present were debating a cancellation of the yatra or negotiating a change of its route, the chief secretary SubhaRao, informed the group that there was no question of cancelling the procession as the chief minister had already taken a firm decision to permit it through its traditional route.

After the formal meeting SubhaRao spoke to Sreekumar personally and suggested that if anyone was observed trying to disturb or disrupt the rathyatrathere was a simple solution that had political sanction and was the well-considered decision of chief minister NarendraModi, that person should be eliminated.Sreekumar had then refused to play ball, stating that such an action would be totally illegal and unethical. Though the chief secretary tried to pressure him into accepting the chief minister’s edict, Sreekumar remained adamant.

Sreekumar’s register abruptly stops on September 19, 2002 after he commits the final folly of honestly reporting on Modi’s inflammatory election rally speech at the temple town of Becharaji in north Gujarat’s Mehsana district (more on that later). But in the months since May 2002, two things are clear. Pandya has won the wrath of Modi by deposing before the Tribunal. Modi and his men in the administration, especially the chief secretary SubhaRao and ACS (home) Ashok Narayan are openly propagating the practice of ‘elemination’ of those who are irked by the policies of the Gujarat government and who may indulge in any activities against rabid Hindu groups or processions.  
 
* This is an excerpt from a yet to be published book by CJP secretary TeestaSetalvad, who was a part of a Concerned Citizens Tribunal that conducted a series of hearings of witnesses and survivors in the aftermath of the Gujarat 2002 genocide. It is being published in wake of the Supreme Court upholding the conviction of 12 people in the murder of HarenPandya, a former Gujarat minister who testified against his powerful bosses and exposed their complicity in fanning the communal flames that ravaged Gujarat.The article is in two parts, this is Part One.

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3. A Plot from the Devil's Lair