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Gujarat police say leaders approved killings

'Encounter killings' were carried out against suspected terrorists or criminals. But it is now claimed that complicit politicians framed police. Samanth Subramanian reports

G Vanzara, right, was suspended six years ago after being arrested for taking part in a killing. He accused the Gujarat chief and probable candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, of endorsing the executions.
G Vanzara, right, was suspended six years ago after being arrested for taking part in a killing. He accused the Gujarat chief and probable candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, of endorsing the executions.

NEW DELHI // Police in Gujurat were ordered to shoot dead suspected terrorists as part of a systematic policy of extrajudicial killings, a high-ranking officer accused of carrying out the murders has claimed.

DG Vanzara, a deputy inspector general in the north-western Indian state, was suspended six years ago after he was arrested for taking part in the 2005 killing of a suspect who was in police custody.

He has been in prison ever since, although has not been convicted of any crime, and has been implicated in other cases in which police have been accused of executing prisoners, and then altering the crime scene to make it appear the officers acted in self-defence.

The killings - referred to in India as "encounter killings" - are believed to have been carried out widely by the country's police forces against suspected terrorists and crime lords.

Recently, however, there have been moves by the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's elite police agency, to prosecute police allegedly involved in the killings.

In a 10-page letter written on Sunday and published yesterday, Vanzara said that the Gujarat police had acted "in compliance of the conscious policy of this government".

He accused the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the probable Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate in next year's election, of endorsing the policy of killing suspects and covering it up.

Vanzara also defended the policy, maintaining that the police had been able to prevent the spread of "jihadi terrorism" in the state that borders Pakistan.

Vanzara also complained, however, that to hide their complicity, government officials had framed police officers and sent them to prison.

Thirty-two Gujurat state police officers are currently jailed in Mumbai and Gujarat, charged with encounter killings.

If summary executions were indeed covered up as killings carried out in self-defence, Vanzara wrote, then the authorities "have to arrest the policy formulators also, as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government".

Vanzara was especially scathing about the sway that Amit Shah, the state's former home minister, has held over Mr Modi's government. Mr Shah's "unholy grip over the state administration is so complete that he is almost running the government of Gujarat by proxy", he wrote.

Vanzara said he had maintained his silence until now only because of his "supreme faith" in Mr Modi, whom he "used to adore like a God. But I am sorry to state that my God could not rise to the occasion under the evil influence of Shah."

The BJP dismissed Vanzara's allegations yesterday.

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a party spokesman, said: "I don't think there is any need to respond to the allegations of a frustrated police officer who is in jail."

But the Congress, the BJP's primary political rival, called for Mr Modi to resign.

"We want to know how Narendra Modi and his government misused the police machinery in the state," said Ajay Maken, a Congress spokesman.

SR Darapuri, a former police officer now working in the field of human rights in the city of Lucknow, said many police forces in India enjoyed "immunity with the connivance of the state, because no case is ever registered if a policeman says he was acting in self defence".

"Whenever there is a chief minister who is pro-encounter, or where encounters are carried out as part of the state's policy in the name of getting tough with criminals, complaints are ignored", said Mr Darapuri.

"This is what happened in Gujarat."

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

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