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Long before court verdict,family ruled not guilty

Pandyas’ campaign for years: political murder,not reprisal against riots.

Written by Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
August 30, 2011 2:18:37 am

In the years between BJP leader Haren Pandya’s murder and the dropping of murder charges against the 12 arrested,his family kept maintaining that these were not the real killers.

Till he died this year,the leader’s father Vitthaldas Pandya had campaigned relentlessly against the police and CBI theory on the 2003 murder — that it was part of a reprisal by Muslims against the 2002 riots. His own theory was that it was a fallout of a deposition that Haren Pandya had made against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Pandya had fallen out with Modi in 2001 after he refused to vacate his Assembly seat of Ellisbridge for the Chief Minister. Later,Modi would hit back by ensuring Pandya was denied a poll ticket in 2002. What Vitthaldas Pandya believed actually led to the murder,however,was his son’s deposition before a Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal that Modi,following the Godhra train carnage in 2002,had ordered the police to go slow on rioting Hindu mobs.

Pandya’s wife Jagruti was equally unconvinced by the police and CBI theory. Last year,she wrote to Modi seeking a fresh probe and questioning the roles of IPS officers D G Vanzara and Abhay Chudasama.

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Now,she has welcomed the judgment,saying,“We have always respected the judiciary,and have full faith in it. The ruling has reaffirmed our faith.”

Jay Narayan Vyas,Gujarat government spokesperson,suggested that the CBI challenge the High Court verdict in the Supreme Court and expressed the hope that the CBI would make sure the culprits are brought to book. Asked to comment on Jagruti Pandya’s allegations,he stressed that the matter should first be allowed to complete the judicial process.

Shaktisinh Gohil,Leader of the Opposition,demanded a special investigating team appointed by the Supreme Court and said it is “a well-known fact that Modi was behind the political assassination”. “Pandya’s father,a hardcore RSS worker,stuck to this claim till his last breath,” he said.

Vitthaldas Pandya,a retired college teacher,kept alleging that it was a political murder,that his son “had been removed by Modi”,and that this was perhaps because of the deposition — which Haren Pandya had reportedly made with a request that his name should not be divulged. Haren Pandya is said to have named all who had attended Modi’s meeting,detailed also in the court affidavits of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt who has since been suspended.

The senior Pandya,who also targeted BJP leader L K Advani,appeared in court and a POTA review tribunal,went on a protest fast to be allowed an audience,and even contested as an Independent against Advani in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

It was during the father’s lifetime that Modi sought to put the rift with the son behind him. The Chief Minister shared the dais with Keshubhai Patel,whose camp Pandya had been part of in a faction-ridden BJP,and other rebels at a function where Advani unveiled Pandya’s statue. Pandya’s father and sisters were elsewhere,chanting slogans against Modi.

Jagruti Pandya,mother of two sons,broke her silence till then by writing to Modi in 2010,while the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter was being investigated. She sought a fresh probe and questioned the role of some of the encounter case’s key players in her husband’s murder. Modi has never responded to the letter,she said.

She cited the statement of Azam Khan,Sohrabuddin’s one-time aide and witness in the Pandya murder case,in questioning the roles of IPS officers Vanzara and Chudasama. She said Azam Khan had told the CBI that Chudasama had promised Sohrabuddin he would save him (Azam) in the Pandya murder case. This,she said,suggested that either Sohrabuddin knew details of the murder or Chudasama himself was involved.

She also alleged that Vanzara,then Crime Branch head,had helped Mufti Sufiyan,the main accused,to flee Gujarat,personally escorting him to the Bangladesh border. Sources said Vanzara,however,had helped the CBI track down alleged hitman Asghar Ali from Hyderabad in April 2003. Vanzara had led the investigation for three days before the CBI took over.

A POTA court sentenced nine of the 12 accused to life in 2007; they then appealed in the High Court.

Why the case fell

Not trustworthy: Court discounts sole eyewitness Anil Patel’s testimony. The snacks vendor claimed to have seen accused Asghar Ali fire on Pandya but the court finds his account inconsistent with the evidence

Bullets: Seven injuries,five bullets recovered; court says,citing discrepancies,that these might not be the same as the bullets eventually examined by the ballistic expert

Time: 7:30 am is prosecution case,court cites contrary evidence and observes that many witnesses,who could have given a different version,were not examined

Confession: Prosecution relied a lot on statements of accused,court says this raises questions of veracity and “voluntariness”

Forensics: Blood in clothes,none in car; no fingerprints lifted from car or from weapon

calls: No effort made to track records from Pandya’s mobile

Versions: The POTA court that held the 12 guilty had relied on the investigating officer’s version rather that of experts on the aspects concerned

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