On 5 July, a Supreme Court division bench led by the judge Arun Mishra overturned a 2011 judgment of the Gujarat high court. The high court had acquitted 12 men accused of murdering Haren Pandya, a former home minister of Gujarat, in 2003. In the acquittal, the court condemned the Central Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the case—the agency had linked Pandya’s murder to the killing of a Gujarat-based leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and said that the murders were an international conspiracy supposedly led by a Muslim cleric to spread terror among Hindus.
“What clearly stands out from the record of the present case is that the investigation in the case of murder of Shri Haren Pandya has all throughout been botched up and blinkered and has left a lot to be desired,” the high court noted. “The investigating officers concerned ought to be held accountable for their inaptitude resulting into injustice, huge harassment of many persons concerned and enormous waste of public resources and public time of the Courts.” But the apex court discarded these observations. It restored the conviction of the 12 accused, effectively agreeing with the CBI’s claims.
The court also dismissed a PIL filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a non-profit, seeking a re-investigation into Pandya’s murder in light of new evidence. This new information was a recent testimony that linked Pandya’s murder to the gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was later killed in an allegedly staged encounter by the Gujarat Police. Azam Khan, an associate of Sheikh and a key witness in the case, told a Mumbai court in late 2018 that “during discussion with Sohrabuddin, he told me that he … got the contract to kill … Haren Pandya of Gujarat.” Sohrabuddin told him that “the contract was given to him by Vanzara”—referring to DG Vanzara, a former deputy inspector-general of Gujarat Police, who served during Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister of the state. Amit Shah, the former minister of state for home in Gujarat who is now the union home minister, was once the prime accused in the Sohrabuddin case.
The judges dismissed the evidence listed by the CPIL, which included journalistic works by news organisations such as Outlook magazine, and my 2016 book, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up. The book contained the transcript of a conversation I had with YA Shaikh, the police officer who first investigated Pandya’s death, before the CBI took it over. I had secretly taped this exchange. Referring to the case, Shaikh had said, “Once the truth is out, Modi will go home. He will be jailed.” He had claimed that Asghar Ali, the main accused in Pandya’s murder, was tortured in custody and forced to give a false confession. “They had to put the blame on any Muslim man … They have just fit Asghar Ali,” Shaikh had told me.