In 2010, the journalist Rana Ayyub spent eight months undercover in Gujarat. Ayyub, who was then working for Tehelka magazine, posed as a filmmaker. She met bureaucrats and senior police officials in Gujarat who held pivotal positions in the state between 2001 and 2010. The transcripts of the sting operation, unpublished so far, form the core of her book Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up. The self-published book narrates what the officials revealed about the complicity of the state machinery in the anti-Muslim violence in 2002, as well as in “encounters” such as the one that resulted in the killing of Ishrat Jehan, and the murder of the state home minister Haren Pandya, events that accompanied the consolidation of power in Gujarat by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
In the following excerpt from the book, Ayyub recounts the aftermath of a crucial exposé, and what led her to adopting an undercover identity.
With able help from human rights activists and officers who provided me with evidence, I made one of the most sensational exposés of 2010. These were the call records of the then Minister of State for Home Affairs, Amit Shah, and top officers during the course of encounters. Accompanying the call records was a damning internal Official Secrets Act note. The minister’s activity was being monitored by the state CID and the note alleged that the encounter was a sinister plot to kill innocents and label them terrorists.
The exposé created ripples in the political fraternity. Phone calls from the CBI poured in asking Tehelka to hand them those records which were later placed before the Supreme Court. I continued to stay at Hotel Ambassador in Ahmedabad, which by now had become my second home. Located in the predominantly Muslim locality of Khanpur, this was a rather unassuming place for me to stay at. I would discover later that the state BJP office was only blocks away. I was suddenly in the public eye. BJP leaders spoke about a certain young chap called Ayyub who had made the disclosure. For some reason the idea of a female investigative journalist had not crossed their minds. I was not complaining, it only allowed me to go about my work discreetly. But this did not last long. A few days into the exposé, my phone received a text from an unknown number which read, “We know where you are.”
Life had indeed changed; from that day on I changed my accommodation every third day, from the IIM campus in Ahmedabad to guesthouses, hostels, and gymkhanas. I had begun to operate like a fugitive. By this time, landlines had replaced mobile phone communication for me. Finally having provided all the evidence I could dig up to the CBI and writing my follow-up reports, I landed in Mumbai and decided to get back to some semblance of routine.