Indian ex-minister charged in gangster's slaying

The former Gujarat state official is accused of organising the killing of the alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005.

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NEW DELHI // India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested the former home minister of Gujarat state on charges of organising the killing of the alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005. Amit Shah, who resigned from his position last week, had served as a minister in the cabinet of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi since 2002. Mr Shah was arrested in connection with Sheikh's murder on Sunday.

The Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), India's main opposition party and the ruling party in Gujarat, has accused the ruling Congress Party of using the CBI as a "political vendetta tool" with the aim of garnering votes in forthcoming elections by capitalising on Muslim anger over the Modi government's treatment of their community. Mr Modi was the chief minister in 2002 during riots by Hindu extremists in which about 2,000 Muslims were killed.

"All these cases are a sham and a political conspiracy. Everyone knows Sohrabuddin was a dreaded terrorist and an anti-national person. The government is eyeing the Bihar [and] UP polls and using the CBI to intimidate the patriotic people of the country," the BJP spokesperson Tarun Vijay told reporters last week. In January, the CBI was ordered to open a fresh investigation into Sheikh's murder after his brother, Rubabudin, filed a writ petition to the Supreme Court claiming that he was killed in a staged encounter with police. The CBI also said Sheikh was killed in a such an encounter. Extra-judicial killings of criminal suspects by the police are commonplace in India, rights activists say.

Analysts say that Mr Shah's case will have political ramifications. "If Amit Shah is indicted he will put Modi and the entire BJP leadership in a difficult spot, but if he gets a clean chit from the court, Modi and Shah will be the next poster boys of the BJP," said Aditi Phadnis, the political editor of the Business Standard newspaper, said in an interview. The high court also blamed the Gujarat government for failing to investigate the killing in an impartial manner.

Sheikh was accused of running an extortion racket in the large marble industry of Rajasthan state, which was also ruled by the BJP in 2005. The marble lobby of Rajasthan wanted their Gujarati counterparts to eliminate Sheikh and Mr Shah was entrusted with the job to kill him, according to the CBI charge sheet. The CBI also alleges that officers from the police agencies of Gujarat and Rajasthan abducted Sheikh, his wife, Kauser Bi, and his aide, Tulsiram Prajapati, on November 23, 2005 from the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

The trio were kept at a farm house in Gujarat and Sheikh was shot dead in a staged encounter on November 26. Sheikh, a resident of Madhya Pradesh state, had many criminal cases pending against him. Gujarat and Rajasthan police had initially claimed Sheikh belonged to the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba and was planning to assassinate Mr Modi to avenge the deaths of Muslims killed in the 2002 riots.

But in 2007, the Gujarat state government admitted that Sheikh was killed in a staged encounter with police and his wife was killed in "cold blood" after few days and her body was burnt to cover up the crime. Tulsiram was shot a year later in another encounter. But the police investigation found no connection between the killings and Mr Modi's government.