Even four months after Sohrabuddin Sheikh was killed by the Gujarat Police in a fake encounter in November 2005, the state government maintained that he was a murder accused. It made no mention of Sheikh’s alleged terrorist links, although now it says he was a “suspected terrorist”.
On March 20, 2006, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in a written reply tabled in the state assembly, had said Sheikh was an accused in an unspecified murder case. Sheikh was also wanted for offences under the Arms Act, according to Modi’s reply to a question from Mukesh Gadhvi, a Congress MLA.
Gadhvi had sought details of encounter deaths in the state between 2003 and 2006.
No other charge was mentioned against Sheikh in the reply. No details were given about the encounter. The reply, however, did give the details of charges against 21 others killed in encounters.
Now the government says Sheikh had terror links and that Modi’s reply was based on the information available at that time.
“Sheikh had links with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, and was working for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT),” SK Saikia, secretary, home department, told HT. “At that point of time, Sheikh’s involvement in many cases may not have been known. Though we were aware of his criminal activities in Rajasthan and MP, his links with the ISI and LeT were known only later on.”
"We have told the Supreme Court that Sheikh's encounter was fake, but we have sufficient information now regarding his links with the ISI and the LeT. Till proved otherwise, he remains a suspected terrorist," he said.
The Gujarat government has to file its final status report on the killing of Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi in the Supreme Court by May 15, the next date of the hearing.
The court will also decide whether the case should be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), as sought by Sheikh's brother.
Gujarat government spokesman and the Urban Development Minister I.K. Jadeja said: "Whatever the state government has to say will be said to the Supreme Court."
The state Congress has demanded a CBI inquiry into the case.
"The only way of finding the truth is a CBI inquiry," Arjun Modhwadia, leader of the opposition in the assembly, said. "We had raised the issue of fake encounters several times in the assembly, but the state government avoided a direct reply."