Inspector General of Police Rajnish Rai, who is currently serving with the CRPF in the North East, stirred a hornet’s nest by claiming that a much-touted encounter that led to the death of two suspected members of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit), or NDFB(S) faction, was staged.
The 30 March encounter was extensively reported as a successful operation wherein two hardcore NDFB (Songbijit) insurgents were killed. The police had claimed that they had stumbled upon a party of insurgents in the wee hours of the day and later two of the militants were neutralised in cross-firing. The two deceased extremists had been identified as Lukash Narzary alias Langfa and David Islary were claimed to be active cadres of NDFB(S) and involved in a number of crimes, including extortion, he said.
However, Rai, in a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, has alleged that two men were abducted from their homes and killed in cold blood under the pretext of an encounter, according to a report in The Indian Express. Rai even claimed that he had a witness to the incident who could testify that the Insas Rifle, 7.65 revolver and the Chinese grenade claimed to have found on the spot were planted on the Naxals bodies.
The newspaper report says that their attempts to reach officials, marked on the report, for a comment have been futile.
The claims made in Rai’s reports are not unheard of and have been reiterated by various human rights activists in the region. However, an acting IGP’s reiterating those claims adds certain degree of assertiveness to those claims. Meanwhile, this is not the first time that Rai has deferred from the administration’s official stand and has flagged his concerns about what he claims to be fake encounters. The senior IPS officer has had a history of face-offs with the ruling dispensation and a particularly remarkable spat with the Gujarat government.
Rai, a 1992 batch Gujarat cadre IPS officer first made news for indicting two Gujarat top cops, PC Pandey, and OP Mathur, among others in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, according to a report in India Today. Rai had even levelled serious allegations against the then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah. In fact, Rai was one of the first police officers to claim that Sohrabuddin’s close aide Tulsi Prajapati’s death was linked to the former’s encounter.
Sohrabuddin Sheikh was an alleged criminal who died while in police custody in what Rai alleged to be a fake encounter. Sohrabuddin’s wife Kausar Bi also disappeared on the same day of his killing and Prajapati, a key witness in the case, was killed a year later in another police encounter.
Media reports from the time state that Rai had claimed that Pandey, in connivance with Shah, conspired to kill Prajapati, a key witness in the encounter case. Rai was the officer, charged with investigation of the Sohrabuddin encounter case, and he was the one who arrested top Gujarat police officers, and his own seniors, in the case, according to DNA.
“The fact of the matter is that Pandey and Mathur wanted to de-link the Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati case as the gravity of the offence would have increased enormously if it could be established that the accused police officers hid the heinous crime committed by them and even eliminated a witness,” DNA quotes Rai’s report to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
The political importance of the case can be gauged from the fact that Shah, now arguably the most powerful man in the ruling BJP, was jailed in connection with the case in 2010 and was also banned from entering Gujarat till 2012, as the Supreme Court feared he could influence a fair investigation in the case, according to a report in Scroll.
Following this, Rai managed to be on the wrong side of the administration. His annual confidential report (ACR) was downgraded by dding adverse remarks about his performance by the former director general of police Pandey, who was one of the key accused according to Rai’s investigation.
Rai lodged a protest against the move, and amid a hue and cry in the media, the Gujarat government finally accepted his objections, which it had earlier rejected. A report in The Times of India states that at the time, it was largely seen as the Gujarat government’s attempt to broker peace with the embittered IPS officer.
He was later removed from the Sohrabuddin case investigation case and was deputed as the Chief Vigilance Officer in Chattisgarh’s far flung Jaduguda district, according to The Indian Express.
However, Rai challenged his transfer before the principal bench of CAT, claiming that his transfer was politically motivated, following which the tribunal ruled that the central government must give a central post within three months, The Indian Express report said. Subsequently, the Modi government deployed Rai in the CRPF as Inspector General, taking back its earlier order to transfer him to Jaduguda. However, Rai moved Delhi High Court, demanding police posting and the matter remains sub-judice.
Apart from transfer order issued with ‘mala fide intent’, Rai has also alleged victimisation accusing the government of preventing him from joining the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur as a faculty member. According to another report in The Times of India, Rai had repeatedly requested the government to relieve him but was denied the permission. Besides this, the report further states that Rai’s wife, Vatsala Vasudev, an IAS officer, was also not allowed to join the United Nations Development Programme for which she was shortlisted by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2010.
Rai had placed these facts in his complaint to the CAT and the facts were so stark that even the tribunal was forced to make the observation that “was not relieved despite his repeated requests.”
“The CAT also considered Rai’s case different from other officers because when he offered to go on central deputation, his name was withdrawn by the state government on the ground of shortage of police officers in Gujarat. Yet, later he was denied permission to join IIM, Udaipur and shifted out of Gujarat in 2014,” The Times of India report states.