Among this priest's friends, top cops Pandey and Vanzara, Kodnani

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AS Additional DGP P P Pandey, an accused in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, lay on a stretcher, ready to be ferried to court on Monday, a grim-looking priest kept watch by his side.

Swami Akhileshwardasji, who was wearing a spotless white dhoti and kurta, and had sandalwood and vermillion smeared on his forehead, considers Pandey his "good friend".

He also says he is close to suspended IPS officers D G Vanzara and G L Singhal — accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case — and former minister Maya Kodnani, who was convicted in a 2002 riots case.

The swami, a priest at a Ram temple in Ahmedabad's Saraspur, is associated with the VHP and travels in a car fitted with a beacon and escorted by four policemen. He says he bonds with Pandey because he too is from Uttar Pradesh.

"Pandeyji aur hum bahut khaas mitra hain. Hamey unki bahut chinta thi (Pandey and I are very close friends. I was worried about him)," he says, sitting in an airconditioned room at his ashram in Kotarpur, not far from the spot where Ishrat and three others were killed in 2004.

Akhileshwardas says he came to know Pandey and the other officers because his temple is where the annual Jagannath Rath Yatra breaks for lunch.

"Singhal is a very good friend and also Vanzara saheb since we have been together for years in Gujarat. We were fighting for all of them but the moment the cases reached the court, there were limitations. However, I am still extending all help, specially legal aid to prove their innocence."

On Kodnani, he says: "Kodnani and others have been framed in the case but we have no choice but to accept the judgment. After all the law is supreme."

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