D G Vanzara: From a farmer's scholarly son to a jailed encounter cop

Dahyaji Gobarji VanzaraConvocation at Sabarmati jail. Vanzara and Ahmedabad blast accused Sajid Mansoori congratulate each other for degrees. express archive
His mother named him Dahya, meaning simple. Dahyaji Gobarji Vanzara, 59, did have a simple upbringing as a tribal farmer's son in the northern Gujarat village of Ilol before going on to become an ambitious police officer who would eventually be arrested for encounters he allegedly staged. Vanzara's letter bomb: Modi was my god

His father, Gobarji, was keen on educating his three sons. Of the other two, Kaluji Vanzara is a promotee IAS officer and now director of cast welfare, a post equivalent in rank to that of a joint secretary, in Gujarat's social justice department, while Vanrajsinh Vanzara is deputy secretary (health).

Village remembers his days hard and easy

Dahyaji's son Pruthvisinh, asked who his father's best friend was, says, it was Narendra Modi. "The way Modi knows him, no one does. Papa and Modi were friends since both began their careers." CBI to examine jailed cop Vanzara's resignation letter for fresh leads

In his resignation letter from jail last week, Vanzara accused the government of ditching jailed police officers after they had performed in accordance with its policy. Express column: The encounter cop, a broken omerta

The student

"My father's motivation was my grandfather, who kept coaxing his sons to study," says Pruthvisinh. "My father used to study late into the night under the light of kerosene lamps."

Dahyaji Vanzara went to the village's only government school before completing high school from Himmatnagar town. He was deeply interested in literature, writing poems while a BA and then an LLB student Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara. He was also a sportsman, winning medals in athletics, as well as a horse rider, a passion he shares with his wife.

"My mother is the better rider," Pruthvi says. "In the 1950s she used to travel to Rajasthan on horseback along with her father, who was a well-known businessman there."

The marriage with Gauridevi had been arranged in childhood. Her family came to his rescue after he had been thrown out of his hostel because he couldn't pay his fees. "My paternal grandfather had paid for his admission to MSU but my father couldn't pay the hostel fees. After two or three months, my father chose not to ask his father for money and shifted to a friend's room. After a few days when the dean found out, he threw him out of the hostel," Pruthvi says. "When my maternal grandfather came to know about it, he paid the hostel fees."

All three brothers appeared for the public service examination. Vanzara got through the direct DSP exam in 1978-79 and joined the police while his brothers got into the administrative services.

The tough cop

The career decided, the ambition showed early. The young DSP earned a reputation as a tough cop who cracked down on liquor dens, arms rackets and highway robbers. He was promoted to the IPS in 1987.

In time, he emerged a networker with contacts from small vendors to political leaders across Gujarat. He was posted as DSP and SP in a number of districts. The executive postings came in the Ahmedabad crime branch, the anti-terrorism squad and the border range, as DIG. Officers credit him with developing a strong intelligence gathering system when he briefly handled CID (intelligence).

"When Vanzara saheb was SP in Mehsana during the Chimanbhai Patel regime, there was a major farmers' agitation. He played a key role in protecting the farmers from his police colleagues, which made him popular as a people's cop while remaining an aggressive one," says old friend Harish Gujjar, a machine manufacturer in Himmatnagar. A batchmate adds, "He was on the field all the time, a fearless officer who believed in dealing with criminals with a stick or a punch."

It was after he graduated from crime to terror that his aggression led to his undoing.

The conspiracy theorist

After joining the Ahmedabad crime branch from 2002, Vanzara as DCP would be involved in a series of encounters, before being promoted to DIG and posted in the ATS.

Starting from the time when Gujarat was reeling under communal riots and peaking during the encounters, police theories — now being attributed to Vanzara — linked a series of operations to ISI-sponsored conspiracies: a foiled attack on a rath yatra in 2002, blasts across the state and the killing of former minister Haren Pandya, followed by the Sadiq Jamal and the Ishrat Jahan encounters. Two others killed in encounters for which he has been chargesheeted — gangsters Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram — had been part of the information network he had built.

"He was a competent officer but he came under the evil influence of people in the Narendra Modi government," says retired DGP R B Sreekumar, who had rated Vanzara outstanding in 2001 for his work during the Kutch earthquake and the setting up of an SRP batallion in Banaskantha.

In a letter to a special task force probing 16 encounter cases, Sreekumar had written, "Why have alleged militant jihadi groups stopped sending potential assassins to kill Sangh Parivar leaders after the arrest of Vanzara in 2007, and why were intelligence inputs of terrorist attacks received only between 2002 and 2006?"

He tells The Indian Express, "If Vanzara had been stopped by the government after the alleged rath yatra firearms haul, the jihadi theories he cooked up around the fake encounters would not have happened."

Fighter & writer

The writer has resurfaced in the six years he has spent in jail. The aggressor hasn't lain low, though, going by complaints from two of his former colleagues.

At Sabarmati jail's Sardar Yard, he has written Rantankar, Sinh Garjana and Vijaypanth. "I admire the writer in him; as for the rest, the law will decide whether he was right or wrong," says Ramnik Rawal, an artist in Palanpur who wrote him a letter that appears in Sinh Garjana.

The allegations of picking fights came from jailed SP Rajkumar Pandian and DSP N K Amin, now out on bail. The biggest of these was in 2009, after which Amin wrote to police and government authorities that Vanzara had tried to kill him in jail.

Since 2010, Vanzara has enrolled in a number of distance learning courses and won degrees from IGNOU and Annamalai University in spirituality and yoga, human rights and public administration, besides having applied recently for Gandhi and Peace studies. His cell has a cushioned bed, a desk, a rack of books and stationery, as well as a small temple where he meditates twice a day. He reportedly writes notes on whatever he sees outside the cell and chats with both jail officials and undertrials. At Taloja Jail, too, he had been allowed a desk and a personal library.

He shares a wall with his former crime branch boss P P Pandey, also arrested in the Ishrat Jahan encounter. They are not on talking terms, jail officials say.

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