Known to be close to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Vanzara's career graph only went up in the early 2000s. The 1987 batch IPS officer was famous as an encounter specialist from his days as the head of Crime Branch and few would have thought that the "encounter" of a small-time Madhya Pradesh criminal would be not only his downfall, but that of men more powerful than him.
Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi were taken off a bus in November 2005 by members of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and other policemen, and were taken to a farmhouse near Ahmedabad, where they were held hostage. A few days later, Sohrabuddin was allegedly taken to a highway and shot dead. Kausarbi disappeared.
Vanzara was the head of Gujarat's Anti-Terrorist Squad at the time, leading a team of encounter specialists. From 2002 on, Vanzara had had many "encounters" to his credit. Each time he described the people killed as terrorists out to kill Modi. After the Sohrabuddin killing Vanzara held a Press conference and said the man killed had been a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist and was plotting to assassinate Modi.
A year before Sheikh was killed, in June 2004, 19-year-old student Ishrat Jahan was shot dead along with three other people on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June 2004. Her mother said Ishrat was the victim of a "fake encounter". The police said she was a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative. Vanzara was the Deputy Commisioner of Police, Ahmedabad.
After Vanzara's arrest, other killings with a question mark came to light. There was Samir Khan, killed in Usmanpura, Ahmedabad in 2002. Sadik Jamal of Bhavnagar, killed in 2003 and whose parents insist it was a fake encounter. All killings where Vanzara was involved.
In December 2006, Tulsi Prajapati, said to be an accomplice of Sohrabuddin and a police informer, was killed in an encounter in Gujarat's Banaskantha district. Prajapati was said to be a witness in the Sohrabuddin case. Days before Prajapati was killed, Vanzara was transferred to the Border Range Police, which has jurisdiction over Banaskantha district where Prajapati was killed.
Vanzara was thus Deputy Inspector General of Gujarat Police, Border Range, when he was arrested a few months later, but his closeness to Modi made him the most powerful cop in the state. News of his arrest first met disbelief everywhere.
Vanzara was arrested in April 2007 by the Gujarat Crime Investigation Department (CID). The CID sought court permission to conduct a narco-analysis test on Vanzara. The suspended cop pleaded in court that he had a heart ailment and his lawyer argued that chemicals injected would adversely affect his health.
During his early days in jail, Vanzara was quoted as saying that he could not read newspapers or watch television, but was motivated by the discourses of a guru, Asaram Bapu. Vanzara even said he was doing yoga prescribed by the guru.
By then, the CID had begun excavations at Vanzara's farmhouse in Ilol village in Gujarat's Sabarkantha district. The CID suspected that Sohrabuddin's wife, Kausar Bi had been poisoned and then taken to Vanzara's village and was burnt there. They later searched ravines near Ilol too, but Kausarbi's body was never found.
Hounded by media persons during his court appearances and asked about Kausarbi, Vanzara would only say, "Who Kausar?"
Two years later, in 2008, there were reports that Vanzara and another cop arrested in the Sohrabuddin case, NK Amin, had attacked each other with cricket bats at the Sabarmati jail. Jail inmates were quoted as saying that Amin accused Vanazara of being responsible for them being in jail. Amin has recently said he would like to turn approver in the case.
Last year, more media reports said Vanzara had applied to study human rights while in jail. Some irony that.
A CBI court granted Vanzara's custody to the Gujarat CID, which is now investigating the Tulsi Prajapati encounter case, earlier this month. More than one ghost has come back to haunt.