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Hunt for runaway witness to Pandya hit

March 27: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today said the nexus between terrorists and mafia could be behind the killing of Haren Pandya, but state police insisted that they had no clue.

The police have found that there were several witnesses to the murder of the former home minister yesterday, but none had come forward. Investigators are on the lookout for a shopkeeper who they believe was 15 yards from the spot where Pandya was killed.

The shopkeeper, who was reading a newspaper, ran away when he heard gunshots, the police said. About 10-odd morning walkers have been questioned so far. Pandya was shot dead when he was returning home after his morning walk.

The former minister, an arch rival of chief minister Narendra Modi, was cremated today in the presence of senior party leaders.

Advani and BJP president Venkaiah Naidu arrived in Ahmedabad this morning by a special Indian Air Force plane for the funeral. They drove straight to Pandya’s house from Sardar Patel airport.

Seeing Modi with Advani, angry supporters of the slain BJP leader shouted slogans against him. “Narendra Modi Hai Hai”, “We want justice’’, they screamed.

On their return to Delhi, Advani and Naidu told party general secretaries that resentment was brewing against Modi in the state unit.

Former chief minister and mentor Keshubhai Patel, Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Kashiram Rana, senior Congress leaders Shankersinh Vaghela and Amarsinh Chaudhary, senior Cabinet ministers, Speaker Mangaldas Patel, MLAs, and bureaucrats paid tribute to Pandya.

Starting around 9 am, the funeral procession went through Ellisbridge constituency, which Pandya had represented three times in a row before Modi denied him a ticket in the last elections, before moving towards the party headquarters in Khanpur. Despite his ill health, Keshubhai Patel remained beside the body all the way.

At the party office, the body was wrapped in a BJP flag before being taken to the crematorium, where Pandya’s elder son Narma lit the pyre.

While other leaders went to the BJP headquarters, Advani visited the spot where Pandya was killed. He told reporters at Law Garden that the “the nexus between terrorists and mafia could be behind the killing of Pandya”.

Another former home minister, Gordhan Zadhaphia, blamed jihadis for the murder, explaining that Pandya was staunch “Hindu’’ leader.

Asked if he had ever told him about any threat, Zadhaphia replied in the negative. “Perhaps he never felt any threat as he led a very clean life,” said the former VHP activist who was home minister at the time of the Godhra carnage and the riots.

Zadhaphia instead revealed a threat to his life. “Only the other day, I received an anonymous call. The caller threatened to kill my entire family,” he said, adding that he was not scared.

Venkaiah Naidu blasted the Congress for “politicising’’ Pandya’s killing by describing it as a “political murder’’. Former chief minister and leader of Opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary defended the “allegation”, claiming that “we are saying so because his family members are saying so”.

In Delhi, Naidu and Advani conceded that Pandya supporters were furious with Modi, first for denying him a ticket and then for stripping his security. Though this assessment does not bode well for Modi, his decision to order a CBI probe into Pandya’s killing might give him a breather.

A CBI team is expected to arrive in Ahmedabad tonight to start investigations. The VHP and the Congress had separately called a bandh in protest against the murder.

The bandh was total in the posh Ellisbridge constituency, where shops and business establishment remained closed and traffic did not ply.

Gujarat home secretary K. Nityanandam said the bandh was 33 per cent successful in the state. It was peaceful, with no violence reported in the state.

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