Ahmedabad, Dec. 3: Unidentified gunmen shot at and seriously wounded a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader —accused of heading a mob that killed 86 people in Naroda-Patia during the post- Godhra riots — while he was travelling in a car this evening.
Police said Jaideep Patel, Gujarat joint general secretary of the VHP, was shot in the neck by two youths on a motorcycle as his Indica was passing by a bus stand in Naroda, not far from his home-cum-pathology lab.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tonight expressed concern over the attack — nine days before the December 12 elections — and appealed to the people “to maintain peace and harmony at all costs”. He asked chief minister Narendra Modi to keep a tight grip on law and order.
The youths, who appeared to be in their twenties and were dressed in jeans and jackets, overtook Patel’s car around 5 pm near Galaxy cinema and pumped bullets from point-blank range. Several shattered the rear windowpanes and one pierced his throat, the police said.
Patel was immediately rushed to a hospital in Kubernagar where he was operated on. Later, he was shifted to Sterling Hospital where he is said to be stable and out of danger. Late tonight, the police announced a reward of Rs 50,000 for tips on the identity of the assailants.
As yet, the police are clueless on what could have triggered the attack but personal rivalry is believed to be a reason. Patel, who was supposed to get the Naroda ticket but was denied at the last moment, does not get along with sitting MLA and re-nominated BJP candidate Mayaben Kodnani.
The 42-year-old leader — a doctor who runs his own pathology lab — was at the centre of a storm some months ago after riot survivors identified him as having headed one of the Naroda-Patia mobs. He was named in an FIR filed by the police in the wake of the pogrom, but the Ahmedabad police chief later denied it. His name did not figure in the chargesheet framed subsequently in court.
One of the top VHP leaders in Gujarat, Patel is considered a right-hand man of international general secretary Praveen Togadia. Along with Togadia and VHP unit chief Keka Shastri, he wields a great deal of influence in the state. The three work in co-ordination with the Modi government.
When candidates were being finalised for the December 12 elections, the VHP had wanted to field Patel from Naroda. His candidature was almost finalised before the BJP re-nominated Mayaben Kodnani.
Patel and Kodnani, who is also a doctor, do not get along. Sources said Kodnani fears that Patel could sabotage her poll prospects.
Contacted on his mobile, Togadia blamed the Congress for the attack. “It is a result of the Congress and secularist forces’ campaign against Hindu organisations (read VHP), which has boosted the morale of the jihadi forces,” he said.
Asked how the VHP proposed to react, Togadia said, “we will give the reply on December 15”, the day of counting. Surprisingly, the VHP has not called a bandh to protest the attack.
While blaming the Congress, which “not only refused to implement the Prevention of Terrorism Act but also released militants in Kashmir, Togadia said the answer lay in rejecting “Gandhi and Pandit Nehru’s impotent ideology which have lost relevance”.
Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela took a swipe at the Modi government. “The incident shows this government cannot protect leaders of Hindu organisations, which creates serious doubts about the government’s capability to protect the common man.”
BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said the attack proved that a section of society wanted to create terror ahead of the polls.