Gujarat suicide case: Honey trap laid by sweet-talking conwoman ends bitterly
Manisha Goswami, who is currently in judicial custody for the murder, has been accused of masterminding a honey trap that led to a businessman's suicide.
On June 30, a trial court in Gujarat’s Nakhratna sent 40-year-old Manisha Goswami, at the centre of a high-profile suicide case, to judicial custody in Palara jail in Bhuj. The case piqued Gujarat’s interest. There was promiscuity, intrigue and tragedy. Goswami was at the centre of allegations of masterminding a honey trap allegation that resulted in the suicide of Kutch businessman Dilip Ahir.
But in a twist befitting a crime novel, Goswami allegedly planned the crime from the confines of Bhuj jail, where she was lodged after being arrested for the murder of Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Jayanti Bhanushali, killed aboard a moving train in January 2019.
A woman of substance
Goswami is from Nana Dhavda village in Nakhratna taluka of Kutch district, married Gajjugiri Goswami, a textile trader from Vapi, and began working with Bhanushali, the former BJP MLA from Abdassa. “Manisha learnt the ropes quickly, was a smooth talker, and made connections quickly. She was very ambitious and was even seen giving speeches in small public meetings in villages with Bhanushali standing beside her,” said a journalist from Bhuj who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But by 2018, the relationship had begun to sour.
One Kutch-based politician said there may have been disagreement over some land associated with a dairy. In any case, by April 2018, Jayanti Bhanushali’s nephew, Sunil Banushali filed a complaint at Ahmedabad’s Naroda police station that Goswami was attempting to extort money from him after honey trapping him. He alleged that he was offered a drink that impaired his senses, enabling Goswami to capture intimate video footage of the two of them, which she then used to blackmail him. The police registered a case under sections of 384 (punishment for extortion) and 328 (causing hurt by means of poison) of the Indian Penal Code, and she was arrested in the month of May. Goswami, on her part, alleged that she was a victim and was being harassed by the police. She also shared a video with some local television channels in Kutch alleging she was confined illegally by the police on account of Bhanushali’s political clout.
Goswami was lodged in Sabarmati jail from June 3 to August 3, 2018, and it was here that she first met Bahnushali’s political rival Chhabil Patel, when he came to meet someone in the same jail.
On July 10, 37 days after Goswami went to jail, a 21-year-old woman filed a rape complaint against Jayanti Bahnushali, then the vice president of the Gujarat unit of the BJP. He refuted the allegations and said they were a conspiracy to damage his reputation. But on July 13, he stepped down from his post pending investigation.
A police officer investigating the cases said that they found evidence that the woman who filed the case against Bahnushali was in contact with Goswami. Bhanushali approached the Gujarat high court to quash the FIR of rape filed against him. And in August 2018, the court granted the request after the woman complainant submitted an affidavit expressing her consent to drop the charges. That also led to Goswami’s release.
“A compromise was reached,” the officer said. But something went wrong.
Murder on the Sayaji Nagari Express
On January 8, 2019, Bhanushali was travelling on the Sayaji Nagari Express from Bhuj to Ahmedabad by himself. He was in the first-class compartment, when at some point, his co-passenger went to the toilet. Two men entered his compartment, shot him at close range, pulled the chain bringing the train to a halt, and fled.The police found three live cartridges and two fired bullets.
In a tizzy, a seven-member special investigation team was formed on the orders of chief minister Vijay Rupani, with a DIG-rank railway police officer at its head, and officials of the Railway Police, CID and Ahmedabad Crime Branch. The investigation revealed that two shooters, identified as Shashikant Kamble alias Bitiyadada and Ashraf Anwar Sheikh, both from Pune, were hired for the hit.
“Bhanushali and I had dinner at his place and we were supposed to travel together by road. But he changed his plans at the last minute and told me that he would travel by train,” said Henry James Chacko, an RTI activist in Kutch.
Another police officer said that investigations pointed to a political motive. “The main accused in the case is Chhabil Patel who took the help of Manisha Goswami to get rid of his political rival. The police got a lead in this direction after the arrest of two persons who were seen at Patel’s farm-house where the sharpshooters had stayed.”
After eluding capture for 10 months, Goswami was apprehended by police on November 4, 2019; the police claimed she had been on the run along with the shooters.The SIT investigation also revealed that she paid ₹30 lakh to them.
Ahead of Bhanushali’s murder, Patel had left the country. But he was arrested by the by the police on March 14, 2019 after he landed from the US at Ahmedabad airport. Patel, who initially contested against Bhanushali as a Congress candidate and emerged victorious in the 2012 Assembly election, later switched allegiance to the BJP in 2014. Despite the BJP nominating him for the Abdasa seat in a subsequent by-election, Patel was defeated by senior Congress leader Shaktinsinh Gohil. The BJP provided Patel with another opportunity to contest the 2017 Assembly election from the same seat, but he suffered yet another loss to Pradyumansinh Jadeja , then with the Congress.
“Manisha Goswami, Chhabil Patel and 10 others are accused in the Bhanushali murder case. All of them have been arrested. A trial is going on at a court in Bhachchau (Kutch district),” said Piyush Pirojiya, deputy SP, CID Crime and Railways.
An FIR in the Bhanushali murder case was registered at the Gandhidham Railway Police Station, Western Railway (Ahmedabad) on January 9, 2019 based on a complaint filed by his nephew Sunil Bhanushali.
Following her arrest in 2019 in the Bhanushali murder case, Goswami was first lodged at Gandhidham’s Galpadar jail. In 2021, she filed an application in Bhachau court of being mentally and physically tortured by the jail authorities. On January 7, 2022 the court allowed her transfer to Palara jail in Bhuj, but three months later jail authorities found a mobile phone with her. “She (Goswami) had threatened the jail superintendent Rajendra Rao that she could implicate him falsely in any case. This incident has been documented in the jail order book. Soon, a foreign prisoner filed an application in the Gujarat high court in April that she was thrice molested by Rao in Palara jail. The court directed this matter to Bhuj judicial magistrate. Rao called it a conspiracy and blamed Goswami. The foreign prisoner later withdrew her complaint and said that she did it at the behest of Goswami. There was also a physical fight in the jail between Goswami and the foreign inmate regarding this issue,” said the second police officer aware of the matter, quoted above.
The honey trap from behind bars
On the night of June 3, even as Goswami was in Bhuj jail, 22-year-old Divya Chauhan filed a complaint of rape against businessman Dilip Ahir at Nakhatrana police station, a day after admitting herself to GK General hospital. The next morning, 32-year-old Ahir, who ran a transport business that had as many as 250 trucks, was found hanging from a nylon rope near a petrol pump he owned in Bhuj’s Samatra village.
The police had to investigate; the deceased was the same person named in the FIR.
A third police officer said, “What was also surprising was that the young woman who lived in Ahmedabad had only recently met the young businessman. Despite knowing each other for a short time, she travelled a long distance from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and met Ahir at a resort on the outskirts of the city.”
The police began investigations the same day, and quickly revealed a group of individuals working together to “honey trap” businessmen. The 12 accused included Goswami, two lawyers identified as Akash and Komal, and Goswami’s husband, Gajjugiri, who is absconding.
“Goswami and her husband had initially devised a strategy for the honey trap operation. While confined in jail, she used a mobile phone and contacted a girl named Riddhi from Surat to assist them. Additionally, they had a back-up member named Divya for their operation. Divya, however, responded faster, and two people, Gajju and Aziz Sama took her to Anjar on June 2 to execute the honey trap. Divya called Ahir to a High Land Resort in Bhuj-Mundra road on June 2 and ensured that intimate pictures of the two of them were taken using cameras hidden in the room. Divya then tried to extort ₹4 crore from Ahir. She tried to ratchet up the pressure by getting admitted to a hospital and claiming she had been raped. When she did that, he killed himself,” said the third police officer aware of the matter.
Over the past month, the Gujarat police have booked as many as 12 people under sections 306 (abetment to suicide), 389 (extortion), and 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. Investigations also led them to two phones that Goswami allegedly operated from inside the confines of Bhuj jail. “This is not the first time a mobile phone was recovered from her. Even a year and a half ago, when the police conducted a search operation of the jails in the state, a mobile phone was found from her possession,” the third police officer quoted above said.
In March, Manisha approached the Gujarat high court for bail in the Bhanushali murder case, twice rejected by an additional sessions judge at Bhachau. “We argued before the court that Manisha is innocent and she has been framed for a land dispute. The deceased (Bhanushali) had promised to give land to Manisha and now she is being framed to avoid this. A case has been built against her on circumstantial evidence and that she was a part of a conspiracy (to kill Bhanushali) has no bearing,” said advocate Zubin Bharda who appeared on her behalf in the bail plea matter.
The court rejected her bail plea stating that it was cold blooded murder and that there was more than prima facie evidence against the accused, he added.
Bharda did not comment on her role in other honey-trapping cases. Goswani had directly written to the Bhuj court saying she was not guilty in the Ahir case when she was remanded to judicial custody on June 30.
Police officials said she had at least 12 people in her gang, and identified wealthy businessmen that her husband, played a role in identifying. Apart from the suicide and Bhanushali murder, there are at least three other FIRs against Goswami at Naliya (Kutch) and Naroda (Ahmedabad) police stations in cases of black-mailing and extortion, all filed before the train murder case. These complaints were filed between April 11, 2018, and April 23, 2018, and at least two of them are related to honey-trapping Bhanushali’s nephew Sunil Bhanushali.
Police is also investigating her possible role in honey trapping of an industrialist Anant Tanna, regarding which a complaint was filed with Bhuj police on September 18, 2022. In the complaint, Tanna had claimed ₹10 crore was demanded from him after honey-trapping. Police arrested five people, and three others including Haresh Katheja, Goswami’s lawyer in the Bhanushali case, are accused and absconding. Local crime branch official Sandipsinh Chudasama from Bhuj Police said that only after Katheja’s arrest can Manisha’s role in the case be determined.
Officials, however, said that more revelations about Goswami and her operation could yet be made.“It is a matter of investigation,” a senior Gujarat police officer said.
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