Ahmedabad, July 23 (IANS) Gujarat Minister of State for Home Amit Shah became a hunted man Friday for his role in the 2005 killing of an alleged Islamist terrorist after a court rejected his anticipatory bail plea amid a looming Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showdown.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) mounted a massive search for Shah, a close aide of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, after naming him as an accused with 17 others in the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, 37.
The move by the CBI court in Gandhinagar, the state capital, stunned the ruling BJP in Gujarat and its national leadership. A worried Shah, 45, remained out of sight, with no one appearing to know his whereabouts.
Speculation mounted that the once powerful minister had taken shelter in a BJP minister's residence.
The CBI court headed by G.K. Upadhyaya rejected a request from Shah's lawyer for anticipatory bail. The minister himself failed to appear at the court both Thursday and Friday.
The rejection meant there was nothing to stop the CBI from arresting Shah. All courts are now shut until Monday.
Friday's chargesheet named 18 people, of which only three are yet to be arrested: Shah, Ajay Patel and Yashpal Chudasama. Both Patel and Chudasama are reportedly reportedly close to the minister.
All the 15 who are in jail are police personnel. The charges against them include murder, abduction and conspiracy.
They include three Indian Police Service (IPS) officer -- D.G. Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandey and Dinesh M.N.
The high-profile case, which sparked a war of words between the Congress and BJP, relates to Rajasthan resident Sheikh, who died in a Nov 26, 2005 alleged gun battle with police.
Police accused him of being a Lashkar-e-Taiba activist. They claimed he had come to Ahmedabad to target senior political leaders. His wife Kausar Bi went missing later.
The dead man's family alleged that Sheikh and his wife were abducted from a bus and then killed in cold blood near Ahmedabad.
Also Friday, the CBI filed a chargesheet against former Gujarat deputy commissioner of police Abhay Chudasama in the case.
Shah's lawyer Mitesh Amin came to the CBI office seeking a list of questions the agency planned to ask Shah. The CBI reportedly turned down the request.
In a statement Thursday, Shah cited the short time given to him as the reason for his inability to answer the summons. He had said he would make himself available for questioning by the CBI Friday but failed to do so.
The Gujarat drama found an echo in New Delhi where the BJP leadership accused the Congress of a witch hunt against Shah for "vote bank politics" and called off a planned lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"Four BJP leaders were invited for the PM's luncheon meeting but we decided not to attend it over the bitter atmosphere following the CBI's summons to Shah," BJP veteran Sushma Swaraj told reporters.
The prime minister had invited L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, president Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj to discuss issues related to parliament's monsoon session beginning Monday.
"The government is misusing CBI to harass its opponents. The whole political environment is being polluted by it. So, it would have been very embarrassing if we went to the PM's house for lunch," she said.
A furious Congress hit back.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said it was unprecedented on the part of BJP to hold a press conference on an ongoing investigation.
"It is a blatant attempt to pressurise investigations. It is a crude attempt to create an arc of immunity for Shah... It is a clear contempt of court," he said.
During investigation, the CBI examined 278 witnesses, collected 191 documents and 70 material objects. The probe was spread over five states -- Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Shah is close to Modi, who himself has faced flak over the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat that followed the burning of a train at Godhra town. The 2002 violence claimed hundreds of lives.