Sanjiv Bhatt, an IPS officer of Gujarat who is now under arrest, insists he was present at a February 27, 2002, meeting during which chief minister Narendra Modi instructed senior police officers not to check Hindu mobs thirsting for revenge for the previous day’s Godhra train carnage. Bhatt’s official driver had supported that statement, saying he had driven his boss to the meeting, but he retracted later and lodged a complaint that Bhatt had forced him to say that. Without bothering to establish the truth, the state arrested Bhatt.
There is no denying that an urgently summoned meeting was held at the chief minister’s office or residence on the evening of February 27. Under the circumstances obtaining from the train carnage, such a meeting was a must. And even if Bhatt was not invited into the room when Modi addressed the chief secretary, the home secretary, the DGP and the police commissioner of Ahmedabad, I’m sure that, in his capacity as a senior intelligence officer, he would have accompanied the DGP to the venue in the absence of the intelligence chief, who happened to be on leave then. On conclusion of the meeting, the DGP would have briefed Bhatt on the chief minister’s instructions. Intelligence officers are always kept in the loop.
That Modi did give those directions and sent two ministers to ensure compliance by positioning themselves in the police commissioner’s and the DGP’s control rooms is common knowledge in the Gujarat police force. I visited Ahmedabad in April 2002 and talked to many officers and men as well as citizens of Ahmedabad. Not one of my interlocutors denied that the police had failed in its legally mandated duty because of instructions from political masters. There’s no better example than this of politics superceding the law; if a cautionary instance for the urgency to depoliticise the police were needed, there could be none as egregious.
But there were indeed some officers in Gujarat who did not carry out the illegal and unconstitutional instructions. They deployed their men, giving strict instructions that any reprisal attacks against Muslims must be countered. Negligible violence was reported from the districts under these vigilant and conscientious officers. Rahul Sharma headed one such district, Bhavnagar, and Vinod Mal another, Surendranagar. Surat, too, was comparatively quiet. The government certainly did not appreciate such dutifulness and adherence to the Constitution; very soon, these officers found themselves being shunted about.
Jayanti Ravi, an IAS officer, was the district magistrate of Godhra when the kar sevaks were burnt to death in the ill-fated Sabarmati Express. She phoned me a day after the incident, requesting me to come to Godhra immediately. I pointed out that, being no longer in the service, there was nothing I could do. In the course of our phone conversation, she told me the train had been held up in Ratlam, Madhya Pradesh, because of some mechanical defect, and had rolled into Godhra station seven hours late. This puts to rest any theory that the attack had been planned. Apparently, some VHP workers accompanying the kar sevaks used to pull the beards of Muslim tea vendors on the platform, refuse to pay and even destroy their property. It is said that, in retaliation, people living in the Signal Falia slums adjoining the railway line, many of whom are Ghanchis (a Muslim community of oil-millers) and earn a living by vending peanuts, snacks, tea and the like on trains, attacked one batch of kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. The state and its police should have done their duty by arresting the petty criminals living in Signal Falia who are alleged to have gathered the mob and carried out the attack on the train. Instead, revenge was incited and violence was allowed; hundreds of innocent Muslims in Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat were made to suffer barbarity of the worst kind.
The ordinary Gujarati is non-violent. He is more interested in business and trade. But he has a deep sense of grievance against Muslims for historical reasons, dating back to Mahmud of Ghazni’s attacks on Somnath. In the 1970-80s, Congress leaders in Gujarat flirted with bootleggers and smugglers, whose money helped them in their elections. They’d also get gangsters to start a riot or two in the pols of Ahmedabad when disruption was required. As a result, over the decades, the Gujarati middle class’s distrust of Muslims grew. Modi played on this to consolidate his political hold on Gujarat and enhance his personal appeal as a ‘Hindu’ leader. Now, he has his eyes set on the prime minister’s gaddi.
But vindictive and unjustified harassment of officers opposed to him will only cut into Modi’s support base. I know one good IPS officer whom Modi has victimised for reasons known only to him. Kuldeep Sharma is a really outstanding IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre. In 1985, when I served briefly as DGP of that state, Sharma was the superintendent of police in charge of the Kutch district. He was very popular and competent, and I noticed the implicit faith people of the district placed in him. Later, when I was in Punjab, Sharma volunteered to come and fight terrorists there at a time when most IPS officers were reluctant to do so. I had him transferred to Punjab, but my batchmate, Anant Kumar Verma, who was then Sharma’s boss as the RAW chief, approached prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and got the transfer reversed. Verma told Rajiv that Sharma was too precious an asset to let go of and that RAW’s operations would suffer considerably if that were to happen. I mention this only to point out how competent and indispensable Sharma was. So I was quite surprised to learn Modi was after Sharma and had even got his brother, an IAS officer, arrested on corruption charges. Sharma himself was given the post of commissioner for sheep and goats, a job usually entrusted to an IAS officer incapable of tackling anything more challenging. I had to write to the Union home minister to intervene, since a very competent IPS officer was being sidelined and wasted to satisfy the chief minister’s ego.
And now we have the case of Bhatt, who along with four or five other IPS officers is being targeted and harassed by Modi in order to send a message to others. I agree that Bhatt does not enjoy a reputation for justice or impeccable integrity; nor is he believed to be as competent as Sharma. But arresting a senior IPS officer without cause is completely unacceptable.
I did not have a visceral dislike for Modi, like many do. In fact, I admired the successes he had achieved on the economic front, and even more, I admired the fact that the bureaucracy in Gujarat, unlike in most other states, had been kept on a tight leash. But Modi’s use of revenge and dominance against his own senior officers and his use of violence in pursuit of ideology has obliterated any semblance of morality or reason that he possesses.
Hence I have since revised my views about the man. He is obviously very ambitious, and ambitions of the overriding variety can bring out the worst in any human being. That he is very vindictive can be gauged by his totally warped action against Bhatt. Modi does not seem to realise that the consequences of this action would be the opposite of what he had intended. I am happy that IPSs officers of Gujarat have got together to condemn his petulance.
(The writer has been police commisioner of Mumbai, DGP of Gujarat and Punjab, and India’s ambassador to Romania.)
In his column A Few Good Men Wearing Khaki... (Oct 24), Julio Ribeiro has set out in his article what is a well known secret. Nothing much has been done about the fact that the administration is politically motivated and acts accordingly. Politics has spread its tentacles so well over the administration that even senior officers can flourish only if they toe the line of political bosses. Those who don’t—like Sanjiv Bhatt—are dealt with severely.
Ranjit Sinha, Calcutta
It’s heartening that a few police officers in Gujarat have spoken out against Modi’s actions during the 2002 riots. This gives us hope that justice will triumph. However, in stark contrast, not one police officer of Mumbai has spoken out against the 1992-93 riots there. Where have the brave and upright police officers of Maharashtra gone?
Sandeep Vaidya, Kinnegad, Ireland
There are so many other states of India to talk about and solve problems for. Let the secular forces let Gujarat be, for the people have made their own choice and should be allowed to live with their choice. The more the seculars talk against Modi, the more the communal forces will gain ground. Ignore Modi.
Michael Lopes, Mumbai
From his analysis of how Gujaratis—who he says are essentially non-violent and interested in business and trade, but nurse a deep sense of grievance against Muslims for historical reasons, a feeling which Congress politicians played on in the 1970-80s—Ribeiro suggests that it was the Congress that gave birth to the phenomenon called Modi. I also want to ask Ribeiro why, in the 1980s, when he was posted in Gujarat to control the riots, he could not bring the situation under control till six months? At that time, there was no BJP, only the Congress. Why hasn’t he written a first-hand analysis and account of that failure of administration?
Manu Raja, Dallas, US
Ribeiro gets it wrong. If, as he says, Bhatt must have heard from the DGP that Modi asked police officers not to quell Hindu mobs seeking revenge for Godhra, it means there’s no way Bhatt was physically present at the meeting and heard Modi say that, which is what he has been claiming all along. Convoluted, and contradictory, isn’t it?
Kautilya, on e-mail
Mr A.Patrawala, who was the Union Railway Minister of NDA government in 2002 Feb , when the terrible train tragedy (torching of one coach of Saarmati Express) happened at the Godhra Railway Station in Gujarat.? Was it not Mr Nitish Kumar.?
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