August 09, 2020
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Steel In The Driftwood

An ex-engineer, ATS chief Hemant Karkare was to the end a man focused on the details

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Steel In The Driftwood
Steel In The Driftwood
This was meant to be an interview with Hemant Karkare; the horrific terror attack of November 26 night has turned it into a personal tribute. As the Maharashtra ATS chief, Joint Commissioner Karkare, 54, would not speak to the media about his assignments. Once his teams had cracked the Malegaon blast of September 29, ’08, and zeroed in on radical Hindu groups and serving Indian army officers, the normally reticent Karkare had retreated further into his shell. After Outlook carried a series of stories over the last month on that investigation, Karkare had finally agreed to an on-record interview but warned that he would not tell me very much. That meeting on Wednesday never did happen.

Karkare would have been embarrassed reading about himself, especially when 13 other cops have also died battling the terrorists. He was that kind of officer. An ips man, he was calm under extreme pressure, correct to a fault, reticent though amiable, and above all, completely focused on the assignment at hand. The Malegaon investigation brought him into the spotlight, some of it harsh and political, but he remained resolute, exhorting his teams to be methodical in collecting and collating evidence. If this was a Congress conspiracy, Karkare did not know about it.

I had asked him whether he lost sleep over being targeted. He smiled his usual laconic smile and said: "When allegations are made, we do feel hurt." He was, typically, speaking for his team. Seasoned investigators will tell you that evidence is often planted to build a case. Karkare had warned his investigators against "creating false evidence". He wanted the case to stand up in court.

The methodical approach came probably from his early training as a mechanical engineer. A graduate of Nagpur’s Vishveshwarayya Regional College of Engineering, he had brief stints in the National Productivity Council and Hindustan Unilever before the khaki lured him. A 1982 batch officer, Karkare was posted in the Naxal stronghold of Chandrapur. "I would never call it a punishment was wonderful training," he once said. After serving in various capacities in Nanded, Akola, Bhiwandi, Thane he came to Mumbai as deputy commissioner of police (Economic Offences Wing) in the ’90s. Then came a long stint with raw in parts of Europe before he was called back to the parent cadre as joint commissioner (administration). In January this year, he was hand-picked by DGP A.N. Roy to be the ats chief.

Since then, he rued that he had little time for family, including his two daughters studying in college in the US, and his hobby, sculpting driftwood. Karkare discovered a passion for it while combing the Chandrapur forests, figuring out the delicate process of turning and sand-papering driftwood figurines. His collection boasted of 150 sculptures. An exhibition, I once suggested. After retirement, he replied. Now it will have to be a posthumous one.

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