When Sanjiv Bhatt was arrested on September 30, it was hardly as if the IITian IPS officer-turned-nemesis of CM Narendra Modi was caught unawares. He had been expecting the wrath of the administration to turn on him for long, right from November ’09 when he first spoke out on Modi’s complicity in the 2002 carnage. Since then, his depositions and affidavits at the SC-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), the Nanavati-Shah Commission and his latest writ petition in the SC, had made him a marked man. The writ alleged a nexus between Modi’s administration, lawyers for the accused and political entities to subvert justice in the riots cases.
The Gujarat government—Modi is also home minister—last year transferred Bhatt to the rather insignificant police training college in Junagadh, then scaled down his security cover earlier this year, suspended him two months back for being absent from work (the suspension order was served three days after Bhatt approached the SC), chargesheeted him on September 18 and finally arrested him. As the drama over his bail played out—police filed for his custody in a sessions court while a magistrate heard his bail plea—his Ahmedabad house was searched, so was his mother’s residence and attempts were made to access his bank lockers.
Wife Shweta dashed off letters to the Gujarat DGP Chittaranjan Singh pointing out that the Ahmedabad Crime Branch was known for their ‘fake encounters’, and to Union home minister P. Chidambaram saying that she feared a “danger to Bhatt’s life from a vindictive administration”. The MHA has since asked the Modi government to provide security to Bhatt and family, but it also went a step further and decided to carry out an independent assessment too. “This is the administration he worked for, look at what they have done,” Shweta told Outlook even as government spokesperson and BJP leader Jay Narayan Vyas insisted that “both the chargesheet and arrest were the correct legal actions” in the case.
The case, or FIR, is a subsidiary development; the crux of the battle here is the controversial high-level meeting called by Modi on February 27, ’02, night where he was apprised of possible communal violence but he insisted that Hindus “be allowed to vent their anger”. Bhatt was then DCP (state intelligence). Constable K.D. Pant’s FIR says Bhatt as his senior threatened him into signing a false affidavit about the meeting. The police have slapped Section 194 of the IPC on Bhatt, an offence punishable even by death. While Bhatt has submitted records to the SC and the Nanavati-Shah Commission about the meeting, his very presence has been challenged. Bhatt had told Outlook in April, “They are trying to break Pant, threatening him, digging out stuff like how he owns a four-wheeler etc.”
This then is not a simple case of penalising an errant officer; it’s a vindictive political battle between Modi and Bhatt, the man who knows too much. “Next to Haren Pandya’s information, Bhatt’s evidence and papers are the most damaging evidence against Modi’s role in the riots,” says R.B. Sreekumar, former DGP and Bhatt’s one-time boss. Shweta asks, “We all know what happened to Pandya, now Modi is after Bhatt. Is it a coincidence that this arrest closely followed the SC judgement last month that ruled Modi could stand as an accused in a local court?”
Bhatt is not the only high-ranking cop to have taken on Modi; 5-6 others too have suffered consequences for speaking out. But Bhatt could be more dangerous because he reportedly has in safe-keeping papers, reports and messages of those crucial days of February ’02; evidence the government admitted, in June this year, to destroying. The Modi-Bhatt battle has only just begun.