‘I was there. Narendra Modi said let the people vent their anger’
DIG Sanjeev Bhatt knows the terrible truth about Gujarat 2002. ASHISH KHETAN has his explosive revelations. Will the Supreme Court take it on record?
CHIEF MINISTER Narendra Modi’s interrogation by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), published in TEHELKA last week, (The Artful Faker), was a class act in tactical evasion. But Modi made one slip. On the evening of 27 February 2002, after the terrible Sabarmati train carnage in Godhra, Modi had called a ‘law and order meeting’ at his residence, at which, in an unforgivable act, he is infamously reported to have told his officers, “Let the Hindus vent their anger.” The signal was sent. The mayhem that followed is history.
In March 2010, when asked by SIT inquiry officer AK Malhotra about who was present at this meeting, Modi named seven bureaucrats and officers. Then, he singled out one police officer: Sanjeev Bhatt, deputy commissioner of internal security in the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB).
Malhotra had asked Modi who was present at the meeting, not who was absent. But curiously, after he had listed the names of those present, Modi volunteered this unnecessary and unprompted piece of information: Sanjeev Bhatt, DC (Int) was not at the meeting, he said, because it was a “high-level meeting”.
It is significant that Modi unilaterally tried to disown and discredit Bhatt’s presence at the 27 February meeting because two months earlier, as officer after officer had pleaded amnesia about the proceedings at the meeting, just one officer had told the SIT team that if the Supreme Court were to summon him, or if a criminal case were to be registered, he would testify and tell the truth of what he heard at that meeting. That officer was Sanjeev Bhatt.
It is also significant that neither Modi nor others refute the fact that Bhatt was present the next morning at another highlevel law-and-order meeting called by the chief minister (at which no infamous thing was said). Or, indeed, at several other lawand- order meetings chaired by the chief minister in the weeks to come. If he was not too junior to attend a meeting on 28 February then, why was he too junior to attend one on 27 February?
What does Sanjeev Bhatt know that Modi would like to discredit?
When Sanjeev Bhatt was summoned by the SIT in January 2010, he deposed for two days before them.
“As I was surveying the torched building and the compound, alongside the heaps of charred remains, what looked like a mix of household objects and decomposing bits of human flesh, I came upon a half burnt Encyclopaedia Britannica. I picked it up and wiped off the soot deposited on it with my handkerchief. Inside the book, at the top on the first page, the name Ahsan Jafri was written with a flourish. For a few moments I kept staring at the name, admiring the stylish handwriting. Though I had never known or met Jafri in my life, in his handwriting I could see that he must have been a cultured and learned man,” Bhatt, 47, told the SIT.
Bhatt was describing the heartrending scene he saw on his visit to Gulberg Society two days after a Hindu mob had killed 69 Muslims in this building. Among the dead was former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri. He was 64 at the time and his body and the bodies of 37 other victims were hacked and burnt beyond recognition and thus could never be identified: they were all buried en masse. The bodies of only 31 victims were identified, some by their mangled remains, some through the few discernible pieces of clothing that had remained unburnt.
“My thoughts immediately went back to my childhood,” Bhatt continued. “In those days there was no internet and for any reference material I would have to cycle to the nearest library. As a student it was my desire to own a copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica. And here it was lying half burnt, in a heap of charred human remains before me.” After a moment, he added, “The stench was nauseating. In many parts the soil was crusted with a thick charcoal like paste, perhaps a mixture of burnt human flesh and sundry other things. The soles of my shoes got plastered with that substance. I haven’t worn those shoes since neither have I cleaned them.”
Bhatt had other things to tell. It was agonizing, he said, to see the impunity with which violent mobs had gone about the city unleashing terror.
“Two days after the Godhra train incident,” he told the SIT, “I was passing by Saraspur area. To my right I saw a mob trying to demolish a masjid known as Mancha Masjid. I told my driver to stop. The moment I stepped out of the car, the mob started dispersing.”
Police and mobs don’t sit well together, Bhatt added. But during the 2002 riots that’s exactly what happened. As sections of the Gujarat police morphed into a cheering crowd on the sideline, Hindu mobs went on a killing spree. “It takes decades for a building to be reduced to ruins. The Gulberg Society was turned into wreckage in a span of few hours,” he said.
Some of what Bhatt told the SIT was recorded in a typed statement, a copy of which is now before the Supreme Court. But it’s what Bhatt told the SIT cops offthe- record that paints the true picture of the Gujarat riots.
IN ITS cover story last week (Here is the smoking gun, 12 February), TEHELKA had exposed how the SITwas unwilling to prosecute Modi and other senior officials and ministers, despite recording an overwhelming body of evidence that showed that both Modi himself, and his government, had behaved in a dangerously communal manner at the peak of the riots, had illegal positioned politicians in police control rooms, persecuted neutral officers, appointed Sangh members as public prosecutors and destroyed police wireless messages and minutes of crucial law and order meetings. Yet, the SIT had concluded, all of this was not sufficient grounds to investigate Modi further “under law”.
The SIT team had also reported that the most serious allegation against Modi — his alleged instruction to senior administrative and police officials that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger — could not be substantiated. Inquiry officer Malhotra reported that such a meeting had indeed been held on 27 February, but none of the officers present, save Sanjeev Bhatt, would testify about what had transpired at the meeting. (Curiously, two claimed amnesia; four denied Modi had made such a statement; one denied he had been part of the meeting.) Malhotra also noted that most of these officers did not seem to be speaking their minds, either because they had been rewarded by the Modi government with choice postings, or because they were still in its service and feared the fall-out.
However, in an explosive detail that can have far-reaching consequences if the Supreme Court decides to pursue it, on page 149 of his report, Malhotra also noted that “Sanjeev Bhatt, the then DC (Int), has claimed off-the-record that the CM did utter these words.”
This opens up space for some urgent questions. What exactly did Sanjeev Bhatt tell the SIT “off-the-record”? Why did he choose not to put it on record? And what impact will it have if it is put on the record? First, read what Bhatt told the SIT.
“There is a lot of anger in the people. This time a balanced approach against Hindus and Muslims will not work. It is necessary that the anger of the people is allowed to be vented.” These, according to Bhatt, are the exact incendiary words Modi had spoken at the meeting and which Bhatt later scribbled down in a personal notepad he maintained during the riots.
When Bhatt made this revelation, Malhotra had jumped out of his chair. “You are the first man who has dared to speak the truth,” he said and took Bhatt by his hand to the cabin of his senior officer Paramvir Singh, a former special director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, who was supervising the probe against Modi at the time. Singh, too, was reportedly delighted to find a witness ready to stand his ground and speak the truth.
Bhatt then described the ground floor room where the meeting occurred. He also told Malhotra and Singh that though the then BJP MLA Haren Pandya was not part of the meeting, he was present in one of the adjoining rooms in the CM’s bungalow while the meeting was going on.
(About two and a half months after the riots, on 13 May 2002, Pandya had deposed before two retired judges — Justice PB Sawant and Justice Hosbert Suresh — that ‘he had attended a meeting on 27 February 2002 night at the residence of Modi in which the latter had made it clear that should there be a backlash from the Hindus the police should not come in their way.’ Pandya was murdered mysteriously a few months later.)
Both Justices Sawant and Suresh have testified before the SIT confirming Pandya’s deposition before them, implicating Modi. Now, Bhatt’s version of events coupled with the existing evidence pointed towards a strong possibility that on the night of 27 February, Modi had convened two meetings — one administrative and the second political — and on one hand gave VHP and BJP leaders a fatal signal to mobilise riotous mobs and on the other hand instructed the police machinery to turn a blind eye.
(In 2007, in another corroborative detail, the then Godhra BJP MLA and a rabid Bajrang Dal leader, Haresh Bhatt had also told this reporter in the course of an undercover investigation that Modi had given rioters approval to run amok for three days. Arvind Pandya, the Modi government’s special prosecutor in the Justice Nanavati- Shah Commission, was also captured on a spy-cam saying it was Modi’s strong leadership that had made the post-Godhra pogrom possible.)
Bhatt told the SIT officers everything that transpired at the meeting but declined to put it on record because the ongoing SIT probe was merely a preliminary enquiry and not a criminal investigation under the Criminal Procedure Code of India.
“He has stated that he attended this meeting in his capacity as an intelligence officer, and as per his belief, it would not be professionally appropriate on his part to divulge the exact nature of discussions that took place during the said meeting. However, he would be duty bound to disclose the same to the best of his recollection and ability, as and when he is required to do so under legal obligation,” Malhotra noted in his report. (Bhatt is presently a DIG with the State Reserve Police Training Centre.) The understanding was that if an FIRwas filed later, Bhatt’s initial statement could be expanded into a full disclosure, recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC.
Though this one statement, if proved, should be enough indictment against Modi, there are other damning things Bhatt told the SIT team off-the-record.
In a damaging written statement, which is now with the Supreme Court, Bhatt had recorded how the SIB was flooded with a deluge of intelligence after the Sabarmati tragedy, indicating that the VHP, Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva organisations could incite communal violence in Ahmedabad and other districts in Gujarat. He had also recorded that all the while mobs were mobilising at Meghani Nagar and surrounding Gulberg Society, the SIB was consistently receiving and passing on field intelligence to the office of the then DGP K Chakravarthi and then Commissioner of Police of Ahmedabad, PC Pande about the dangerous build up.
But what Bhatt told the SIT off-therecord is even more shocking.
Bhatt told Malhotra that he did not only pass this information to the DGP and Commissioner: he also spoke directly with the office of the chief minister himself.
“Initially I kept passing the reports of a mob build-up near Gulberg Society to DGP K Chakravarthi and Commissioner PC Pande. But I found Pande was not bothered at all,” Bhatt said.
“Then I went to the office of DGP Chakravarti and told him to somehow prevail upon Pande to at least announce curfew in Naroda and Meghani Nagar. After much dithering, Pande announced curfew sometime post noon. But the order existed only on paper. On the ground it was never implemented. The mob at Gulberg was not dispersed until 4.30 pm,” Bhatt said.
“Since the curfew was never imposed, the crowd at Gulberg kept multiplying,” he continued. “Finally, when I saw that Pande was not budging at all, I made Chakravarthi speak to Pande on the phone. But to my utter shock I found Pande was still not willing to act,” Bhatt reportedly told Malhotra.
“It was at this point that I called up OP Singh (Modi’s personal secretary) and spoke to him. I explained the gravity of the situation at Gulberg Society to him and told him to communicate immediately to the chief minister that if the police didn’t act immediately, the mob would set the society on fire and kill dozens of Muslims including former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri,” Bhatt said.
According to Bhatt, after his call to Modi’s secretary he waited a while to see if the city police would finally act. But, terrifyingly, there was still no response. “At this point I got convinced,” Bhatt told Malhotra, “that Modi had really meant what he had said the night before and his message had percolated down to a large section of the police machinery.” According to Bhatt, Chakravarthi had wanted to act but he was helpless. The city police was under Pande and he was not ready to do anything.
Given the way other senior officers had evaded questions about that fateful meeting at the chief minister’s residence (See TEHELKA story The Smoking Gun), Bhatt was the only hope for the SIT in its quest for the truth. But between January, when Bhatt deposed before the SIT, and May 2010, when SIT submitted its report to the Supreme Court, things changed dramatically. In the last week of February 2010, Paramvir Singh quit the probe team citing personal reasons. Malhotra alone drafted the 600-odd page inquiry report which he submitted before the court in May 2010. And instead of recommending the registration of an FIR and full-fledged investigation (as Bhatt had thought the SITwould do), the SIT came to conclusions that contradicted the very findings on which they were based.
Raghavan and Malhotra reprimanded Modi for being unfair, partisan, communal and immoral but — inexplicably — claimed this was not sufficient ground for a further and more stringent investigation against him. They seemed to forget that non-partisan and fair conduct from Modi could have saved the lives of hundreds of innocent men, women and children whose only crime was that they were Muslims in a state run by him.
THERE ARE many other questions the SIT must answer. Why didn’t it keep a written account of everything Bhatt told them off the record for future reference? Doesn’t the Supreme Court have the right to know Bhatt’s full off-the-record deposition? Why did Malhotra only mention a small portion of it? Equally, did Malhotra follow up on the leads and inputs provided by Bhatt? If not, what was the purpose of making him depose for over two days? What efforts did Malhotra make to corroborate Bhatt’s version of events besides asking the top rung of the bureaucracy and police, who are themselves cited as accused in Ahsan Jafri’s wife Zakia’s complaint? Why did he not go down the ladder to lower level police personnel to know from them what was happening on the ground?
TEHELKA has managed to track down one independent witness who has corroborated Bhatt’s claim of having attended the 27 February evening meeting. This witness is one more proof of the shoddiness of the SIT probe. Proof of all the unturned stones; the work waiting to be done if there is the will for it.
But before we get to that, take a look at what was happening behind the scenes in the corridors of power, even as hundreds of Muslims were being brutalised on the streets of Ahmedabad.
Sanjeev Bhatt was the senior most deputy commissioner in the State Intelligence Bureau (there were two other DCs besides him) and was also the longest serving officer in the bureau. He was in-charge of the internal security desk and his job involved collecting, collating and analysing intelligence before sending it to senior police officers, the home minister and chief minister of the state.
On 28 February, police inspectors, subinspectors and constables posted with the SIBwere constantly sending reports to the SIB control room about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Naroda Gaon, Naroda Patiya and Meghani Nagar (where Gulberg Society was situated).
According to Bhatt’s testimony before the SIT, a SIB police inspector whose last name was Bharwad was positioned in Meghani Nagar for collecting intelligence. (Bhatt didn’t remember his first name but told Malhotra he could easily make an official enquiry with the SIB and find out.) According to Bhatt, Bharwad was sending him a ball by ball commentary of the crisis spiraling at Gulberg Society.
According to Bhatt, Bharwad told him over the phone that local VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders kept shouting abusive anti- Muslim slogans for several hours outside Gulberg Society, inciting and mobilising the mob. Many VHP and Bajrang Dal members from Meghani Nagar were part of the mob, but tempos, cars and motorcycles carrying rioters from other localities also kept pulling in, adding to the numbers. Most of the Bajrang Dal activists were carrying tridents in their belts, a small number were carrying firearms. But the most preferred weaponry was gas cylinders and cans filled with petrol and diesel.
For several hours, hundreds of Muslims who had taken shelter in Gulberg — thinking that a society housing a Congress leader would be safer — made desperate calls to friends, relatives and the police, pleading to be rescued. But the local police remained a mute spectator. At times, it even goaded the mob into committing violence. At around 2 pm, after four hours of complete paralysis on the part of the police, the emboldened mob finally stormed the building.
“According to Bharwad, the rioters first looted the place. He also reported a few instances of rape. As Bharwad sent us these field reports, we called up the Ahmedabad police control and passed it on to them,” Bhatt told Malhotra.
“At around 2.30 pm he again called me and told me that the mob had dragged out Ahsan Jafri and had clasped his head in a sandsa (a contraption used in Gujarat to catch stray dogs). For some time the mob paraded him around, his head still clasped in the iron contraption, kicking and slashing him. Then they removed the sandsa and hacked him into pieces. Finally they made a heap of him and set it on fire,” Bhatt reportedly told Malhotra.
WHEN NARENDRA Modi was questioned by the SIT, Malhotra asked him: ‘Did you receive any information about an attack by a mob on Gulberg Society? If so, when and through whom? What action did you take in the matter?’
MODI REPLIED: ‘To the best of my recollection, I was informed in the law and order review meeting held in the night about the attack on Gulberg Society in Meghani Nagar area and Naroda Patiya.’
Where does the truth lie? Bhatt had told Malhotra that he had personally informed OP Singh, Modi’s personal secretary, about the ongoing Gulberg carnage. It is also important to remember that since October 2001, when Narendra Modi took over as Gujarat chief minister, he has held the post of home minister of the state. In this capacity, the Gujarat Police and state intelligence functions directly under him.
It is also important to remember that on 28 February, as the massacre at Gulberg Society ensued, the police control room was flooded with distress calls. Here are just a few wireless messages that the SIT has managed to procure.
12:20 HRS: Police Inspector KG Erda of Meghani Nagar sends a message to Ahmedabad police control room that a mob of around 10,000 had surrounded Gulberg Society and was pelting stones and also trying to set it on fire. Erda requested for additional forces.
12:38 HRS: A police mobile van stationed near Meghani Nagar sends a message to Ahmedabad police control room that Gulberg Society had been surrounded by a mob of 4,000 to 5,000 people.
14:05 HRS: Joint Commissioner Sector 2, MK Tandon sends a message to police control room that Ahsan Jafri had been surrounded by a mob and additional forces should be dispatched.
14:14 HRS: KG Erda sends another message to Ahmedabad police control room that a mob of 10,000 people was about to set Gulberg Society on fire and ACP, DCP and additional forces be sent immediately.
14:45 HRS: KG Erda sends yet another message that the society had been surrounded from all sides and the mob was about to set it on fire.
15:45 HRS: Tandon sends a message to control room enquiring if there was any incidence of violence at Gulberg Society (by this time the carnage was in full swing).
Just this tiny sample of messages is proof that the police were fully aware of what was going on but did little to disperse the mobs, except exchange messages. It is also important to note here that the SIT report says that the original police control room records are missing and that ‘the Gujarat government has reportedly destroyed the police wireless communication of the period pertaining to the riots.’
Isn’t just this — the destruction of official records — sufficient grounds for further investigation?
From 12.30 pm to 3.45pm, no reinforcements were sent. Tandon only reached the spot around 4:30 pm to clear the bodies. Erda has already been booked by the SIT in the Gulberg Society case. SIT has also accused Tandon and the then DCP of the area PB Gondia of willfully allowing the carnage and is investigating their role further. But, inexplicably, the SIT has not indicted PC Pande, the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad at the time.
Yet, here’s the obvious question: what did Pande do about the constant stream of reports, both from the local police and the SIB, about the mob build-up? (A few wireless messages that the SIT has managed to procure and quoted in its report show that Pande had apparently instructed a few officers to reach the spot but he never followed up on his own orders to find out if they were complied with.) This, coupled with Bhatt’s account that Pande deliberately did not pay any heed to his intelligence inputs, nails Pande’s culpability. There is also the plain, bald fact: why did no senior officers or reinforcements reach the spot?
Pande was one of the officers present in the infamous February 27 meeting at the CM’s residence. He also received around 15 calls from the chief minister’s office around the time the massacres at Naroda and Gulberg were underway. The natural question that arises is what did Pande discuss with the chief minister and his aides while these terrible massacres were on? In a constitutional state, the chief minister would have asked Pande what he was doing to ensure the safety of citizens and instructed him to take urgent measures. If Modi claims, as he has done in his interrogation session with the SIT, that he didn’t even know about the massacres till later that night, should one accuse him only of a communal mindset or also add plain inefficiency and incompetence?
In an interesting codicil, after his retirement in 2009, Pande was appointed as chairman of the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission — a post-retirement benefit he continues to enjoy.
ACCORDING TO SIT sources, besides narrating his first-hand account, Bhatt also submitted a few intelligence reports prepared during the riots to the SIT.
A few reports, dated February 27, soon after the Sabarmati train carnage news broke, show that the state government had a mountain of intelligence which clearly showed that VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders and cadres were preparing for communal violence on February 28.
A report named DIR/2/COM/Precaution/ 72/2002 dated 27.02.2002 said: Information has been received that in respect of the Godhra incident, VHP has called for Gujarat bandh on 28.02.2002. In that respect the VHP has called for a meeting at its Ahmedabad office to chalk out future activities and strategies. In this regard necessary watch needs to be kept and any information so received must be transmitted.’
In another message to all district police the SIB said, ‘The situation arising out of bandh call needs a strict vigil from the police units to avoid any untoward incident.’
Yet another message, numbered D-1/9- HA, alerted all police commissioners and district SPs that after the Godhra incident the people of minority community travelling by public transport and cars may be targeted to take revenge.
Bhatt also submitted a few reports which had warned the government very early on the morning of February 28 about the mobilisation of mobs by Hindutva organisations. Again, the reports were sent to the chief minister’s office.
For instance, a report named C/Precaution/ 177/2002, dated 28.02.2002 and marked to the CMO and MOS (Home), states: ‘Some members of Bajrang Dal and VHP have been found to be part of the mobs at different places. They are moving on motorcycles and are attacking autorickshaw drivers who belong to the minority community. They are also attacking poor people of other professions from the minority community and thereby causing serious injuries. It is hereby directed that police must take extra precautions in respect of such vehicles and people.’
There are other glaring crevices between official statements and the truth. Contrary to the Modi government’s claim that there were no funeral processions of the victims of the Sabarmati train carnage paraded in Ahmedabad, the intelligence reports submitted by Bhatt show that funeral processions were indeed taken out in Ahmedabad. This lends credence to the allegation that Modi deliberately had the bodies brought from Godhra to Ahmedabad to fuel the communal frenzy.
A REPORT named C/Dir/ Shamshan yatra/ 176/2002 dated 28.02.2002 and marked to Modi’s office and senior police officers states: ‘In respect of the incident at Godhra in which the funeral procession of identified bodies of dead karsevaks is likely to be taken out from the Sola Civil Hospital. In this procession a large number of people are expected to participate and during and after the processions there is a likelihood of disturbances.’
Bhatt also gave the SIT a series of intelligence reports suggesting that a large number of bodies were dumped in a well at Naroda Patiya then covered with debris so nobody would get suspicious. His reports also show that when an SIB inspector tried to probe further, somebody planted a dead pig in the well as a decoy for the foul stench and derailed the search. (It is significant to remember that one of the prime conspirators of the Naroda Patiya massacre, Babu Bajrangi had told this reporter during TEHELKA’s undercover story that many bodies were disposed off in wells to bring down the official death toll.)
Human rights activists like Teesta Setalvad have been petitioning the government and the courts for eight years to excavate the well at Naroda Patiya. When the probe was transferred to the SIT, these activists reiterated their plea but the SIT bought the Gujarat government’s explanation without further probing.
All of this emerges from just a few reports that Bhatt managed to procure. In a move that can only be construed as a cover- up, the Modi government did not provide the SIT with any documents related to intelligence or law and order meetings pertaining to the riots. The government also refused to share the security logs of the chief minister and other senior officials which would have shown their movement during the riots.
Apart from Bhatt, there are only two other police officers who have provided the SIT with crucial documents that could nail the Modi government.
Former ADGP (Int) B Sreekumar gave the SIT a huge volume of intelligence reports on how arms and bombs were smuggled in Ahmedabad during the riots and how the Modi government didn’t take enough security measures for the karsevaks before the Godhra train incident. Both Bhatt and Sreekumar were shunted out of the SIB by the same order on the same date: 18 September 2002. Sreekumar was superseded and had to fight a case to get his pension; Bhatt has not been given one executive posting for the past eight years.
IPS officer Rahul Sharma who gave the SIT cellphone data records of senior ministers, bureaucrats and police officers for the period pertaining to the riots was served a show cause notice by the Modi government last week for producing these records before the SIT without its permission. (See box)
The SIT report has recorded many instances of how upright officers were persecuted by the Modi government after the riots. Clearly, that intimidation continues.
The SIT report – under whatever compulsion it may have felt – has tried to deflect Sanjeev Bhatt’s claim that he was at the February 27 meeting and that he had gone there on the insistence of DGP Chakravarthi. But TEHELKA managed to track down Tarachand Yadav, 50, a Gujarat police head constable, who was Bhatt’s driver during the riots. Yadav told TEHELKA that on February 27, 2002, Bhatt left office at around 8 pm, after which he drove Bhatt to his home at Drive-In Road, Ahmedabad.
‘Sahab went jogging and returned after an hour or so. I had finished my dinner when sahab again came out and told me that we had to go back to Police Bhawan at Gandhinagar. When we reached DGP sahab’s car was already parked outside. Sahab got into DGP sahab’s car and told me to follow. We drove to CM Bungalow in Gandhinagar. DGP sahab and Bhatt sahab went inside. There were other cars also parked outside the bungalow. After about half an hour Bhatt sahib came out and I drove him back to Police Bhawan. Sahab must have worked in the office for another hour or so after which I drove him back home.’
TEHELKA is ready to provide the SIT and, if asked, the Supreme Court a copy of Yadav’s recorded version of events.
But the moot question is, if a newsmagazine can make the effort to cross-check and verify Bhatt’s claims, why didn’t the SIT — mandated by no less than the Supreme Court of India — take more trouble to get to the bottom of one of the most violent ruptures in our nation’s recent history?
Can a lax probe of this nature – which has itself listed all that it has not done — ever hope to unravel the truth behind the killing of over 2,000 innocent people? Will Gujarat remain a festering wound, providing extremists in both the Hindu and Muslim communities a pretext to indulge in more horrific acts of violence? Will no corrective lesson go out to all those leaders and officers who failed in their duty? Or will the Supreme Court intervene forcefully in the riot victims’ despairing quest for justice?
All eyes are now on the three judge bench which will convene on March 3 and deliver its much anticipated verdict.
LAST MEN STANDING
The persecution of upright officers continues even now, finds ANUMEHA YADAV
A KEY POINT of the SIT report on the 2002 riots was that it affirms that the Narendra Modi government persecuted police officers who tried to stop the violence. Their persecution is still on.
On 5 February, the government issued a notice to senior IPS officer Rahul Sharma asking how and why he submitted phone records of senior politicians and bureaucrats during the riots to inquiry commissions without approval. In its notice, nine years aer the riots, it asked Sharma why action should not be taken against him.
“The government is trying to discredit Sharma and intimidate him. It destroyed all original evidence and now it is trying to discredit the records Sharma has submitted,” says lawyer Mukul Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Manch.
The Modi government did not keep any records or minutes of the crucial meetings it held during the riots, something the SIT has raised a question over.
Sharma, a 1992 batch IPS officer now posted as DIG Rajkot, was DCP (control room), Ahmedabad, in April 2002. Investigating the violence at Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society, he collected data from AT&T and CelForce mobile service providers of all calls received and made in Ahmedabad during this period and handed over these to the Crime Branch. These CDS containing phone records of senior ministers, police officers, and members of RSS and VHP to each other were subsequently “lost”. But while deposing before the Nanavati Commission set up in March 2002 to inquire into the riots, Sharma submitted a copy of this CD that he had preserved.
These phone records have been one of the most significant pieces of evidence in nailing the guilty, including the arrest and the cancelling of anticipatory bails of Gujarat VHP president Jaideep Patel and minister Maya Kodnani in 2009, and in the investigation into the killing of Congress ex-MP Ahsan Jafri and 30 others at Gulberg Society. The CDS are vital pieces of evidence in the Naroda Patiya violence in which 105 Muslims were killed by official count.
But scuttling any effort for fair investigations seems to be the norm in Gujarat. A week before Sharma received his notice, another senior IPS officer, Satish Verma, member of a separate SIT set up to inquire into the 2004 Ishrat Jehan encounter, flagged that he was being restricted from pursuing leads in the case. Verma, one of three police officers probing this encounter allegedly carried by Gujarat police officers to please their political bosses, submitted an affidavit citing instances of interference.
In an 80-page affidavit in the Gujarat High Court on 28 January, Verma described how obvious forensic evidence had been ignored by a previous SIT set up by the Gujarat government in 2009, including bullets in Ishrat’s body that did not match the weapons the police claim were used in the encounter. Verma described how Mohan Jha, a Gujarat cadre officer, who was also a member of the previous SIT, and Karnail Singh, a Delhi cadre officer, deliberately forwarded the retraction of a key witness to the HC without any comments to create doubt and ambiguity. Verma disclosed how Jha, who is the current JCP, Detection of Crime Branch (DCB), tried to put 26 police officers directly under himself in the Special Operations Group last month, claiming they were needed for security in the Vibrant Gujarat summit. All 26 were with the DCB on the day of the encounter.
“Verma says he had started maintaining an official note on what is going on in the SIT in December, 19 days aer the SIT began work. This shows he saw the need to put the irregularities on the record and anticipated that his efforts for a fair investigation would be obstructed. It shows how twisted this attempt to investigate these fake encounter killings is,” says a senior police officer, requesting anonymity.