The suspended Gujarat cadre IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, in an exclusive interview with GGN Special Correspondent Siddharth B Iyer gives a glimpse of pain of the past which his heart refuses to forego and which most of us have forgotten. He talks about police reforms and utmost need to make police recording of evidence relevant to court proceedings and convictions and wonders if the state has come over the hump. Excerpts:
Q: How did you come into police? Were you having a vision to join the IPS?
A: I looked for a career which should have given me both – action as well as purpose in life. As a young man that is generally what you look for. And the Indian Police Service was the career which offered me both action and purpose. I appeared for the civil services got a good rank and was selected.
A: Modi speaking about action and reaction was more of a justification of what had already happened in Godhra. But yes, the post-Godhra riots could have been contained had the police acted in good faith. It is the basic principle of policing that if anything goes wrong first approach is containment. So the situation throughout Godhra should have been contained by the police without allowing shockwaves travelling out of Godhra. It was a big tragedy which had a disastrous effect across the state. What the political party and the government did was preparing ground for retaliation to reap benefit. The BJP gave a Bandh call on the 28th (February 2002) and people felt it was announced by the government. So a person on street perceived it as a government sponsored Bandh. And for the lumpen elements of the BJP or the VHP or the Bajrang Dal it would be their bandh as if their government had given the call and they would feel free to do as they wish. That’s what exactly happened.
The Godhra riots could have been prevented. But maybe there was no intent to prevent it. The intent was to let Hindus vent their anger.
Q: Today you are wearing a whistle blower’s cap. Lot of water has passed under the Sabarmati. Where do you stand today in the scheme of a new Gujarat having come up?
A: I would not know whether a new Gujarat has come up. But yes there are few changes I see in mindsets of the people of Gujarat. I feel pained to see people falling hook, line and sinker for a conjurer and a fraudster as I would call Modi. All he did in last 12 years is to create imageries trying to sell only him. He has somehow marketed himself in a way that people believe all that Gujarat today is because of him. Whereas the fact is Gujarat is not what it is because of Modi but rather what it is despite him. Gujarat would have been where it is today or maybe a bit ahead had anyone being the chief minister of Gujarat. This is all because of Modi’s clever marketing, packaging and use of mass-media coupled with the general level of ignorance amongst youth. So this is a very sad change happening in Gujarat in recent years. At times I am forced to think whether it is really the land of Gandhi or of his killers? I really don’t know…it’s a big question that troubles me at times.
Q: SIT says you were not present during the high-level meeting held on February 27, 2002. Obviously as Additional Deputy Commissioner in the State Intelligence Bureau and posted in Gandhinagar your presence at the meeting should not have been controversial.
A: I was the Deputy Commissioner in charge of internal security. It was not just that meeting; I used to be present in a whole lot of meetings with the CM. They are not contesting my presence in the meeting on 28th (February 2002) but they are only concerned about the meeting on 27th because that would attach or attract culpability for the CM. The job of the SIT should have been to bring out the role of the people and their failures during the riots or their role in fanning riots or their role in controlling the riots. Whatever it is it should come out. But instead the entire effort of the SIT was to save Modi.
Q: That is exactly my next question— is SIT trying to shield Modi?
Q: But SIT is a Supreme Court appointed body. Then how can it be biased towards someone?
A: SIT is only the creation of Supreme Court. All of us like you, me, Modi, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden etc are creations of God. Aren’t we different despite being the creations of God? So it does not mean that someone created by the Supreme Court is above board. See, the SC reposed tremendous trust in the SIT but it did not live up to the SC’s trust.
The SC gave it a mandate of inquiring and investigating into the complaint of Zakia Jafri. But the SIT did not do it and confined it only to a particular incident that happened at Gulbarg Society. If you look at the canvas of the complaint of Zakia Jafri then it is very wide. It starts from 27th and it covers incidents that took place across Gujarat for a few months. But what the SIT did was it focused only on the Gulbarg massacre and tried to couple the complaint with the FIR that was registered at Meghaninagar. So they tried to narrow down the canvas of the investigation.
Obviously the SIT has not done what it was asked to do by the SC. And it is doing all this despite of the clear-cut opinion of the SC appointed amicus curiae, Mr. Raju Ramachandran. And after the completion of the investigation the SC asked him to go through all the investigation papers, to meet witnesses including police officers and to give a clear opinion as to what requires to be done. Mr. Ramachandran studied the papers, he came to Ahmedabad and met me and finally submitted the report whereby he said to prosecute Modi. The SIT completely, despite being an SC appointed body, ignored the suggestions of the amicus curiae who is not only appointed by the SC but also empowered, instructed and directed to study the entire investigation process and give his own independent report. This was required because of my affidavit before the SC where I brought out that the SIT is not acting as per its mandate. So that’s why the SC asked the amicus curiae to evaluate the working of the SIT.
Q: Now coming to an important question SIT has charged you of forging evidence to malign Gujarat govt. So do you feel that justice will be meted out to you?
A: Absolutely. SIT will be brought to book eventually for having ignored evidence, disregarding evidence.
Q: But how can it do when a man like Modi is presiding in the state.
A: It will happen. There are courts in this country. Wheels of justice grinds slow but it grinds for sure. People may think they are invincible for a while. Eventually…
Q: Do you believe in law machinery of this country?
A: I believe in truth; I believe in primacy of truth; I believe in functioning of the judiciary however slow it might be and has its own drawbacks. I believe if properly pursued the judiciary of this country will deliver. There are exceptions in the judiciary. Either end of the spectrum. There are very good judges, there are indifferent judges, very bad judges. It happens everywhere in all walks of life. I have a hope
Q: The only problem with this country is justice is meted very late.
A: Happens…that is the system. The criminal justice system has almost imploded on itself. Or rather waiting to implode. Our criminal justice system was not designed for this quantum of work. Plus the way in which it was conceived it was during the time of Britishers. Their entire system of investigation, gathering evidence is again based on distrust. No statement before the police was admissible during the trial. What counts in the trial is what the witness tells in the court. All that he had said before the police cannot be used as evidence. That is used to discredit what he said but not for use as evidence. Again you go through the entire exercise unlike western countries where Miranda warning is mandatory — You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney — and given to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial interrogation) before interrogation. This preserves admissibility of statements in criminal proceedings. That is how trials are faster. In India it is another story. Also we need urgent changes bottom up where we train and recruit policemen who can be entrusted with investigation and are honest enough to carry out proper investigation. Changes must come from below. Systemic changes will enhance admissibility of police evidence as police will be more responsible when recording evidence as they would know it can be used against a person to be convicted. They will be more careful. Unless these changes come….
Q: ISI has sleeper cells in Gujarat. Godhra is not a normal town like any other town. Do you rule out any ISI connection in train-burning?
A: Do you think ISI has sleeper cells across Gujarat? This is misinformation. I have headed the internal security for Gujarat for three years. I have been the designated nodal officer for collection, probation and information of all entities pertaining to ISI. So these are very generic kind of statements which people make that ISI has sleeper cells across Gujarat. It’s not so. But there are terrorist outfits that have sleeper cells across Gujarat. But I would say whatever happened at Godhra on the 27th morning was not an act of terrorism. It was not even a preplanned act.
Q: Do you really think so?
A: I believe so because I know so. ISI connection was complete figment of imagination. But to say it was a preplanned conspiracy would be travesty of justice.
Q: Then why did it become so grave that it led to train-burning? Do you think there was a provocation?
A: Well there was a provocation. The train came late by few hours – let’s say for about more than four hours. This train would have ideally come at the middle of the night. Instead it came at 7’o clock in the morning. So it was tea-time and people, who were returning from Ayodhya, got down. They were people from the Bajrang Dal and the VHP who came in groups and were returning back from a mission where they felt empowered. When they got down they started shouting slogans like ‘Jay Shree Ram’ etc which is normal. But there should have been police bandobast. So when these people got down for tea there was an altercation with a tea vendor. They asked him to say Jay Shree Ram and then they beat the old man. Meanwhile a young Muslim girl intervened and she was also manhandled. During the fracas she fled. Some Muslim tea vendor boys thought the girl had been dragged into the train compartment. Rumour spread and the mob started gathering Signal Falia, which is the outer signal of Godhra railway station. Stone pelting started in the belief that the girl was in. People in the compartment downed shutters locking the door from inside and by the time probably someone had threw a burning rag into one of the windows. And that led to the vinyl coating getting burnt letting out lot of smoke though there was no fire. Not a single karsevak died due to burn injuries. All died due to asphyxia caused by smoke. So people died because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Nor they could open the compartment door fearing stone-pelting. The flames started only when someone opened the door which helped oxygen being sucked into the compartment resulting in fire. And that’s when entire compartment started burning. That was the flashpoint.
Q: Eyewitnesses had seen (as reported by Uday Mahurkar of India Today) that arsonists were seen carrying petrol cans and approaching the train.
A: It was all planted evidence that petrol was purchased a day earlier for this purpose. It was local Muslims and the corporators who tried to get the fire engines out and did best to douse the flames. They were the ones who were in repeated contact with district SP Raju Bhargav “please send someone here as the situation is getting out of hand.” So there is no question of conspiracy.
Q: So the investigation therefore was not properly handled.
A: Handled deviously. Properly handled is one thing. It was not bungled up but handled deviously. “It was given a specific direction.”
Q: That means?
A: That same day a statement came from the CM that it was “ISI conspiracy”. Now from where did it dawn upon him that it was an ISI conspiracy? When we in the intelligence knew not? And investigators could not make head or tail of it. In the afternoon when I spoke with the SP and asked him about the loss of lives, he said, “I had just entered it (compartment) and very hot inside. Not more than 15 to 20. Actually when the bodies were brought out we could know that it was much more. The ISI again was the creation of Modi. And it was picked up by investigators.
Q: So in other words it became an opportune incident for Modi?
A: It was a very unfortunate incident which was cleverly used. That which could have destroyed him completely was used by him cleverly. Something which became his USP. And he has that knack of turning adversity into opportunity. That luck he always had.
Q: Within hours of riots breaking out, RAF was deployed both in Godhra and Ahmedabad, Army was called, shoot-at-sight orders issued. Within three days situation was brought under control. How can Modi be a conspirator in killings Muslims?
A: Let’s break up your question. Your question is premised on so many untruths and half-truths. Question itself is wrongly put. RAF was only called on the night 27th at our behest for the next day bandh which should not have been called. Army was called on 1st with a requisition being sent and some local units coming. Actual deployment started on 2nd. All that is on record. Maximum damage took place on 28th, the night intervening 28th and 1st. That was the period when there was no deployment of additional forces. That is when the Government of Gujarat and administration failed “deliberately”.
There were so many deliberate acts: First supporting the bandh call; second not persuading BJP to withdraw the bandh; third getting dead bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad out in a funeral procession. These things are against tenets of policing and any man who is in police or intelligence will know they are sure recipe for disaster. But this was done against advice.
Q: Against the advice of …?
A: Against the advice of police officials; against the intelligence. “Please don’t get the dead bodies as there was bandh call.” You are creating a situation whereby the police is asked to look the other way letting lumpen elements and goons getting a free hand. There was tremendous grief and anger. Yes army was called within three days and intensity of violence came down in urban areas like Ahmedabad, Baroda. But it spread to rural areas, the tribal belt.
Godhra should not have happened. It happened under Modi’s watch. Why was police not present at the Godhra railway station when kar sevaks were coming in the morning? Under normal operating procedure police bandobast had to be there when such groups were coming. Local police should have come on their own. Why didn’t they? It happened under your (Modi) watch and you are directly responsible, not vicariously.
Everyone talks about post Godhra. Talk about Godhra. Once the Godhra happened it was Modi’s duty to see that violence did not spread and contained quickly. Though local administration could be blamed where Modi gets the blame is post Godhra. He as chief minister should have taken immediate steps given the potential of incident snow-balling. It ought to have been tackled in Godhra itself.
Q: So it turned into a tinderbox?
A: This is what PC Pandey told him. He used the word ‘tinder box’. If you get the dead bodies to Ahmedabad it will turn into a virtual tinder box. That is what he said in so many words.
Q: So Modi should have paid heed to what not to do?
A: Modi wanted to deflect anger somewhere else. That evening of 27th he had gone to Godhra and was beaten up. At the railway station.
Q: Who was beaten up?
A: NARENDRA DAMODARDAS MODI was beaten up by the kith and kin of the deceased and kar sevaks because they felt it had happened during his watch. He had experienced the anger first hand. He was a fledgling chief minister still trying to find his feet just being elected from Rajkot and he thought this is his end of his political career. Had he become the brunt of anger of that failure it would have been end of Modi because there were politicians in the BJP who were ready to cut him into size. Somewhere there was the question of his survival. But that deflection (of anger) took a form and shape which consumed so many lives. But he didn’t mind as it would give him an image as flag-bearer of Hindutva.
Q: Even after being a Hindutva protagonist he banks upon his secular image. How can we call him communal?
A: Who calls him secular? Again your question is wrongly premised. Who calls him secular? His definition of secularism is “India first” which is perverted. Secularism is secularism. As a young man you would know. State has no business with a person’s belief and faith. You connect with your god and I connect with my god and it is no business of state. It shall not discriminate between you and me on the basis of faith or religious belief.
Q: Has media become a marketing tool of Modi?
A: Media has failed the country. Modi can make media eat out of its hand. He is a person who is opposed to scrutiny. Only a person who has something to hide is not open to scrutiny. Unless your questions are vetted He is very comfortable with a prepared questionnaire. Karan Thapar will not be allowed to ask him questions. All his public performances are well scripted. Tomorrow ask him to come to St. Xavier’s College. Will he come? No he would not like to face an open house.
In the secular debate the media too has failed Indian democracy completely, the electronic media. One should know Press is one of the most important pillars of democracy. Sadly, media has become corporatized controlled by big business houses and groups which have their own compulsions where the dynamics of finances are very different.
Q: The impression I get from what you say is I can’t interview Modi the way I want?
A: No you will not. For that to happen someone like Cho Ramaswamy, N. Ram, or Gurumurthy would have to recommend and vouch for you. All these Tamilians would have to say that this person is one of us, he is a fascist or completely pliable. Only then you will be allowed to meet him.
Q: Then there is a conflict. Where do I stand?
A: If you get an opportunity, but you won’t. Even in an open forum you will not be allowed to question him. He was invited to Headlines Today conclave. Ashish Khetan was one of the senior journalists with HT. Yet, he was kept out of the conclave. Why?
Q: Because Modi knew he would be asked uncomfortable questions?
A: Yes! Ashish quit and started his own portal. That is the choice for people like you to make. Either you choose a good career or a correct path. See there are always two paths. Right path and the easy path which will take you ahead. Eventually when you look into the mirror you will have the answer.
Q: Hindus of Gujarat are proud to be Hindus without being anti somebody. They hate to see Congress secularism and appeasement. Then why blame only Modi for whatever happened post Godhra?
A: Again it is a wrongly prepared question. They are not sincere questions. Very cleverly prepared. Okay let us take your question. What is the first part?
Q: Hindus of Gujarat are proud to be Hindus without being anti somebody…..
A: Do you think they are not anti-Muslim? I feel a very strong undercurrent of anti-Muslim feeling all across Gujarat.
Q: Maybe I live in a society where I cannot see that.
A: I have seen this in my family also. I don’t need to travel afar. I am a Hindu, practicing Hindu. Eh? In my own family I have seen people who have strong antipathy towards Muslims. So it is very wrong to say in Gujarat there is no antipathy towards Muslims. There is antipathy. That is exactly what is being exploited. Any society has fractures. Gujarat society too is fractured. Job of politicians and statesmen is to see that fractures are healed. Not exploited. What has been done is not only fractures exploited but further fractures created for their benefit.
Q: Aren’t Gujaratis peaceful?
A: Peace-loving is one thing. Antipathy is different. I may have antipathy for Tamilian Brahmins. Why not? Because of bad experience. But I am peace-loving. Dislike is another. Gujaratis are peace-loving and a forward looking community and peace is essential for business. They still can have antipathy. Look at the people who actually committed the crime. They were not common Gujaratis. Not like people you and me or your next door neighbor or mine. They are lumpen elements recruited for this purpose by Bajrang Dal from a certain strata of society who don’t have anything else in life to brag about. They are given a sash, a trishul, a headband and made into Bajrang Dal sainiks and they feel empowered enough to hold sway over someone’s life.
Now coming to your second part of the question “Why blame Modi”? What is your responsibility as the head of the state? To what happened in Godhra. As I said there are black sheep in society. There are social fractures, religious fractures. There is financial disparity. What is the role of the state? Foremost is to protect life and property of the citizens. Second to see that Constitution is upheld and fractures are healed so that the society progresses as one entity despite diversity.
As a chief minister and an RSS-BJP man he came to power in a state which has had communal history. The antipathy and fractures was exploited for decades. His foremost duty was to protect life and property of citizens. Did he do that post Godhra? No! In fact his administration was complicit in destruction of life and property. That is why he needs to be blamed singularly. You cannot blame the entire police force. But you need to blame the police leaders. Any police force is as good or as bad as its leader. No force is good or bad. When you are in administration it is your failure which results in not protecting life and property.
Q: Is it your contention that a Congress CM could have prevented post Godhra flare-up?
A: There is no question of whether Congress CM or BJP CM. It is the bounden duty of any CM to have ensured that life and property are safeguarded. Whether a Congress CM would have done it or not is a different matter.
Q: Congress is having soft corner for Muslims…
A: It is a coloured statement. You said appeasement… it is a very popular phrase used by Sanghis. What is Muslim appeasement? You take care of minority. Is it appeasement?
Q: What about recent Karnataka PCC chief Parmeshwara’s statement that Muslims should not repay loans? Is it not appeasement?
A: It is stupidity. He should be kicked out of the government and political party. What is minority? The smallest minority is the individual. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, ParsIs come much later. Role of the state is to protect the individual. If Modi does something good for the Muslims it is development. If Congress does it is appeasement. Different nomenclature to mislead people. By raising such questions and using such words we are falling prey and perpetuating the myth.
Q: About the development aspect, how far we can believe that Modi has done lot of development.
A: You have been in Gujarat. What development are you talking about? Was Gujarat not always developed? Whatever we see in Gujarat is fructification of last so many decades. Efforts of all preceding governments, not any single chief minister, resulted in development through people of Gujarat, their business acumen. Look at Kutch. Any other city would have been adversely affected but Kutch bounced back. Was it because of Modi? No it was because of the people of Kutch. Modi presides over Gujarat. Had anyone else been there the story of Gujarat would have been the same. Not that Gujarat slipped from any position nor has it jumped up or climb down. All Modi did was that he kept the motor running. Gujarat motor was always running and he kept it running. 2002 could have been a big setback but thanks to the resilience and spirit of its people it was overcome. Whatever Gujarat is today it is despite Modi not because of Modi. Tomorrow you or I made chief minister things won’t change. Just keep the engine running and give direction. What we see in Gujarat is phenomenal growth of crony capitalism. Adani is growing much bigger than what he was. That’s what happened in Gujarat.
Q: About your suspension?
A: I am accused of unauthorized absence. I was posted to Junagadh and when I came to Ahmedabad for SIT or Nanavati Commission hearings it was termed unauthorized.
Q: Among the prime ministerial candidates Modi stands out because no corruption charges have been leveled against him. Comment.
A: Again a very wrong statement. Are there no corruption charges against Modi? Why is Modi afraid of Lokayukta? Why is he not open to scrutiny? To say no allegation of corruption or he is clean “khatau nathi ane khava deto nathi” is cock and bull story. I know for sure he has huge war chest just to become the prime minister of the country. From where does the money come from? See, corruption can be of many kinds.
Q: It is said that his corruption is not in public domain.
A: There is so much in the public domain. Kejriwal had come out with so much material facts about Gujarat Gas. He had held a press conference in Delhi in December 2012 along with Prashant Bhushan. Some journalist friend like you asked him (Kejriwal) who gave this information. Such question is never asked. Maybe it was a planted question. And the joker said Sanjiv Bhatt. He should have never said that. I don’t mind that.
Q: He should have protected the source?
A: I care two hoots. I started doubting his intentions when he said that. But there is so much in the public domain.
Q: Is Modi the apt choice for PM?
A: It will be the darkest day in India’s history if a fascist like Modi occupies the chair of the prime minister of this country.
Q: Is there confusion in the youth regarding Modi?
A: My dear friend, you are misled. You are fallen to the propaganda of the fascist machinery. That is what they are best at. Please study the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich about Hitler’s Nazi Germany. It is exactly what’s happening. Please also make connection between 27 February 2002 and 27 February 1930. That is how Hitler consolidated his hold on the Germans through the Reichstag fire. Doesn’t it ring true in the case of this gentleman, Modi?