Monday, March 12, 2012

‘We will not let it happen again'

Interview with Sanjiv Bhatt, suspended Gujarat-cadre IPS officer.

SANJIV BHATT, the Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Gujarat cadre who was suspended from service, has played a critical role in the Zakia Jafri and Gulberg Society riot cases of 2002 relating to, among other things, the murder of former Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri (Zakia's husband) and 68 others.

Bhatt has been at the receiving end since his explosive declaration that he was present at a meeting on February 27, 2002, where Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi reportedly did not react to the anticipated communal violence alerts and instead told his close aides and the police that they should be “indifferent” and let Hindus “vent their anger”. Old cases against Bhatt were raked up. He was suspended, arrested and eventually let out on bail.

Bhatt has consistently maintained that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has suppressed and, perhaps, even destroyed crucial evidence. He has also said that he can prove that the carnage was a conspiracy and not a spontaneous reaction as Modi claims.

The SIT has tried hard to deflect his testimony, he says. Yet, Bhatt says, he will do whatever it takes to bring the perpetrators of the Gujarat carnage to book even at the cost of his career. On the eve of the SIT presenting its closure report on the Zakia Jafri case, Bhatt spoke to Frontline about the case and his role in it.

If you were at the meeting on February 27, 2002, and were privy to all the facts that could incriminate Chief Minister Narendra Modi, why did you not speak up earlier?

I am a police officer and at that time was with the State intelligence bureau. When the riots took place, I was the designated nodal officer for sharing intelligence with various Central agencies and the armed forces of the country. We are privy to a lot of confidential information and sensitive data. We cannot volunteer information unless we are summoned by a court of law or a body with legal status. I cannot speak unless I am called. Everyone in Gujarat, including the investigators, knew what I stood for post-2002 [riots]. I was able to give my testimony in April 2009 when I was called by the SIT in connection with the Zakia Jafri case as she had named me as a witness.

After you got an opportunity to speak, the floodgates opened. Could you tell us what has happened since?

When Zakia Jafri named me as a witness in her case to prosecute Modi for the 69 killings at Gulberg Society, I got my window to reveal the information I had.

The SIT investigating her case summoned me several times – the first was in November 2009. The most recent was [in] March 2011. However, there were certain disquieting aspects and inadequacies in the manner and approach of the SIT personally experienced by me during my interaction with the SIT. One of these was real-time leakage of my deposition. Some of the matter appeared in a well-known weekly. I have always kept all the matter spoken with the SIT confidential, so somebody was leaking the information. The other was that my case was [relating to] Zakia Jafri's, but the SIT began investigating me for the Meghaninagar case [Gulberg Society] under the Code of Criminal Procedure [CrPC].

The Zakia case encompassed the larger conspiracy. So when I began to explain the larger conspiracy, they said I could not [do so] because the Meghaninagar case did not include this.

In April 2011, I filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court providing the factual information on the difficulties I faced with the SIT and submitting my concerns and apprehensions. This included the harassment meted out to K.D. Pant, a constable whom I had named as a witness to the February 27, 2002, meeting.

I was suspended in August 2011. In September 2011, I was arrested on the allegation of forcing K.D. Pant to file a false affidavit against Modi. I was released on bail on October 17, 2011.

You have repeatedly said that you have no faith in the SIT. What are your comments on the “clean chit” it is apparently giving Modi?

Yes, absolutely. The SIT is pursuing [its] investigation with a preconceived line. I don't trust R.K. Raghavan [SIT chief] or the team at all. Under the stewardship of Raghavan, the SIT has not been able to discharge its duties in a fair and just manner. He is a highly influential person in Gujarat. While my affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court clearly details all the discrepancies, I have also gone on record in the media saying that the SIT is concealing and destroying crucial evidence. They are not providing access to log books, documents and message registers. These should be kept in safe custody – which is not what the SIT is.

There is no question of a clean chit anywhere. Modi has to be prosecuted. There is substantial direct as well as overwhelming circumstantial evidence to establish his alleged complicity in the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002.

Could you tell us about the February 27, 2002, meeting and the issue on the fax?

I was in the intelligence [bureau] at the time. We had met Modi twice on February 27, 2002. By the second meeting the Gulberg Society massacre had begun. Numerous situation reports and alert messages were reaching the Chief Minister's office. I had even sent a fax [a copy of which Frontline has in its possession] alerting Modi to the anticipated communal violence. Modi was not interested. Instead he asked [about] past instances where Ehsan Jafri had supposedly opened fire on Hindus during earlier communal riots in Ahmedabad.

How do you plan to take the battle forward? What are your demands now?

We are asking for due process of law. Zakia Jafri is asking to arraign Modi. If you are not guilty, then allow the law to take its course.

I have also told the SIT that my statement should be recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. It has to be legally binding.

It has been 10 years since the riots. Do you see justice in sight?

The wheels of justice grind slowly. We will ensure they keep grinding. We will not let 2002 happen again. The perpetrators will be exposed. The SIT's investigations have been a subversion of justice.

Gujarat is notorious for police encounters. As a police officer, what are your views on this?

The encounters expose this man's [Modi's] mask. Unfortunately, we have a weak Prime Minister, and coalition politics does not allow harsh decisions.

The Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter case could have nailed Modi. Similarly, the Haren Pandya murder was a classic case where a deeper probe would have revealed a larger conspiracy.

In the past decade, Modi has attempted to move away from the saffron agenda. He is very popular with the corporate sector. Your views on this.

The bigger picture here is that Modi is a liability for the BJP at the national level. They cannot use him as a mascot, but the party needs the money he has. Modi is able to bring in funds the way no other politician in the party can.

Corporates like to deal with autocratic governments, that is why they like Modi. He is also guaranteed to be at the helm because of the lack of an opponent, so it makes sense for them to invest in him.

After all, he will be around for another decade at least. Unfortunately, some significant corporate houses have started singing his praises and are contributing to his war chest. This is shocking.


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