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07 October 2011

Sanjiv Bhatt’s arrest unstitches wounds of Gujarat Riots 2002

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The vindictive agenda being pursued by the Gujarat government is once again reflected in the arrest of whistleblower police officer Sanjiv Bhatt. The 1988 batch IPS officer has accused Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi of complicity in the 2002 communal riots.

Bhatt was arrested following a complaint filed by KD Pant, who worked as a subordinate with Bhatt in the state Intelligence Bureau. According to Pant's complaint, Bhatt had forced him to file an affidavit in which Modi had been named as accused.

The specific reasons cited against Bhatt were unauthorized absence of duty, non-appearance before a departmental panel and alleged misuse of official vehicle.
The Narendra Modi government had ordered the suspension of Bhatt on August 8, 2011 on the grounds that his conduct was unbecoming of an IPS officer.

This was because Bhatt had handed over, about 600 pages of documents to the Central Bureau of Investigation which could incriminate several politicians, police officers and bureaucrats for their active connivance in engineering the riots of 2002, whose countless victims are still struggling for justice.

On September 27, 2011, Bhatt filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court, alleging that Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the former Minister of State for Home, Amit Shah had repeatedly sought to pressurize him to withdraw his report and destroy the evidence he had placed on record regarding the murder of former minister Haren Pandya.

Mr. Bhatt in the affidavit said; I was removed from the post of Superintendent of Police in-charge of the Sabarmati central jail and was kept without a posting for over two-and-a-half months for not withdrawing my report the very important documentary evidences regarding the role of certain highly placed State functionaries/politicians and senior police officers in the killing of Haren Pandya.

Earlier, a youth from Hyderabad was arrested on murder charges with allegations that some riot victims had hired him to murder Pandya, who is believed to have played an active role in the communal program against the Muslims. The trial court had acquitted the youth for lack of evidences.

As the Haren Pandya murder case remains unsolved, Mr. Bhatt's claim of possessing documentary evidence that would point to his killers is crucial piece of evidence to solve this murder mystery.

Bhatt had earlier courted the Modi administration's disapproval by disclosing his presence at the meeting where Chief Minister Narendra Modi directed law enforcement officers to "allow the Hindus to vent their ire on the Muslims."

Although Modi's complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom has been documented by several independent human rights groups, this was the first time a state functionary had come forward with direct evidence of Modi's involvement in the pogroms of 2002 that resulted in the massacre of 3000 Muslims.

Bhatt's affidavit in the Supreme Court has alleged that the 2002 riots took place with Modi's tacit approval. He had also accused Modi of asking cops to ignore calls for help from Muslims during the riots. He alleged that SIT probe details on riots cases were leaked to a top law officer of the state government.

Against this backdrop, Sanjiv Bhatt's arrest by the Gujarat government and the harassment of his family by repeated raids on his home, amounts to a witch-hunt that raises dubious questions about the government's motives.

Even social crusader Anna Hazare has come out in support of Sanjiv Bhatt. Hazare castigating the move to arrest Bhatt has said; 'What was the need for the state government to interfere and arrest Bhatt when the Supreme Court was fully aware of the matter. What Narendra Modi has done is wrong; It is not good for democracy in the country.'

The Gujarat government's alacrity in arresting Bhatt stands in stark contrast to its criminal inaction against police officers who have been charged with complicity in the riots. It is equally remarkable that barely any arrests or convictions have happened in over 2000 cases filed by the victims of the 2002 massacres.

The irony that some like Babu Bajrangi, Haresh Bhatt and Ramesh Dave who have confessed killing hundreds of people in sting operations, that was telecast to the entire nation, are still at large. Whereas, whistleblower officers like Sanjiv Bhatt, Rahul Sharma and R. B. Sreekumar and human rights activists Teesta Setalvad and Shakeel Tirmizi have been subject to arrests and intimidation on dubious charges.

This is not all, former Minister of State for Home Amit Shah, who was arrested on charges of running extortion and a fake encounter killing racket is currently out on bail. The fact that Amit Shah was the Minister of State for a portfolio held by Modi himself, and the Gujarat government's repeated but failed attempts to protect him are clear evidences of the government's dubious role towards law and order.

Added to it is the case of the former head of Gujarat ATS (Anti-Terrorist Squad) D G Vanzara who is serving his time in jail on charges of fake encounters. Vanzara's closeness to Modi once made him the most powerful police official in the state.
Still more, Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Modi government was forced to resign after her arrest on charges of inciting and arming a communal mob that slaughtered and burnt alive 98 Muslims during the 2002 riots.

The fact is that Maya's mentor was Narendra Modi who kept her in his cabinet until the findings of the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court made her a political liability.

It may be prudent that the CBI should conduct a full-scale investigation into the allegations made by Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt against Narendra Modi and other state functionaries. The probe should be without any regard to the status and position of the people he has implicated.

One hopes that despite the active subversion of justice and intimidation of activists and whistleblowers by the state government, the long arm of the law will catch up with the perpetrators of the pogroms of 2002.

It is the Gujarat government's dismal record in upholding the rule of law that should serve as a context in which Bhatt's arrest.

It is clearly part of a pattern of vendetta against whistleblowers and human rights activists. The Gujarat government's sinister pattern of complicity and deceit are apparent in the arrest of Sanjiv Bhatt.

It’s high time that the Gujarat government should eschew the sectarian agenda that have marked Mr. Modi's 10 years as Chief Minister. The Prime Minister-in-making has lots of wounds to heal.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

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