Above: Prime Minister, Narendra Modi interacting with the IPS Officer Trainees of 2016 batch, in New Delhi on November 8, 2017/Photo: ddnews.gov.in
By R K Misra
Ever since Narendra Modi took power in Gujarat in 2001 and consolidated his hold through the 2002 statewide communal riots that followed the Godhra train carnage, his governance has followed a simple dictum. An ally can do no wrong and a detractor can do no right. This applied to those within his party who did not tow his line like former union textile minister Kashiram Rana, former chief minister Suresh Mehta and former minister late Haren Pandya to opposition leaders Shankersinh Vaghela and Congress leaders or their supporters who found themselves embroiled in cases.
It was the same with the bureaucracy. Carrots for those carrying out dictats and the stick for those who demurred. Favourites—both IAS and IPS—over 13 time tested years of Modi rule in Gujarat flocked to Delhi in 2014 after their former boss moved into Race Course Road. Interestingly chief minister Modi had fended off Manmohan Singh when the then Prime Minister had sought the services of a particular Gujarat cadre lady officer for the PMO, saying that he was short of good officers in Gujarat. After he moved to Delhi, there were at one point over 50 officers-serving and retired from Gujarat doing duty at the centre.
Take the case of former IPS officer D G Vanzara who figures in numerous cases of alleged fake encounters carried out by the police during Modi’s tenure. In the bulk of these cases, Pakistan based terrorist outfits were conspiring to assassinate the then Gujarat chief minister. In early May, Vanzara and N K Amin became free birds after they were discharged in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case after the Gujarat government refused to grant sanction to the CBI to prosecute them. And thereby hangs a tale.
Special CBI court judge J K Pandya discharged the former DIG and Amin, his former superintendent of police in the case involving the killing of 19 year old Mumbai college girl Ishrat Jahan, Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjadali Akhbarali Rana and Zeeshan Johar by the Gujarat police on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on June 15, 2004. The police had claimed they were terrorists out to kill the then chief minister Narendra Modi.
Apparently the change of guard at the centre with the chief minister of the state assuming charge as prime minister in 2014 also seemed to have played some role in the shifting stance of the prosecuting agency. In the first charge-sheet filed by the CBI in 2013, seven Gujarat police officers including IPS officers PP Pandey, Vanzara and Singhal were named as accused but the change of government at the centre a year later also brought about changes in the fortunes of the officers arraigned in the case. First DGP, PP Pandey was discharged and now Vanzara and Amin.
First the CBI said there was ample evidence to prosecute the two but thereafter it refused to take a stand on the plea of the two officers seeking discharge. In his submission before the special judge CBI lawyer RC Kodekar had stated that the court may pass appropriate order in accordance with the law. The Court had also permitted Shamima Kauser, the mother of Ishrat Jahan to file a reply opposing the application of the two cops. Interestingly on August 7, 2018, the court had rejected the discharge applications of the two officers and sought to know from the CBI whether it had sought government sanction to prosecute them to enable the court to frame charges.
Kauser through her lawyer Vrinda Grover said that the plea for dropping of proceedings were “untenable under law and unsustainable on facts” and that the state was not the appropriate authority to refuse sanction to prosecute the two. It is the union ministry of Home which is the sanctioning authority, she argued.
That the Supreme Court had to step in to ensure justice for the 2002 riot victims in the face of the apathy of the Modi government and the police under it’s control is now a documented fact. The Court is on record that Vanzara-Amin go away scot free because the government did not sanction their prosecution. The very same government is hounding those officers who honoured their constitutional obligations, in many cases under court directions. Take SP Tamang. Even in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, the Ahmedabad magistrate was the first to conclude that the encounter was fake. However the Modi government in Gujarat appealed the order in the High Court. Tamang was proved right when a Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the Gujarat High Court had later concluded that the encounter was fake after which the High Court had transferred the case to the CBI.
Interestingly Vanzara is a common thread that runs through many alleged fake encounter cases during Narendra Modi’s 13 year plus rule of the state. In yet another coincidence, almost all of these encounters were carried out by the cops to neutralize operatives of Pakistan-based terrorist groups out to assassinate chief minister Modi and in a couple of cases, the then deputy prime minister L K Advani.
Modi taking over as Prime Minister in May 2014 and Amit Shah, as party chief two months later also marked a turning point in most of these cases. Shah, Modi’s minister of state for Home in Gujarat himself had been arraigned in the alleged fake encounter killing of smalltime gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh his wife kauserbi and onetime associate Tulsiram Prajapati. The charges against him were dropped in December 2014. Simultaneously, Gujarat Police officers, including senior IPS officers who were behind bars in most of the encounter cases have either been freed or are out on bail while those who had deigned to serve the cause of the law, are now facing the might of the establishment.
Ironies abound .On December 20,2018 , Rajnish Rai, the 1992 batch IPS officer ,Gujarat cadre who probed the Sohrabuddin alleged fake encounter case and arrested his three compatriot officers was suspended for seeking voluntary retirement and quitting his post. A day later, the CBI court acquitted all the 22 accused police officers and men involved in the case, D G Vanzara, the main officer arrested by Rai and declared innocent by the court claimed that but for the “genuine encounters” Gujarat would have been turned into another Kashmir. The verdict has been appealed in the Bombay High Court. A fallout of the case has been the plea in the supreme court for re-opening the Haren Pandya murder case investigations after a witness named Gujarat police officers as complicit in his elimination.
Rai has paid a heavy price for the arrest .Within days of Modi assuming charge as Prime minister in 2014, Rai was shunted out as Security chief to the Uranium Corporation of india and posted to Jharkhand. After he unravelled irregularities and reported to the CVC in his new posting, he was transferred to the CRPF in the north-eastern part of the country. On March 30, 2017, the courageous officer filed a report questioning the March 30, 2017 encounter in Assam’s Chirang district in which two militants were killed and concluded that a fictitious account of the operation had been filed to conceal pre-planned murder of two persons already in custody. As was wont to be, Rai found himself transferred as Inspector general of Police , Counter Insurgency and Anti-terrorism School at Chittoor. His plea for voluntary retirement was rejected and he has been suspended for leaving his headquarters.
Satish Verma, another senior IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre who earned the wrath of the Modi establishment in Gujarat when he investigated the Ishrat Jahan case under High Court orders and helped it establish that it was a fake encounter, is also paying for his sincerity. Immediately after Modi took over in Delhi, Verma was posted out as vigilance officer of the North-Eastern Electric Power Corporation(NEEPCO), Shillong. Not one to sit quiet, Verma submitted a report to the CBI and the union power ministry alleging over Rs 400 crore corruption in construction of dams in the Kameng hydroelectric project. Instead of being lauded for detecting corruption, he was pulled up for unauthorised absence’ and transferred to Agartala. There were attempts at intimidating his family which stays in the high security government officers complex when somebody broke into the flat when his daughter was alone. The Gujarat government also did not make things easier by serving notice to vacate the government accommodation forcing him to seek the intervention of the High Court. His ordeal is nowhere near over as he continues to battle his own establishment.
Then there is the case of Rahul Sharma, the 1992 batch IPS officer of Gujarat who quit the service in 2015 following a series of run-ins with the state government after he submitted a CD containing crucial call records related to the 2002 communal riots to the Nanavati -Shah judicial inquiry Commission set up to probe the Godhra train carnage and the statewide communal riots that followed. Sharma was the district police chief of Bhavnagar during the 2002 riots and had prevented attack on a muslim place of worship for which he was summarily transferred and posted to the control room in Ahmedabad. Just for the record, he was joined into the investigations of the 2002 riots but his collating of call records data on the date of the riots in Ahmedabad and submission to the Nanavati-Shah judicial inquiry commission was a bombshell and thereafter he was a marked man. After his voluntary retirement, the Gujarat government instituted departmental proceedings against him. Harrassment under one pretext or the other continues.
Another IPS officer of Gujarat Sanjeev Bhatt, of the 1988 batch who dared to go against the Modi establishment in the state is facing its wrath ever since. He shot into public glare after filing an affidavit in the supreme court against the then chief minister Modi concerning his role in the 2002 riots. He had stated that he had attended a meeting during which the chief minister allegedly asked top officials to let hindus vent their anger. However the SIT constituted by the apex court concluded that Bhatt was not present at the meeting and dismissed his plea.
In the period thereafter the state pulled out a 23 year old case in which as the then SP of Banaskantha district he is alleged to have framed a Rajasthan based lawyer in a drug planting case to evict him from a shop in Pali town of Rajasthan. Bhatt was arrested last year and continues to be behind bars while fighting for bail with the Gujarat government determinedly opposing it.
Even worse is the plight of senior IAS officer Pradeep Sharma, who fell foul of the Modi establishment in Gujarat and has been facing case after case since 2010. Such seems to be angst against this officer that no sooner he manages to get bail in a case after battling right upto the apex court, he finds himself facing arrest in another. He is facing nearly ten cases. During his judicial custody, he was even denied interim bail for attending his son’s wedding. There have been repeated thefts at his Gandhinagar residence. He may have spent over three years in jail in different offences lodged by the CID (crime), Gujarat police and the enforcement department. In February, no sooner did the supreme court turn down the ED’s plea for cancellation of his bail in an alleged money laundering case, he was arrested by the anti-corruption bureau of the Gujarat police from the gate of the Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad.
The BJP government’s approach to issues of corruption is best reflected in the plight of Anil Patel, an additional secretary in the rural development department of the Gujarat government. The whistleblower officer had spoken of rampant corruption in Pavitra yatradam development board which oversees the development of religious places like Dwarka and Somnath. Patel had raised the issue in writing within the government. However when the matter came in public domain through a video clip of a conversation between the officer and an activist, the chief minister promptly transferred and subsequently suspended him. The officer has gone on record standing by his assertion prepared to even prove it in a court of law. This is not the first time for Patel. In the past too during his postings with other departments he had been penalized for whistleblowing but the government was forced to withdraw and restore his promotion. The clip speaks of how the cost of a development project which was around Rs 78 crores was jacked upto Rs 125 crores after the officer was transferred out.
Apparently a simple rule guides the political establishment in power. Clearly, there are carrots galore for those who comply, and sticks unlimited for those who defy!