Gujarat

Sanjiv Bhatt sacked

Print edition : September 18, 2015

Sanjiv Bhatt. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

GUJARAT police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the 2002 riots in the State, was dismissed from service on August 20. He had been suspended from service in 2011 for unauthorised absence from duty. Bhatt had been a thorn in Modi’s side ever since he revealed “explosive information” that could perhaps hold the Prime Minister culpable for the 2002 communal pogrom.

Bhatt told the media that he was removed on the basis of a “sham inquiry and fabricated charges”. Two days before the dismissal, he was charged by the State of having an extramarital affair and for being involved in an alleged sex video. Bhatt, obviously, denies both.

The beleaguered police officer told Frontline after he was sacked: “The timing coincides with my writ petition (Criminal) 135 of 2011, which has come up for hearing before the Supreme Court, as well as the hearing of the Zakia Jafri matter that is currently going on in the Gujarat High Court.” As the news filtered out he said: “Finally removed from service today after serving 27 years in the Indian Police Service. Once again eligible for employment. :) Any takers?” Essentially, the police officer claims that he was present at a late-evening meeting on February 27, 2002, where Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister, told top bureaucrats and police officials that they should be “indifferent” and let Hindus “vent their anger”. Fifty-seven Ayodhya kar sevaks were burnt to death earlier that day in a coach on the Sabarmati Express which was set alight near the Godhra station.

The next day Gujarat witnessed the most horrific communal riots in India’s recent history. Official estimates peg the death toll at 800, but it is widely believed that the number of deaths, and of those injured, raped or missing were in thousands. Not to forget the looting, arson and displacement across the State.

It took Bhatt close to seven years to tell the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that he was privy to this information. In an interview to Frontline he said: “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 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.”

Set up by the Supreme Court to probe the riot cases, the SIT rejected Bhatt’s testimony. Apart from being witness to Modi’s complicity, he said he had proof that he had alerted Modi to the possibility of communal violence and that Modi deliberately ignored the note. The Gujarat government categorically denied Bhatt’s charges.

In fact, he faced several setbacks. An officer whose car he had used to go to the meeting venue denied that Bhatt used the vehicle. The police constable accompanying Bhatt alleged that he was forced to sign the affidavit. The only person who stood by him and said he was at the meeting was the driver of the official car. Whether Bhatt was present at that meeting is still to be proved.

In April 2011, Bhatt filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court providing factual information on the difficulties he faced with the SIT, alleging that a mole within the SIT had leaked information to the Gujarat government. In August 2011, he was suspended for unauthorised absence from duty, for not appearing before an inquiry committee and for using his official car while not on duty. In September 2011, he was arrested on the charge of forcing a constable to file a false affidavit against Modi. He was eventually released on bail in October 2011.

In addition to the Supreme Court case, Bhatt has filed an affidavit with the National Commission of Minorities (NCM) asking it to initiate action against the SIT for incorrectly recording his statements or tweaking them to give a clean chit to Modi. He also charged the SIT with protecting powerful people.

During his suspension, Bhatt worked fervently on the Zakia Jafri case. He has also been fighting cases which accuse him of torturing and killing people in custody. Many of these were raked up after he took on Modi. He was also given a “punishment” transfer and no promotions for more than 10 years.

Anupama Katakam

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