By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Irrespective of the legal turns and time that the case of suspended police officer Sanjeev Bhatt takes, related developments have once again brought several crucial issues to the forefront. The most important of these is the role of politicians and police during the 2002 Gujarat-carnage. Bhatt was arrested last month (September 30) for apparently daring to accuse Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the carnage that is viewed as a dark page in Indian history of secularism. Bhatt has been accused of allegedly forcing his junior, a police constable, K.D. Pant to file a false affidavit in support of his claim that he attended the February 2002 meeting, during which Modi allegedly asked the police to go slow against the rioters. This meeting was held on February 27, 2002 just hours after burning of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra.
Bhatt is not the first police officer to have taken a stand against Modi governmentâ€™s role during the 2002-phase, when Muslims were brutally targeted by right-winged, extremist elements. Several officers, who took a similar stand earlier, were transferred and/or suspended and adverse entries were made in their annual confidential reports. The state government suspended Bhatt on August 8 on charges of misconduct and for going on leave without official sanction. The hard truth, however, is that Bhatt claimed this year in April that he was present at the meeting (February 27, 2002) when police had been asked to be â€œsoftâ€ towards rioters by Modi. Bhatt apparently is being taken to task by state government for raising his voice against the role of Modi and his associates in 2002.
Without deliberating on role of Modi government during Gujarat-carnage, which has never been a closely guarded secret, Bhattâ€™s arrest demands focus on the role of policemen. Bhattâ€™s arrest and shunting of few other police officers who have tried to dutifully live up to their responsibilities and respect for the Indian Constitution raises the question:– Do politicians such as Modi expect the state police to be guided by what they dictate? In such cases, what happens to their commitment towards the Constitution, the security of the people and spirit of Indian secularism?
Legally, the state government and police are expected to provide security to the people. Had they really showed some respect towards their official commitment, the Gujarat-carnage may have never taken place. This also implies that the role of Modi, his government, saffron brigade and the police, who followed the formerâ€™s command during the Gujarat-carnage was equivalent to violating the countryâ€™s constitutional spirit and the legal system. By taking law into their own hands, they virtually violated and abused the law, by letting rioters target the Muslims.
Against this backdrop, if Bhatt is trying his hand at seeking legal help against those responsible for inciting Gujarat-carnage, he certainly cannot be accused of committing any crime. Even if Bhatt was not a police officer, as an Indian citizen, he has the right to seek legal help, to ensure action against those allegedly responsible for inciting and encouraging communal violence against Muslims. But his arrest suggests that state government is still bent on abusing the legal system.
Sadly, the Modi government and all police officers are not as conscientious about their legal duties and responsibilities as Bhatt, several activists and others give the impression of being. It still cannot be forgotten that in 2002, quite a number of policemen posted in Gujarat chose to act at the apparent command of Modi government. They remained mute, turned their backs and symbolically kept their eyes closed as extremists brutally targeted Muslims. This definitely demands paying greater attention to negligence shown by the state government and the police in 2002. By going â€œslowâ€ and being â€œsoftâ€ towards rioters, as allegedly commanded by Modi, the police remained passive supporters of communal elements indulging in riotous behavior.
Against this backdrop, some attention must be paid to tension having gripped India last year in September. There prevailed the apprehension that a judicial decision over Ayodhya-case may provoke communal fire in the nation. However, the governments at the center and states, particularly Uttar Pradesh played a responsible role in not allowing any communal tension to simmer. Equal credit must be given to police for keeping a strict watch and prevent any tension from taking form of communal violence. They played the role they are constitutionally bound to.
Certainly, had similar responsibility been displayed in Gujarat, the communal carnage could have been avoided. However, as is well known, the political intention behind the gruesome tragedy was to provoke the same. Officers like Bhatt are playing their part in revealing the facts they apparently are aware of. Bhattâ€™s decision followed by his arrest has also made his colleagues question the action taken against him by the Modi government. The Gujarat Police Officersâ€™ Association has expressed its support for Bhatt. In an emergency meeting, held earlier this month, 35 members of this association passed a resolution to support Bhatt. Three members visited Bhattâ€™s residence and conveyed their support to his wife. This move is viewed as first one to be taken in defiance of actions taken by Modi against police officers who have raised their voice, legally, against his governmentâ€™s role in Gujarat-carnage. Clearly, the police officers are against being used as pawns by the likes of Modi. It is hoped that the move taken by Bhatt and his supporters will prove to be an effective warning and prevent further abuse of the countryâ€™s law and order system.