With the sentencing of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt to imprisonment for life, a chapter in the vilification campaign unleashed against then Chief Minister of Gujarat and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ended ― albeit not in connection with a related case. Bhatt was part of the campaign in project the four-month-old chief minister ― Modi was sent to Gujarat for the job in October 2001 and the riots broke out in February 2002 ― where outrageously impossible claims like deployment of the Army three days after the riots broke out were made, with their logic being that 1 March arrives three days after 28 February! On his part, Bhatt echoed the sentiment of Modi’s detractors by claiming he was a part of a meeting of the then chief minister with top police officers of the State, where the chief political executive of Gujarat was alleged to have told the cops to go soft on rioters. It turned out in the course of the investigation into Bhatt’s allegation that he was too junior to have attended that meeting and, more importantly, his call records showed he was not even present in Gandhinagar, where the meeting took place in the CMO, on 27 February, in the first place.
But Bhatt has been convicted now for causing a death in judicial custody. While Prabhudas Vaishnani, one of the 150 people arrested for suspected rioting on 30 October 1990, died in a hospital after he had to be released because no evidence could be found against him, the Jamnagar court of sessions judge DN Vyas found enough incriminating proof against Bhatt that established that his actions, along with those of his accomplices (primarily constable Pravinsinh Zala and secondarily sub-inspectors Dipak Shah, Sailesh Pandya, constables Pravinsih Jadeja, Anopsinh Jethva and Keshubha Jadeja) led to the death of Vaishnani. The 30-year old case predates the time when Modi wielded considerable power in Gujarat, in case one smells vendetta while also casting aspersions on the court. And this was hardly the only shady part of Bhatt’s chequered career. Earlier, he was arrested and jailed in connection with a narcotics case: Palanpur drug planting. There, he allegedly framed a lawyer while on duty as the Banaskantha DCP after failing to extort money from his target. Even this case dates back to 1998 when Modi was hibernating, sandwiched between feuding Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela and squeezed out of Gujarat.
Regardless of the merits of the other cases Bhatt is contending with, an officer who gets embroiled in serious controversies barely two years after joining the force (1988) can be safely assumed to be not-so-clean in the discharge of his responsibilities. But if there were to be an iota of credibility in his diatribes against Modi, he squandered it away by joining the Congress. Bhatt joined the dubious club of several other cops in the country who did the bidding for the then UPA government to turn cases in pre-meditated directions to build an image of Hindus being a violent race of rioters, murderers, rapists, looters and terrorists. Many of them stood royally exposed in the past five years on national television as well as print, as their colleagues and deputies began singing when the pressure of the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh regime disappeared and the likes of P Chidambaram or Sushilkumar Shinde no longer manned the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The existence of rogue policemen like Bhatt in the system, who either do the government’s bidding or become a law unto themselves calls for reforms in law enforcement. Unfortunately, no political party after assuming power wants to let go of this formidable tool of power. Strangely, even as chief secretaries appear before the Supreme Court in one hearing after another to furnish excuses for not implementing the order of the Prakash Singh vs Union of India case, the apex court does not press contempt charges against any State. Like the IAS, the IPS remains a force that maintains the difference between the rulers and the ruled, which is an anathema in a democracy. If at least one State gives its police autonomy, it can begin developing into a model province. That too will just be a start and not an end in itself, as switching from the IG-SP system to the commissariat will at best change the force to something like Delhi Police. Further reforms will be needed to free the force from political interference of the Home Ministry as well ― so that the deliberate narratives like ‘Hindu terror’ that were built by SITs at the behest of home ministers are avoided in the future.