Sanjiv Rajendra Bhatt IPS, is a Post Graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and is 1988 Batch Indian Police Service Officer of Gujarat Cadre.
Mr. Bhatt is known for his role in filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India against the Chief Minister of the Government of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, concerning Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Bhatt’s allegation on inaction of police officers upon instruction from Modi was also supported by K. S. Subramanian who was a member of fact finding team led by former Supreme Court Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer. His conclusion was the outcome of his interaction with former Gujarat Police chief Chakravarthy and P.C. Pande, who was then Ahmedabad Police Commissioner.
In a recent development, Hon’ble Gujarat High Court has asked the Gujarat State Government to produce original registers, related to vital intelligence records of 2002 riots, which were destroyed by it. A division bench of High Court comprising of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and J B Pardiwala on Friday asked the state government to produce the original registers from which the records were destroyed.
Mrs. Shweta Sanjiv Bhatt contested the 2012 Gujarat Assembly Elections against Narendra Modi.
Sridhar Prabhu, an Advocate at Karnataka High Court, and Somanath, Advocate at Gujarat HC, met Mr. Bhatt at his residence in Ahmedabad on 19th October, 2013 and had an interaction with him on various subjects. These are the excerpts of that interview.
Q: How are you? Or, if I may ask you, how safe are you, living right amidst the ‘epicenter’?
Sanjiv Bhatt: To be honest, I don’t think about it. The moment you think about all these issues, you focus starts wavering. I do what my conscience says I must do at this moment.
Q: You hold a Masters Degree from IIT Bombay. What made you opt for Civil Services?
A: The craving for purpose and action in life. With my ranking in the UPSC exams, I could have easily opted for any of the All India Services, including Indian Administrative Services (IAS). However, I opted for the Indian Police Service.
Q: You do not seem to be content with your duty as Police Officer. You seem to be under the grip of some ideology or political motive. That’s why perhaps in the Report dated 25th July, 2011of Mr. Raju Ramchandran, the Amicus Curiae, Supreme Court of India said :
“I am conscious of the fact that though Shri Bhatt has been contending that he would speak only when under a legal obligation to do so, his conduct after making his statement under Section 161 of CrPC has not been that of a detached police officer who is content with giving his version….I am left with no doubt that he is actively ‘strategising’, and is in touch with those who would benefit or gain mileage from his testimony.”
A: I agree that am not dispassionate and detached. Given the scale of the Gujarat massacre, one cannot remain dispassionate and detached. I am passionate about Justice. I am passionate about Secularism. I am passionate about Equality before Law. I am passionate about the Unity and Integrity of India. I am passionate about my Constitutional duties and obligations. I also agree that I am involved with a lot of likeminded people who are forwarding the cause of Truth and Justice. People who are incessantly striving to defend Secularism and uphold the Constitution. If that is what is called strategizing, I agree that am strategizing. The Constitution is my religion and constitutionalism is my ideology. And I am proud to say, that I am under the grip of this philosophy and religion called Constitutionalism and NOT “dispassionate” and “detached” in that sense and to that extent.
As an Officer, I am bound to perform my duties without any fear or favour. Constitution is the first article of my faith and I think, I am only doing my duty.
Q: You would agree that including the 1969 Ahmedabad Communal Riots, there have been about 245 documented communal riots since 1950 in Gujarat. In fact, 1969 Riots lasted for about six months. All these happened during the Congress regime. Then, why are you so much over obsessed with 2002 Riots and singularly targeting Modi?
A: I have a faint memory of 1969 Ahmedabad Riots. As a young kid, I used to accompany my mother, a Medical Doctor to her Clinic. My mother used to practice in Maninagar and treated hundreds of riot victims. That is when I saw dead bodies on streets for the first time in my life. I was deeply moved and disturbed.
Now, coming to your question, I agree that Gujarat in general and Ahmedabad in particular, have had a long history of communal riots. But what distinguishes the 2002 Riots, qualitatively and quantitatively, is the role of the political leadership in managing these riots. In the case of 2002, the Police Administration was systematically paralyzed and was made to abdicate its responsibility completely. Why compare this with other riots, even if you carefully study the phenomenon during the first three days of riots and thereafter, you will see a qualitative distinction. For the first three days, the Police was told NOT to act and thereafter there was an attempt to put the Police back into action. Once you consciously inculcate the venom of complicity in to the (Police) Force, it is virtually irreversible. It is like demobilizing a workers troupe in a project work and then trying to remobilize them. The Law of Inertia kicks in.
During the 2002 Riots, the Police Force was not only inert during the Riots, it was also seen to be complicit in destruction of life and property of defenseless Muslim Citizens. This level of State complicity was absolutely unprecedented and was never witnesses during any earlier Riots in Gujarat. Even as we speak, the administrative machinery of Gujarat is in a perpetual state of overdrive in its efforts to subvert the Criminal Justice System in order to shield the CM and other high ranking functionaries from criminal culpability. It is the level of State complicity and the scale of ongoing subversion that distinguishes the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 from other riots.
Q: Do you mean to say, the political system and the Police never took sides during any of the earlier riots?
A: I never said that. You see, our Police come from our own society. So, all the prejudices, intolerance’ found in our society are to be found in our Police also. It is but natural. It is the duty of the Police Leadership to ensure that these prejudices do not get reflected in the discharge of their duties as Police Officers. Till 2002, the Police Leadership was hardly ever complicit during communal riots. Police Leadership never abdicated its responsibility to this extent and to these dangerous proportions. In the 2002 Riots, it was the Police Leadership, which turned out to be pliable and abdicated its lawful obligation and role. Any uniformed force, anywhere in the world, is as good or bad as it leaders. In 2002, the Police leadership look the other way when inspired mobs were systematically targeting minority pockets across Gujarat. The Police Force also followed suit. The Police Leadership chose to condone the inaction of the Police Force. This, to my mind, was grossly unprofessional and such abdication is absolutely unpardonable. This tragedy was bound to happen. I don’t know if you have ever done Horse Riding. Whatever be its resistance level, the horse has to be trained and has to be taught that you are the master. The moment you cease exercising control and abdicate your mastership, the Horse tends to go his own way, and that is very poor horsemanship. The same logic that works while commanding a Force. Whatever be the individual frailties and prejudices of police personnel at the ground levels, the leadership has to act sternly and without prejudice.
While dealing with Public unrest or Riotous situations, almost always, the Police is accused of committing excesses. I am not justifying Police excesses, but, I would say, excesses, to some extent can be condoned while dealing with emergent situations. But in no case, one can tolerate inaction and complicity while protecting the life and property of citizens. In fact, complicity of the Police towards a crime is worse than crime per se. This is what I have explained in my affidavit filed before the Supreme Court.
Q: Don’t you think, it is time we moved ahead from the dark past and made a new beginning? How long do you wish to continue with this fixation called Godhra, Modi and riots?
A: It is precisely this attitude that bothers me. If the perpetrators of Gujarat violence should be pardoned, then, all terrorists and criminals who waged war against India should also be pardoned. The hidden sentiment behind pardoning the past is nothing but a tacit approval of the heinous crimes committed under the aegis of the State. Would you not agree that Narendra Modi, today, is much more than an individual? He’s a phenomenon. He is a sinister reflection of the dark side within us – which tells us:
“I don’t want to participate in riots but if riots happen and THEY are killed, I would be secretively happy. I don’t want to kill but if someone kills, I am deeply contended!”
It is this mentality of secretively rejoicing a fellow Indian’s death that is more bothering to me than anything. Modis will come Modis will go. One party may get elected the other may get defeated but our mindset that makes us secretly rejoice killings of our own countrymen is more perturbing. What we, conveniently forget is, if violence against Muslims in Gujarat was justified, then, violence against Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan is also to be justified. If our nationhood is defined and characterized by our madness for killing a fellow citizen, then, where are we heading?
Then, tell me, should the guilty be punished or not? Should they guilty of the carnage be pardoned and left free? If punishing the guilty is fixation, then, I am for fixation. I firmly believe that punishing the masterminds behind the 2002 Carnage is the only means of ensuring that such pogroms do not recur in our country.
Q: Do you not agree that politics of appeasement has contributed its bit for this situation? Why should a Secular State unduly favour a particular community?
A: I hate those who term the legitimate protection accorded to minorities as appeasement. Protecting minority rights and conferring special status to them is not just a Constitutional obligation, but is the bounden duty under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Let those talking about the so called appeasement make their stand clear on what is their stand on the Constitutional provisions and international legal obligation. More importantly, let them clarify, whether they want the Hindu minorities in rest of the World to be protected?
Q: No Court so far has convicted Modi. Why not you allow the law to take its own course? Why do you want to prejudge the issue before the competent courts decide it?
A: As I said, my only “fixation” is to bring the guilty to books. Do you think, if one did not wage a legal battle and allowed the State Government of Gujarat to decide its own course, justice would have prevailed?
One would have been extremely happy if law had taken its rightful course. But alas! It is not happening. The civil society had to step into the arena to see that cases are registered against the criminals. When State is involved in the sponsorship of a crime, what justice can you expect? The State is judging its own cause. There is unique nexus between the prosecutor and the prosecuted! That’s why a proactive action is the need of hour. Reminds me of a very profound couplet from a Nazm by Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
“Baney hain ahel-e-hawas muddai bhi, munsif bhi
Kise wakil karen, kis-se munsifi chahen”
“Facing those power-crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder
To whom does one turn for defense, from whom does one expect justice?”
Q: Now, let us accept that Modi and his politics are responsible for the carnage. In what way Congress or its politics is better? Way back in May, 2006, the delegation led by Maulana Qari Mohammad Usman, President of Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, submitted a memorandum to Sonia Gandhi listing out the names and particulars of about twenty five Congress leaders, who, they say, were directly involved in the Gujarat carnage. No action seems to have been taken by Congress against their leaders? So, what is the difference between the two then?
A: Firstly, let me clarify, I am an apolitical person and not a member or supporter of Congress and its politics. I strongly feel Congress has gradually moved away from its prime edifice philosophy of aggressive Secularism. Congress seems to have come very far from the aggressive and assertive Secularism of the Nehruvian Era. Today, Congress is often seen to be pedaling soft on communal and divisive forces. And it has paid a heavy price and will pay a heavier price in the future. Having said this, I also believe that the founding philosophy of the Congress Party is nearest to the idea of India as envisaged by our forefathers. Secularism alone can bring about Unity and Integrity of a diverse society such as ours. Congress has to go back to its roots and reinvent itself in order to act as the binding cement in a heavily fractured pluralistic society like ours.
As far as the comparison between BJP and Congress goes, it is a question of identifying and dealing with the larger evil. Modi and his evil politics are incomparable, unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of India. The country is facing massive threat from very clever fascist forces masquerading in the guise of Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Patriotism. We have to choose and choose wisely. These evil forces need to be countered. Just because the water is impure and adulterated, one cannot shun water during the times of fire.
Q: A common Muslim may today prefer Modi because Modi is more direct and does not mask his mission.
A: How I wish this was to be true! Modi has never tendered any apology and there is no sense of remorse in his eyes and actions. Per Contra, there is a sense of pride. Having said this, I would also like to add that Modi is incredibly clever and is never open or direct about his communal agenda. He masquerades his real intentions under the dubious yet attractive mask of “development”, which is nothing but crony capitalism. This is more dangerous to the secular and democratic fabric of our Nation than anything else. People say, Modi is a creation of APCO. In my opinion, Modi is craftier than one hundred APCOs put together. He is twice as clever as the Devil.
Q: Then, leave Congress and BJP. Why don’t you support Aam Admi Party (AAP) and likeminded parties?
A: Arvind Kejriwal is a good friend of mine and we remain in touch. But of late, I get very disconcerting vibes from him. A person like him, obsessed so much with his own image with no regard for any healthy dissent difference of opinions, has all the makings of an autocrat. At times, his actions betray a proclivity towards the politics of the Sangh Parivar. In fact some common friends even go to suggest that he is acting like the B-Team of the BJP. Hope it does not turn out to be true. There are some very good people in the AAP. I have highest regards and respect for Mr. Prashant Bhushan and Mr. Yogendra Yadav. But slowly AAP is becoming a one man show. Only time will tell.
Q: Ok. Let’s leave aside Congress and AAP. Why not just form an apolitical alternative? Why not just be part of a pressure group. Then, you may get a lot of support from all corners.
A: As I said, I am not a member of any Political Party and am apolitical in that sense. But I guess, your question to me is in the context of my wife, Shweta Bhatt contesting against Modi on a Congress Ticket. Let me tell you, Modi is a creature of Politics and accordingly has to be challenged politically. All political challenges have political solutions. Modi, like all tyrants, thrives on the fear in the hearts and minds of the people. The moment you decide not to be afraid you dispossess him of his most potent weapon. Shweta’s contesting against Modi was to show that there is life beyond the fear of tyrants. She wanted to send a message to society at large that one does not need to be afraid of Modi or his cohorts. She wanted to take on him in his own arena. I do agree that Shweta contesting as an independent candidate would have been ideal but, Congress requested that if they don’t field any candidate, they, the biggest National Party, will be seen as having conceded defeat without a contest. Hence, strategically, Shweta’s contesting on a Congress became a necessity. But, on a personal level, I am no blind supporter of Congress and all its political decisions. As a citizen of this country, I expect the oldest political party to revisit its founding ideology and reinvent itself as a credible answer to the fascist challenge that is threatening to destroy the very fabric of this country. I have had no qualms in criticizing the policies and functioning of the Congress.
Q: You declined to receive the Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar Award as a mark of protest. You did not want to share the honour along with the Sikh riot accused Jagdish Tytler. It is indeed commendable. But then, why did you accept the “Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice for 2012”, despite the fact that there are serious allegations against Mother Theresa that she tried to convert the poor to Catholicism by “stealth”?
A. First of all, let me tell you, I am a practicing Hindu and have faith in God. But my Hinduism is the Hinduism of Gandhi, which respects the other faiths with equal reverence.
Secondly, I do not agree with the suggestion that Mother Theresa ever tried to convert the poor to Catholicism by stealth. In fact, the Missionaries have selflessly reached out to the poorest of the poor. Let those who criticise Christians do 1% of the charitable work in those inhospitable areas. If being deeply touched by this social service, a person in the society wants to change his faith, what is wrong in it? Does our Constitution not provide for it? In fact, given our fractured societal structure, there is an inner urge in the downtrodden to climb up the social ladder and gain social recognition. Hence, there is no point in blaming anyone. There is a need to introspect and free Hinduism from the evil grip of political power-brokers.
As an IPS Officer, I have had the good fortune of working in the Tribal Districts of Gujarat. I have seen for myself the wonderful work done by missionaries in the field of education and healthcare in these far-flung areas.
Q: All said, Gujarat has remained peaceful since 2002. Still, you are obsessed with Modi?
A: First of all, I have to tell you what happened during the Gujarat Riots. After the Godhra incident, the mob that had assembled in the Godhra Railway Station manhandled Modi. He had to rescued and evacuated from the scene. This completely shook Modi to the core. To save his chair, which he had earned with great difficulty and to rescue himself from the internal dissidence, the Post Godhra Riots were engineered. So, the objective was very clear and was structured to address a specific situation in which Modi found himself. Gujarat has been free of major communal conflagrations ever since BJP came to power in Gujarat in the early nineties. The process of communal polarization is complete and therefore Riots have become politically passé.
More importantly, let you give you an illustration. Gujarat has a law called Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, popularly known as the Disturbed Areas Act.
Modi Government recently brought in a new notification under the provisions of the Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, , that controls the transfer of any immovable property in a notified disturbed area. This notification, listing 751 localities of Ahmedabad as disturbed, has brought several new areas of the city under its ambit.
As result, the whole of Ahmedabad lives in a ghetto mode. If everything is normal, as claimed, why this draconian law?
The ostensible purpose of the legislation is to prevent distress sale of property. Now, distress sale is an all India problem. Then, in what way Gujarat is special? That means, Government admits that there is something is wrong with Gujarat and its Political Administration.
If living in such ghettos is normalcy, then, Gujarat is normal. Muslims in Gujarat are sought to be treated as second-rate citizens. Equity has been thrown to the winds. Justice and reparation are still a far cry. Violence has been perfected to an art. Violence can assume many subtle forms. Absence of physical violence is not peace.
Q: About 31% of the Gujarat Muslims seems have voted for Modi. Does it not show normalcy being restored in Gujarat?
A: What is the source when one counts the Muslim Votes with this precision? In a secret ballot, can you decipher whether it’s a Hindu Vote or a Muslim Vote? Moreover, the question is not about the electoral gains or victories. There is no denial that Modi won all elections after 2002. There is also no denial that BJP lost all Lok Sabha elections after Gujarat Riots. Can we judge a person’s guilt or innocence on the basis of the number of votes polled in his favour? Are we headed for Majoritarianism? Can lopsided economic development be a panacea for inequity and injustice?
Q: Who is your strongest source of inspiration?
A: Mahatma Gandhi, without any second thoughts! Gandhi is relevant to our times than ever before. Rest, I follow my conscience. And my philosophy is to do the right thing at the right time without being worried about the personal consequences. I am grateful to God that I am blessed with a wife, children, family and friends who are unconditionally supportive.