It’s always Gujarat

Vanzara may well be pondering Salaskar’s luck and fate. Today, Salaskar is held up as a model police officer. For doing pretty much the same thing, Vanzara is painted as a villain.

Vijay Salaskar was killed on the evening of November 26, 2008. An inspector in the Mumbai police, he was driving the vehicle that was also carrying senior officers Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte when it was ambushed by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists.

This was a dramatic incident that made clear the intensity of the attack on Mumbai on the dark night of 26/11.
Following his martyrdom, the government of Maharashtra recommended Salaskar for a gallantry award. On January 26, 2009, three months after his death, the Union government named Salaskar for the Ashok Chakra. India was grateful to him. P. Chidambaram, then home minister, took personal interest in ensuring Salaskar’s young daughter was given a government job. No doubt in the years to come Salaskar will go down as an authentic Indian hero and school textbooks will carry chapters on him and his colleagues.
What was the trajectory of Salaskar’s career before he was killed? For 20 years he had been a doughty warrior for the Mumbai police, part of a band of officers responsible for cleaning up the city underworld. Criminal syndicates in Mumbai — some but not all of them later merging into terrorism — established themselves as a force by the 1980s. The state government decided to adopt a proactive policy of neutralising these groups and safeguarding Mumbai.
Salaskar was instrumental in this, killing his first criminal in 1983. Subsequently, he was responsible for removing some 70-80 people who, depending on how you saw them, could have been gangsters, petty criminals, terrorist auxiliaries or just plain suspects. How did Salaskar do this? Presumably not by feeding his victims lollipops.
Salaskar was an encounter specialist. His methods were his own. The government followed a “don’t ask-don’t tell” approach. There was nobody to leak letters or even ghost-write these for him. There was no gaggle of activists out to challenge the Mumbai police or any politician who was backing it. There was no Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct lengthy investigations into Salaskar’s career record and attempt to finish him. He was lucky.
Sitting in his cell, D.G. Vanzara, former chief of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad, may well be pondering Salaskar’s luck and fate. Today, Salaskar is held up as a model, no-nonsense police officer. For doing pretty much the same thing, Mr Vanzara is painted as a villain. If we get over the trite cliché that all fake encounters are bad — of course they are; though it must be said not one of
Mr Vanzara’s encounters, or Salaskar’s for that matter, have been legally proven to be fake — it is worth asking why Mr Vanzara does not deserve sympathy.
He has been in prison for six years now, implicated in three high-profile cases, without the trial having even begun. He is not alone; 32 officers of the Gujarat police, and virtually the entire ATS squad, find themselves behind bars and out of action. The anti-terror network set up in the state in the early years of this century has been crippled.
The CBI and a politician-activist cabal in Gujarat have no interest in quickly taking
Mr Vanzara’s cases to resolution. A delay and a battle by innuendo suit them best because they are targeting Narendra Modi’s political future, not “seeking justice” as is claimed. If nothing else, Mr Vanzara deserves to have somebody pay for a good lawyer. If at the end of all this he is acquitted, who will give him back his lost years? Even if there are convictions, it is a fair guess that many of the 32 Gujarat policemen who are currently remand prisoners (undertrials) have probably already spent more time in custody than they may be sentenced for.
Thundering voices on television insist Gujarat cannot be compared to Punjab in the 1980s or Kashmir in the 1990s. True, it can’t; but that doesn’t mean it faced no threat from terrorism. In the 1990s its coastline was used by terror groups to bring in munitions, including for the 1993 Mumbai bombings. After 2002, Mr Modi began to carry the highest threat perception, greater than any other chief minister at least. This has been borne out by successive Intelligence Bureau inputs. In 2010, the WikiLeaks cables revealed Western intelligence agencies believed that the Lashkar threat to
Mr Modi was clear and present and had not died out with the elimination of Ishrat Jehan and her accomplices in 2004.
For anybody in public life — politician, civil servant, even activist and journalist — a fundamental test of integrity is in according different subjects equal treatment under conditions of equality. Has this happened with Gujarat? Why are terror threats to Gujarat and its chief minister ridiculed and the anti-terror operations of Gujarat police sabotaged? Why does this happen to no other state?
Take two other examples. Recently, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), headed by a Congress member of Parliament, demanded a CBI inquiry into alleged manipulation in the Tulsiram Prajapati case. Prajapati, a criminal who happened to be a dalit, was killed by the Gujarat ATS. The basis of the commission’s move was a “sting operation” carried out by a conman at the periphery of the media — and previously accused of and arrested for blackmailing public servants using fake “sting op” videos — who found support from Congress Party spokespersons.
The NCSC’s promptness was remarkable. In Uttar Pradesh, dalit writer Kanwal Bharti was arrested for a Facebook post that criticised the state government and backed Durga Shakti Nagpal, the civil servant who took on the sand mafia in Greater Noida. Why has the commission not found
Mr Bharti worthy of support?
Second, Mr Vanzara’s long spell in prison, without trial, is seen as justified by those who blame him for the killing of Ishrat Jehan. Gopal Kanda, a former Congress minister in Haryana, has been charged with harassing, stalking and driving to suicide a woman called Geetika Sharma. This past week, he was given bail and allowed to attend the state Assembly. There was no clamour in the media. All women are equal but is (or was) Ishrat Jehan more equal than Geetika Sharma?
Now if only Geetika Sharma had lived in Gujarat and Kanda been a minister in the Modi government…

The writer can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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