We need Rajnath Singh’s face-reading skills now. The BJP president can see the pain on his party colleague and Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi’s face every time the topic of 2002 riots is discussed— the kind of pain Mr Modi feels when “ek chhota kutte ka bachcha bhi car ke neeche aa jata hai, toh humein pain feel hota hai ki nahin? (if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not?)”.
With Mr Modi’s silence after a damning resignation letter by one of his erstwhile trusted policemen, DG Vanzara, it will need a Rajnath Singh to let us know what BJP’s next wannabe Prime Minister feels. Perhaps, since Mr Modi is so fond of dog analogies, he would feel the same anger as one feels when your old pet starts barking at you threateningly.
The man who has chosen to speak now, DG Vanzara was the Deputy Commissioner of Police in the Crime Branch of Gujarat Police at Ahmedabad from 2002 to 2005. During this time, around 20 encounters took place under his watch. It is alleged, based on CBI enquiries, that most of them were staged or fake encounters.
Vanzara was arrested by the CID in 2008, and he is currently charged with murder of 8 persons, including Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Qausar Bi, Tulsiram Prajapati, Sadiq Jamal, Ishrat Jahan and three persons killed along with her. Last year, the Supreme Court transferred the Sohrabuddin case to Maharashtra from Gujarat. Consequently, Vanzara — the senior most among all police officers who are being tried for a string of fake encounters — and other policemen were transferred to Mumbai’s Taloja prison.
Vanzara’s main grouse in the letter is against the political executive of Gujarat for failing to protect its "loyal soldiers" who had acted under its "direct instructions". He feels betrayed because he and his fellow policemen “simply acted and performed their duty in compliance of the conscious policy of this government."
He is aggrieved because his "God" Mr Modi ignored the policemen imprisoned for fake encounters but made sure that his close confidante, former Gujarat MoS for home and the current BJP General Secretary, Amit Shah got out scot-free. Vanzara says, "When Amit Shah was arrested, the best of legal aid was given to him. Ram Jethmalani represented him from the CBI court to the Supreme Court. The state government never provided any legal support, leave apart lip service to us or our families."
Throughout his letter, Vanzara doesn’t comment on the legality of his actions, ie, encounter killings but attributes them “to the conscious policy of this government which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters". Even if it comes from a suspended IPS officer who is imprisoned, this is a serious indictment of the Gujarat government headed by Mr Modi. The indictment of Mr Modi is not for, as Vanzara alleges, "clandestinely making all efforts to keep me and my officers in jail so as to save its own skin from CBI on the one hand and gain political benefits on the other." The indictment is also not for Mr Modi forgetting "to repay the debt which he owes to jailed police officers who endowed him with the halo."
Mr Modi’s has to be indicted for his government’s policy of encounter killings which was executed by these policemen. If these fake encounter killings were genuine, ie the encounters might have been faked but the people killed by the police were actually "terrorists" — as Mr Modi’s propagandists on the internet like Madhu Kishwar and Swati Sarkar have argued — killing them was not a decision to be made by Vanzara or his 'God', Mr Modi.
A constitutional republic does not authorise any individual in the political executive or the police to decide whether someone is a terrorist or not, and shoot them in cold blood. Compare Mr Modi’s policy to how the UPA government handled the case of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab, who was captured alive during the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008.
His horrid acts, unlike those of people killed in Gujarat encounters, were seen across the globe on television screens and many of us would have been happy to see Kasab die equally brutally. But even then, he wasn’t bumped off in a fake encounter. He was tried under the due process of law and executed after a Supreme Court judgement.
If the victims in the Gujarat fake encounters were not terrorists, i e both the encounters and the terrorists were faked by the police at the government’s behest, then these are simply cases of murder. That such murders were committed at the explicit directions of the political executive of the state tells us a lot about the amoral nature of the political leadership of the state. That such encounters have happened in other parts of the country earlier doesn’t absolve Mr Modi and his colleagues of these charges. The needle of suspicion further points towards Mr Modi and the BJP because of the surfacing of the recent video where senior party leaders have been caught trying to manipulate the legal cases to protect Amit Shah.
Vanzara’s letter only confirms the grave criminality in the state of affairs in Gujarat under Mr Modi. Mr Modi now aspires to the highest political office in the land, and his supporters wish to recast India in his ‘Hindu Nationalist’ views. He will be thus scrutinised by this country. No amount of crude rationalisations to cover up this criminality in Gujarat under a tattered cloak of development will work.
It is perhaps time for Mr Modi to remember what he crudely told Zee TV on 1 March 2002 at the peak of violence during Gujarat riots, that “Kriya pratikriya ki chain chal rahi hai (the chain of action and reaction is happening)”. If that was one, then this is also a Newtonian chain of action and reaction. The blatantly illegal and amoral actions taken under his political guidance in Gujarat have now set a nationwide chain of political and legal reactions in motion. Let’s hope Mr Modi can see the reading on the wall. Or Mr Rajnath Singh can read Mr Modi’s face and tell that to us.
Priyanka is a blogger, columnist and is on the panel of spokespersons of the All India Congress Committee. The views expressed in this column are personal.