In a surprise development, the Gujarat cadre IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt, who created a flutter with his affidavits against Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was arrested on Friday on a complaint lodged some three months ago.
The Deputy Inspector-General rank officer was recently suspended for alleged dereliction of duty and insubordination after he refused to report to his present posting as the principal of the Police Training College, Junagadh. He stayed put in Ahmedabad “to appear in various court cases and [before] the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial commission.”
He was arrested on an FIR filed on June 24 by constable K.D. Panth, once his driver, who alleged that Mr. Bhatt had “threatened and forced” him to sign a “false affidavit” to support the officer's claim that he was present at the meeting in the Chief Minister's residence on February 27, 2002. At the meeting, it was claimed that Mr. Modi issued a “directive” to police officers to “allow the Hindus to vent their anger” on the minorities.
Mr. Panth, currently attached to the Meghaninagar police station — which has jurisdiction over the area covering the Gulberg Society where a massacre had taken place during the riots — had lodged the complaint with the Ghatlodiya police station in Ahmedabad. On the complaint, the police registered the FIR against Mr. Bhatt for “threatening a public servant, fabricating false evidence and wrongful confinement” and initiated investigation.
One of witnesses
Mr. Bhatt, in his affidavit before the Supreme Court in April, mentioned Mr. Panth as one of some half-a-dozen witnesses who would testify his presence in the February 27 meeting at Mr. Modi's residence. Mr. Bhatt had claimed that while he travelled in the then Director-General of Police, K. Chakravarthi's official car to the residence of the Chief Minister, Mr. Panth was following them driving his (Mr. Bhatt's) official car and was aware that they had gone to attend the meeting convened by Mr. Modi.
Mr. Panth claimed that he had protested against the forced signing of the affidavit and told Mr. Bhatt that he had already informed the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team that he was on leave in February 2002, when communal riots broke out and there was no question of his having any knowledge of the IPS officer's movements.
Mr. Bhatt's arrest comes within 48 hours of his having filed another affidavit, this time in the Gujarat High Court, alleging the indirect involvement of the Chief Minister and his former Minister of State for Home, Amit Shah, in the murder of another former Minister Haren Pandya. Mr. Bhatt had claimed that Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah had repeatedly asked him to destroy some “very important documentary evidence” regarding Mr. Pandya's murder, but he refused to oblige them, following which he was transferred from the post of Superintendent of the Sabarmati Central Jail and kept without any posting for over two and half months in November 2003.
Soon after his arrest, Mr. Bhatt was taken to an undisclosed destination for interrogation.
His arrest was condemned by human rights activists who said it was “yet another instance of fascism thriving in the State.”
While the former Chief Minister and Congress leader, Shankarsinh Waghela, said it was an example of the Modi government's “vindictive attitude,” Mukul Sinha, advocate for the Jan Sangharsh Manch which represents the riot victims, said it was an attempt to silence those who were fighting for human rights.
Father Cedric Prakash, convener of Prashant, the voluntary organisation supporting the cause of the 2002 riots victims, said Mr. Bhatt was arrested only because he was “extremely forthright” in his stand for truth and justice. “Now he has to pay the price for it.” He demanded Mr. Bhatt's immediate and unconditional release.
However, Gujarat BJP spokesman Vijay Rupani defended the arrest said it was “part of the legal process” and law should take its own course.