The former Director-General of Police of Gujarat, Julio Francis Ribeiro, on Thursday condemned the arrest of suspended Gujarat cadre IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who took on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 post-Godhra riots.

“I condemn the action of the Modi government arresting him and doing something unconscionable which is not within the limits of morality,” Mr. Ribeiro told a press conference organised by the All-India Secular Forum in Mumbai.

Mr. Bhatt was arrested on a complaint lodged by his former driver-constable K.D. Panth alleging that the officer had forced him to sign a false affidavit vouching for his presence at a meeting with Mr. Modi in 2002.

While Mr. Ribeiro's own personal inquiries revealed Mr. Bhatt to be an officer of not untarnished repute, he still lent credence to Mr. Bhatt's claims.

“To be very frank I have not heard very good things about him [Mr. Bhatt]. I made my inquiries. He does not have a clean reputation. But to arrest an officer of his rank on such a charge is condemnable. The driver recanted on his affidavit. Action against Mr. Bhatt was taken without verifying his complaint. If he was rogue cop, they could have taken action long ago,” he said.

He found it plausible that Mr. Bhatt could have gone for the meeting with Mr. Modi since his superior was on leave. “What Mr. Bhatt is saying is true. Only, he may not have been allowed inside. When I went there, I learnt that instructions were given to the police not to oppose the actions of the majority. But instructions to seniors are of no use unless they are passed on to the lower officers.”

“Intimidating ways”

Referring to his telephonic conversation with Mr. Bhatt's wife Shweta Bhatt, Mr. Ribeiro termed the government's ways intimidatory. In response to a question, he said “it would be of interest why Mr. Bhatt chose to come forth after nine years.”

The former Bombay High Court judge, Hosbet Suresh, questioned the delay in giving bail to Mr. Bhatt. “The main question is why does Mr. Bhatt need to be in jail. You can investigate the allegations, but why is he not being given bail? What is Sanjiv Bhatt's offence? It's a matter of record. The police have filed a charge sheet. The investigation is complete.” he said.

He rued the current trend of higher courts denying bail to the accused. Stating that “bail is the rule,” he cited the case of Kanimozhi, daughter of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, where the norm was not being followed. “The lower judiciary is thinking in terms of what the state wants. This is fundamentally wrong. Even the outcry in the media and society against bail [is uncalled for],” he said.

Asghar Ali Engineer, scholar and activist, said Mr. Bhatt's arrest was “highly condemnable morally and legally.”

India had seen many riots and many instances where governments had been ineffective and not entirely impartial in controlling them. However, the 2002 carnage was “alive” in the media even after nine years, because it had “direct involvement of the government and the police,” Mr. Engineer said.

He questioned the treatment meted out to Mr. Bhatt in custody. “He was treated like the worst criminal. Whether he pressured the driver or not is a matter of investigation, but it is not a crime for which an officer of his rank should be confined to a smelly room.”

Criticising the Modi government, Dr. Engineer said: “Mr. Modi will have to answer for all his acts commission and omission.”

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