Self-appointed champions of unbridled police raj in Gujarat are making a hue and cry, ridiculing the letter and spirit of the law, because numerous senior police officials and men are under arrest and facing prosecution for alleged fake encounters.
They argue that such arrests will demoralise the police. This stance could be true, if encounter killings are genuine, necessitated by the exigencies of the situation, done as the last resort in self-defence or to save lives. But an analysis of the encounter deaths from October 2002 to April 2007 in Gujarat, where the bulk of victims were from the minority community, leads to many startling conclusions about the veracity and legality of the police version.
The long 2002 anti-minority carnage after the Godhra train fire and subversion of the criminal justice system against the riot victims (the Supreme Court termed the Gujarat bureaucracy ‘Neros’) was carried to mobilise Hindu sentimentalism for electoral dividends.
Significantly, all official functionaries who were committed to the Modi government’s hidden agenda were rewarded and ‘deviants’ were punished. Thanks to the reach and resources of the forces behind anti-minority violence, no senior Gujarat bureaucrat was arrested, prosecuted and penalised, for acts of omission and commission in the 2002 communal disturbances and subsequent sabotage of administrative response to riot victims. Only one head constable was convicted in the Bilkis Banu mass rape case and one inspector was arrested in the Gulberg Society massacre case.
Consequently, by the middle of 2002, a crop of statute-blind careerist police officers could be enrolled by the Modi government, ignoring the structures and hierarchy in the police department. In fact these officers and their hit men had enjoyed powers and clout much beyond their posts, positions and legal status. In the pre-Assembly Election days in 2002, soon after the riots, the political strategy of the BJP, and particularly Mr. Modi, was to project the image of an ultra agile and efficient Gujarat police, engaged in nullifying any move of militants and jihadists from the minority community at the incipient stages.
The validity of the encounter versions was proved to false by 1) Failure of Gujarat police to bring out the background, pre-planning, material and human resources, communication network, shelters and sanctuaries and related matters of persons killed in the encounter, in the post-encounter investigation. 2) Non-supply of any corroborative intelligence or information from the Central IB or State Intelligence about associates, organisations and antecedents of the encounter victims, projected by Gujarat police as terrorists. 3) No probe, or only a perfunctory enquiry done, diluting the stipulations of Gujarat Police Manual about custodial death and encounters. 4) Conspicuous suspension or by-passing of normal monitoring process by superiors on encounter incidents and so on, thanks to extra legal nexus of ‘encounter experts’ with the highest echelons of the Modi government.
Morale of an individual or an organisation rests on the ideals of truth, courage of conviction, commitment. Many officers in Gujarat did keep police morale high during the riots, particularly in South Gujarat (Surat City) and Saurashtra, curbing riots with an iron hand. Restoration of time-tested structured supervisory mechanics, now under strain in Gujarat on account of competitive sycophancy in the higher rungs of the civil bureaucracy and police is the imperative.
(R.B. Sreekumar is former Director-General of Police, Gujarat)