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A shot in the dark

A shot in the dark

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: October 10, 2011
URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/A-shot-in-the-dark/Article1-755452.aspx

Who is a whistleblower? As most people understand it, a whistleblower is an individual who reveals hitherto unknown wrongdoing, and provides or points to independent, third-party evidence to back his claim. How does Sanjiv Bhatt, the police officer accused of perjury by the Gujarat government but hailed as a whistleblower by a battalion of Narendra Modi opponents, measure up to this benchmark?

A few months ago, Bhatt filed an affidavit saying he attended a meeting in Gandhinagar on February 27, 2002, hours after the Godhra train carnage. At the meeting, Modi, chief minister (CM) of Gujarat, discussed the law and order situation with senior police officers. Bhatt alleges Modi asked the police to look away, and allow Hindu extremists to massacre innocent Muslims.

Those present at that meeting deny the CM said any such thing. The chief of police of Gujarat at that time has emphasised that Bhatt was too junior to be invited to the meeting and was not there at all. When he appeared before it, the Special Investigative Team (SIT) set up by the Supreme Court to look into the 2002 Gujarat violence asked Bhatt questions about specific people and whether they were present in the room that day. He did not have clear answers.

In his support, Bhatt cited two subordinate officers in the police. The first, he said, drove him to the CM's bungalow.

The second carried his files. Now one of those two gentlemen, a constable named KD Panth, has filed a complaint against Bhatt, emphasising that he (Panth) was in Mumbai on February 27, 2002, helping a relative with a visa application at the French consulate. Panth has also said Bhatt coerced him into agreeing to the affidavit, and did so at the house of Arjun Modhwadiya, MLA and state Congress unit chief. Bhatt and Congress functionaries told Panth, or so he says, that Modi was on his way out and there were political and professional benefits in allying with the Opposition. Following Panth's complaint, the Gujarat police acted against Bhatt.

Bhatt's fan club - on a television programme this week, film-maker Mahesh Bhatt called the arrested police officer "the bravest son India has produced" - has been quick to label Panth a turncoat. They say he is acting under pressure of the Gujarat government and that a humble constable's complaint cannot be used to prosecute an IPS officer.

Consider the contradiction. If Panth had stuck to the letter of Bhatt's affidavit, he would have been praised as a whistle-blower. If Panth had stuck to the letter of Bhatt's affidavit, his word would have been used to demand prosecution of not an IPS officer but an elected CM. In short, in the distorted world of Modi-phobes, a whistleblower is somebody who says something convenient, never mind if it is or isn't the truth.

Bhatt has a long history in the police. He has faced court cases for misuse of authority, facilitating land grab and framing people. Well before Modi appeared on the scene, the National Human Rights Commission had passed strictures against Bhatt for "falsely involving a person in a criminal case".

The perception is Bhatt's career was at a dead-end. As a desperate man, he sought to exploit political contacts to resurrect himself. There is an email trail, and it is in the public domain, that establishes he was in conspiracy with Congress leaders in Gujarat. Is this a man worth defending? See it through three prisms.

First, in the cash-for-votes case - involving the bribing of MPs before the confidence vote of July 2008 - the Delhi Police, an agency under the Union home ministry, has opposed the bail application of Sudheendra Kulkarni and of two former BJP MPs. "Every accused in the case terms himself a whistle-blower as if they have saved the country," public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan told the court on October 1, "if they are taking the plea of being whistleblowers in the scam, they have to establish it by way of evidence. Not even a single aspect shows that they were actually whistleblowers." Strong words; aren't they applicable in the case of Bhatt?

Second, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has charged the Opposition of not being reconciled to electoral defeat, with being "prematurely restless", and attempting to "destabilise" the UPA government and "force elections". Grave words; shouldn't they be asked of Arjun Modhwadiya and other Congress MLAs plotting with Bhatt and, as Panth charges, encouraging policemen to lie in court and unseat a chief minister?

Third, shortly after the 26/11 terror strike, an article appeared in this newspaper's sister publication, Mint. Attacking the PM, it asked him to "get out of the way and allow someone more effective to run the country". The article was apparently written by an IAS officer using a pseudonym. It was raised in Parliament by a BJP MP.

In response, home minister P Chidambaram made an enlightened and impassioned defence. "I have read the article," Chidambaram said in the Lok Sabha, "… All I know is either he is a disloyal officer or a coward or both… I hope they (the BJP) do not encourage such officers; they did not encourage them when they were in power." Wise words; wouldn't it be appropriate to use them in the context of Sanjiv Bhatt?

- Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator

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