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A cop-out

books Updated: Dec 12, 2009 00:01 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times
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To The Last Bullet
Vinita Kamte with Vinita Deshmukh
Ameya Prakashan
Rs 300 | pp 221

I did not know anything about Ashok Kamte and have never met his wife Vinita. But it is hard to read her deeply moving book without feeling both tearful and enraged by a police system that first cost a brave officer his life, and then tried to cover up the truth.

I do not necessarily accept Vinita’s implication that one of those responsible for the mess on the night of 26/11 was Rakesh Maria, one of Bombay’s best-known cops (the torturer glorified in Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City is said to be based on Mr Maria).

All of us know that Ashok Kamte, Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar were killed on the night of 26/11. The version we have been fed is that these two top officers (Salaskar was not from the IPS) behaved like headless chickens driving around recklessly on the streets of Bombay and that they were easy pickings for the terrorists. Vinita’s book proves that this version is a lie.

First of all, Kamte was not merely driving around. He was in charge of the east zone. So the attacks were outside his area. He was called, first to the Trident by Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor and then to the Special Branch Office near the spot where the terrorists were firing.

Second, Kamte and Karkare were not together. Karkare had heard about the firing at VT Station and reached there independently. Witnesses told him that the terrorists had left and had now reached Cama Hospital. Karkare radioed the Central Room at 11.24 pm: “We need to encircle Cama Hospital. We are near SB2 Office Side. Send a team to the front side of the Cama Hospital.”

So, at 11.24 pm, the Chief of the State’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) had

(a) already worked out that this was a terror strike when much of the police force was confused, (b) had asked for commandos and (c) had planned to encircle Cama Hospital to flush out the terrorists.

Guess what happened? All his requests were ignored. No re-inforcements reached Cama Hospital. Nothing he said was passed on. Why was this? After all, police headquarters are only two minutes from Cama Hospital.

So why did the Bombay police let their best men bleed to death on a road? The official version is that nobody knew they were there. This reflects terribly on the police force if it is true.

But we can’t even be sure that it is the truth. When Vinita Kamte tried to find out how her husband had died, the Bombay Police simply refused to tell her the truth. Eventually, the State’s Chief Information Commissioner forced the Bombay Police to part with the logs and the audio records under the Right to Information Act. That’s how we now know what happened that night. Sections of the media have treated this book as a charge sheet against Maria. That is clearly unfair. He is an extremely well-known officer and should not be judged only on the basis of a grieving widow’s inquiries.

Moreover, I doubt if Vinita Kamte’s intention was to single out individuals. Her intention was to expose the rot at the heart of the police force, which she has done brilliantly. She also wanted to set the record straight: Karkare and Kamte died on the job and not out of recklessness or foolishness.

Her late husband, Ashok, comes off as part of a vanishing breed: the decent middle-class boy who shunned a well-paid career in the private sector because he came from a police family and believed that he could make a difference by joining the cops.

What a shame that the police force let him down so badly.