He is a crucial witness in three cases relating to the 2002 carnage in which Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is a prime accused.
So the arrest of Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt, considered by many to be a whistleblower, cannot be considered just another case of the law taking its course. The arrest raises several questions. Mr Bhatt has been accused by a police constable KD Panth of forcing him to sign a false affidavit in 2002. Why did the constable wait for nine years before coming up with this charge? Though home minister P Chidambaram has asked the Gujarat government to ensure Mr Bhatt’s safety, his case is of a pattern with those of other senior police officers who have questioned the role of the Gujarat government in what was arguably one of the worst riots in independent India. Those who have raised their voice in the past like former additional director-general of police (intelligence) RB Sreekumar and later, police officer Rahul Sharma who booked Gujarat minister Mayaben Kodnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaideep Patel after the riots, were sidelined and harassed.
This does not sit well with a person like Mr Modi who appears to have prime ministerial ambitions. As long as cases like Mr Bhatt’s are not resolved in a transparent manner, whether he is guilty of the charge or not, Mr Modi will not be able to shake off public perception that his government has something to hide. There cannot be even a hint of State complicity in the killing of its own people for Mr Modi to move to a bigger role in politics. While it is true that the state is going great guns on the development and investment front, it has not topped the charts in the issue of human rights. In fact, even the courts have condemned the state government in the past and insisted that some of the riot-related cases be moved out to ensure a fair trial.
The Whistleblower’s Act, which has been hanging fire for quite a while, should be strictly enforced and, certainly, action should be taken against frivolous complainants. But what seems to be lacking in Gujarat is the government’s desire to get at the truth or stomach any criticism against it. The treatment of top police officers in the state also suggests that politics is never far from the surface when dealing with security. Far from professionalising the security forces, they seem to be made to act according to political compulsions in an ever more brazen manner. For Mr Modi, the progress of the Bhatt case will be a test case of whether he is all he says he is, a man devoted only to good governance that includes a transparent and effective criminal justice system.