The Curious Case of Sanjiv Bhatt’s Sacking & 2002 Godhra Riots

There are some stories in Gujarat which don’t require any special investigation. Just a cursory look at the facts is sufficient.

So when the Criminal Investigation Department of Gujarat Police suddenly swooped down on dismissed IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt on Wednesday, to arrest him in a 1996 case, it may not have surprised him. Only that the charge on Bhatt this time, that of framing a lawyer in a narcotics case some 22 years ago, is not as flimsy as the one that straightaway cost him his job of 27 meritorious years.

It was in 2015 when Sanjiv Bhatt was flabbergasted to find a Union Home Ministry memo delivered to him stating that he was dismissed from duty.

His crime? ‘Unauthorised Absence From Duty’. This followed an ex-parte departmental inquiry without anyone seeking his official explanation. He has been denied his pension and other service benefits.

Also Read: Former Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt arrested in 1996 case

Sanjiv Bhatt’s ‘Unauthorised’ Absence from Duty

And what was he actually doing when he was absent from duty allegedly without permission? Bhatt was deposing before the Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry appointed by none other than the Gujarat government. And what was the Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry probing? It was inquiring into the 2002 Godhra and post-Godhra communal violence in Gujarat, in which many alleged the complicity of the then Narendra Modi state government. Sanjiv Bhatt was among those. His depositions and affidavits before the Nanavati Commission, the National Commission for Minorities, and the Supreme Court contained incriminating material suggesting the state’s complicity and deliberate inaction during the 2002 violence.

When the 2002 communal violence broke out, Sanjiv Bhatt was the Deputy Commissioner in-charge of Internal Security at the State Intelligence Bureau.

He was one of the first officers to report that the 27 February 2002, Godhra train burning incident could spark off possible retaliatory violence. It did happen and nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the span of a week.

The Gujarat Police received country-wide condemnation for not being able to prevent the largescale violence despite intelligence tip-offs.. Much later, Bhatt sparked off controversy when he claimed that at a high-level meeting on the night of 27 February 2002 at the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s official residence in Gandhinagar, senior police officials were told to let people vent their anger for 72 hours and avenge the Godhra train-burning incident.

Also Read: Former Gujarat IPS Sanjiv Bhatt Arrested in Drug ‘Planting’ Case

Bhatt’s Bold Testimonies

Bhatt’s reports and advisories as an officer in the Intelligence Bureau were presented before various commissions and courts as his evidence of state complicity and administrative inaction during 2002.

Bhatt was included as a key witness in the 2006 complaint filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of slain MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed along with 38 others in the Gulbarg Society massacre, on 28 February 2002.

The refusal of the Gujarat Police to treat this complaint as an FIR was challenged in the Supreme Court by Zakia Jafri in 2008. Besides deposing before the SIT that was inquiring into Zakia Jafri’s complaint, Bhatt also filed an exhaustive affidavit in the Supreme Court alleging attempts of the SIT in shielding the powers-that-be, including Narendra Modi.

The Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court, dismissed his allegations and filed a closure report, giving a clean chit to Narendra Modi and other powerful functionaries of the state. This closure report is currently under challenge before the Gujarat High Court, and Sanjiv Bhatt remains a key witness to the alleged role and function of the state administration in the 2002 pogrom.

State Protection to Bhatt’s Family Withdrawn

Bhatt went to school at the Hill Grange High School in Mumbai, and is an alumnus of St Xavier’s High School, Loyola Hall, in Ahmadabad. An IIT-Bombay graduate, Bhatt cleared his civil services examination with a top rank and chose the Indian Police Service (IPS) when he was 23, in 1987. He was allotted the Gujarat cadre.

Less than two months ago in July, the BJP-controlled Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation demolished around 92 metres of Bhatt’s house stating that it was illegal.

The demolition was carried out round-the-clock for one full week. Bhatt’s wife Shweta – who had contested elections on a Congress ticket from Maninagar in 2012 – had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, challenging an order of the Gujarat High Court ordering the demolition. Within an hour of the apex court rejecting the petition, the AMC team arrived with bulldozers and began razing the property.

Meanwhile, at around the same time, the state government withdrew the security cover given to Sanjiv Bhatt and his family.

(Darshan Desai is an Ahmedabad-based freelancer. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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