Former Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare was killed while fighting terrorists during 26/11 Mumbai attack in 2008. He was leading the probe into the 2008 Malegaon attack, in which six persons were killed and 101 were injured. A key accused in the case, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, has been nominated as the BJP’s candidate for the Bhopal seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and she made headlines after claiming that Karkare had died because she had cursed him.
Karkare, a 1982 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, was killed with senior police officials Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar outside Cama Hospital in south Mumbai. The three police officials were killed when Ajmal Kasab, and his partner Abu Ismail, opened fire at their police van on the night of November 26, 2008. Karkare was awarded the Ashoka Chakra on January 26, 2009.
An engineer who joined the police force
Born in 1954, Karkare was from Madhya Pradesh and did his schooling in Wardha. In 1975, he graduated in mechanical engineering from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in Nagpur. After his graduation, he worked at the National Productivity Council and Hindustan Lever before making it to the Indian Police Service in 1982.
He served in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as well as the Indian mission in Vienna, Austria, as a counsellor for seven years. He was also posted as Superintendent of Police in the Naxal-hit Chandrapur district of Maharashtra in 1991. He also did stints the Mumbai crime branch and anti-narcotics department.
He was posted as Joint Commissioner of Police (Administration) in the Mumbai Police before taking over as the Anti-Terrorism Squad chief.
The Malegaon case
The Anti-Terrorism Squad believed that it had solved the case with the arrest of 11 persons for their alleged involvement in the 2008 Malegaon blast. However, the unit was soon at the centre of charges that it was being used as a tool to target the Sangh Parivar amid allegations of illegal detention and torture by some of the 11 arrested for the blast, including Thakur.
The BJP, RSS and VHP leaders, among others from the Hindu nationalist brigade, accused the ATS of being on a witch-hunt, with some even demanding that ATS officers be subjected to a narco-analysis to establish their motives. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate at the time, LK Advani, had demanded a change in the ATS team and a judicial inquiry into the torture allegations made by Thakur.
"I don’t know why this case has become so political. The pressure is tremendous and I am wondering how to extricate it from all the politics," Karkare told The Indian Express at the time.
Two years after his death, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh claimed that two hours before the first terrorists struck that evening, chief of the Maharashtra ATS Hemant Karkare called him to say that his life was "blighted by constant threats" from those opposed to his probe into the Malegaon blast in which Hindu extremists were accused.