Karkare’s response to a death threat: A 'smiley'

ATS chief

The last days of Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare were probably some of the busiest in his 26-year career in the Indian Police Service (IPS), and apparently tormented as well.

The ATS believed it had cracked the September 29 Malegaon bomb blast case, and about a month ago arrested Hindu extremists in a breakthrough that shocked the nation and added a new twist to the entire discourse on terror and religion.

But as the probe unravelled the alleged plot and the role of some Hindu leaders, the case got caught in the politics of terror and the ATS was 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.

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.

No less a leader than the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, L K Advani, had demanded a change in the ATS team and a judicial inquiry into the torture allegations made by Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a key suspect in the Malegaon case.

The Shiv Sena too had come out in support of the suspects and on Wednesday had threatened in its mouthpiece Saamna that it would publish the names of some ATS officers and shame them as it said they had tortured the Malegaon suspects.

That Karkare was affected by this was apparent when we met at his office on Tuesday to get an update on the probe, less than 36 hours before he was killed. The Indian Express has decided to break the confidence of what was an off-the-record conversation in an attempt to highlight the anguish of the investigators over the currents in which the Malegaon probe was getting caught as well as the larger debate over the politics of terror.

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