The Man who took on Modi

The Sunday Story
On November 18, 2003, a near-riot broke out in Gujarat's Sabarmati Central Jail. Prisoners refused their morning tea and snacks and later, six convicts slashed their wrists. Nearly half the 4,000 inmates went on a hunger strike. The protest was against the jail superintendent's abrupt transfer. "Bhatt ko wapas laao (bring Bhatt back)," resonated in the jail barracks for days.

In his two-and-a-half month tenure as jail superintendent, Bhatt had managed to ruffle the feathers of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and then Minister of State for Home and Jails, Amit Shah. And it was not just for introducing gajar ka halwa on the jail menu or for his decision to place Godhra case undertrials booked under POTA on a jail committee for undertrials.

"I would go and meet prisoners and talk to them," Bhatt would say. The jail then housed the Godhra accused, the other riot reprisal case accused and those accused in the 2003 killing of former Gujarat minister Haren Pandya.

Bhatt was transferred out ostensibly for becoming too friendly with prisoners and for bestowing favours on them. H R Gehlot, who was then Additional DGP and IG (jails), had said it would take two years to undo what Bhatt had done.

But the real reason, claims Bhatt, lay elsewhere. Eight years later, he says he has evidence which suggests that Pandya's real killer was not Nalgonda sharpshooter Asgar Ali but Tulsiram Prajapati, a close aide of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, an alleged criminal who was later killed in a fake encounter. Prajapati too was killed in an alleged fake encounter in December 2006. Bhatt said Asgar Ali, the key accused in the Pandya murder case, revealed this to him in Sabarmati Jail in 2003.

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The Facebook account of the flamboyant Deputy Inspector General of Police introduces him as "IGP at the Indian Police Service"—a promotion that is long overdue and may not come easily. It is not that he has rubbed just the Modi government the wrong way. He stayed superintendent of police without a promotion for over a decade till 2007. A former colleague told The Sunday Express, "The number of criminal cases and departmental inquiries he faced through various political regimes made him ineligible for timely promotions." Meanwhile, all his colleagues from the 1988 batch of IPS are already IGPs.

In 1990, Bhatt was additional superintendent in Jamnagar and had detained 150 people in order to control communal riots in Jam Khambhalia town of Jamnagar. Prabhudas Vaishnani, who was among those arrested, died in hospital later of renal failure and his brother lodged an FIR against Bhatt and six other policemen, accusing them of torture in custody.

Bhatt's wife Shweta says he was the first Gujarati officer to be directly recruited to the IPS, at a time when not many in the state were inclined towards the service. His father Rajendra Bhatt was a manager in the prosperous Hutheesing textile mill in Ahmedabad, where the family moved from Mumbai. Bhatt, who was born in 1963 in Mumbai, went to school in the city and did an MTech from IIT Bombay in 1985.

Shweta and Bhatt met when they were preparing for the civil services exam. "Sanjiv was determined to be a police officer. We courted for a year and married in 1987 and I gave up my career," says Shweta, an accomplished classical dancer.

On September 30, when policemen came to arrest him, Bhatt was ready to hit the dirt track at the St Xavier's College grounds. He runs 15 km every day. "We had just had tea. Suddenly there was a swarm of cops led by ACP N C Patel who first said they wanted to take him to record his statement and then arrested him," says 46-year-old Shweta. On hearing the news, their daughter rushed from Mumbai where she studies medicine; their son is in a school in Ahmedabad.

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It was on April 14 this year that Bhatt filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court saying he was present in a meeting that Modi held with top bureaucrats and police officers late evening on February 27, 2002. He quoted Modi as saying that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger and Muslims should be taught a lesson.

Till then, this secret meeting was only a whisper in the Secretariat and part of private drawing room discussions. Bhatt's is the first direct evidence against Modi in the apex court though the court is yet to take it on record.

So far, no police officer has supported Bhatt's affidavit. Retired DGP K Chakravarthi has denied Bhatt was present in the meeting. K D Panth, a constable who assisted him in the intelligence branch in 2002, first testified saying Bhatt was present in the meeting. But later, Panth filed a case in Ahmedabad's Ghatlodia police station, accusing Bhatt of forcing him to testify before the amicus curiae, leading to the officer's arrest. Bhatt challenged the complaint in the Supreme Court and demanded an investigation by an independent agency which was not controlled by Modi.

Before Bhatt, Haren Pandya had testified undercover to a tribunal headed by retired justice Krishna Iyer in 2002, that Modi had wanted Hindus to "vent their anger" after the Sabarmati train was set on fire in Godhra. When word spread, the Modi government asked the intelligence branch to find out who this ex-minister was who testified against Modi.

Bhatt's ex-boss and former intelligence chief R B Sreekumar has told the Nanavati Commission how the intelligence branch was asked to tap Haren Pandya's phone and confirm if the whistle blower ex-minister was him.

Bhatt was then the longest serving intelligence officer in the branch handling internal security of the state, border security, vital installations' security, and VVIP security, including the security of the Chief Minister.

Sreekumar calls Bhatt "very efficient and intelligent". "He told me he had good access to the CM and Amit Shah and that Shah was among his sources of information on the BJP," says Sreekumar.

Bhatt, however, never told Sreekumar about the Modi meeting. Ask him why it took Bhatt nine years to speak out, Sreekumar says, "I have heard that my predecessor G C Raiger did not let him file an affidavit before the Nanavati Commission."

Raiger was intelligence chief throughout the Godhra train burning and post-Godhra riots, but figures nowhere in the various riot probes.

Bhatt says he had started sending out feelers since 2004 that he wanted to be cross examined in the commission, but never filed an affidavit. When the Nanavati Commission finally called Bhatt earlier this year, it set a loaded cannon loose. He spoke about Modi's meeting, about how Amit Shah tried to tutor him before he gave a statement to the SIT probing the post-Godhra riots and how Modi had misused the secret service fund of the intelligence branch to undermine dancer Mallika Sarabhai's riot petition in the Supreme Court in 2002.

But many of his colleagues don't trust him. "He is highly intelligent, confident and knowledgeable, but very misdirected. He can sweet-talk and wriggle out of a situation easily," says a senior police officer.

The Gujarat IPS Officers' Association, which supported families of suspended IPS officers DG Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Abhay Chudasama and Vipul Aggarwal—arrested in the Sohrabuddin and Tulsi Prajapati encounter case—has not made any move of support for officers like additional DGP Kuldip Sharma, Rahul Sharma or Sanjiv Bhatt, who face action from the Modi government.

Seven days before his arrest, Bhatt filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court responding to the 1990 custodial death case in Jamnagar.

In the Jamnagar case, CID (crime) had been entrusted with the probe and had sought the government's sanction to prosecute the policemen, which it refused. However, a magisterial court refused to accept a closure report in the case and the government filed a revision application in the sessions court demanding the charges be dropped.

Bhatt says after he filed an affidavit in the SC alleging Modi's complicity in the 2002 riots, the government withdrew the application from the Jamnagar sessions court, paving way for the court to initiate criminal proceedings against the policemen. In the same affidavit in the Gujarat High Court, he goes on to say that when he was jail superintendent in 2003, he had come across important documentary evidence regarding the role of certain highly placed state functionaries/politicians and senior police officers of the state in the killing of Haren Pandya. But he claims when he forwarded the report to the Home Department, an angry Amit Shah called him up, asking him to destroy and obliterate the "unsavoury documentary evidence".

Bhatt has not revealed all his cards yet. His affidavit in the High Court goes on to say that the staged Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter on November 26, 2005, the killing of Tulsi Prajapati in December 2006 by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police, followed by the CBI arresting Amit Shah and SP Abhay Chudasama in the encounter cases in 2010, confirmed his suspicion about the "real" motive behind the efforts Modi and Shah made to persuade him to destroy the Pandya evidence.

Lawyers say that if an investigating agency were to thread Bhatt's pieces of evidence together, the jigsaw would be shocking.

At their home on Drive-in Road in Ahmedabad, the Bhatt family is keenly following the developments on television. Bhatt has just turned down an informal compromise proposed by the judge hearing the government's remand plea.

His 87-year-old mother, Shakuntalaben, a doctor, goes close to the screen to read the scrolls. "Somebody please tell me, will Sanjiv be out on bail or not?" she asks.

Friends no more

Sanjiv Bhatt has over 4,000 Facebook friends but in real life not many want to publicly acknowledge him as a friend. "They all call us in private to express solidarity, but don't want to come out into the open because everyone wants to be in the good books of Modi," says Bhatt's wife Shweta.

Once Bhatt's best buddy, Tushar Mehta, a leading lawyer and now Gujarat's additional advocate general, has accused him of hacking his email. In August this year, Mehta lodged a complaint against Bhatt in Ahmedabad's Vastrapur police station charging him of not only hacking into his email account, but also sharing his password with two national television journalists to provide them evidence of the "nexus between the SIT (Special Investigation Team) and GOG (government of Gujarat)".

Bhatt, in a writ petition to the Supreme Court, has alleged that there was a mole in the SIT who leaked information to the government, through Mehta. The petition says that he happened to access Mehta's account to do some ticket and hotel bookings for their vacations, one to Goa in September 2009 and another to the US in May-June 2010, when he saw emails from the SIT probing Godhra, in his inbox.

Bhatt and Mehta have known each other since the late 80s and became close friends after Mehta started defending Bhatt in a few cases. Their children studied together, both families went on five holidays together but it was their US vacation that probably drove their relationship to the edge. Mehta told The Sunday Express, "We broke up. I cannot get into details because it's a personal affair. But the hacking case has nothing to do with it."

Shweta, meanwhile, says, "Tusharbhai knows nothing about computers. Sanjiv helped him open an email account. So where is the question of him hacking his email?"

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