30 Mar 2002
The police establishment is in the midst of a storm over the transfer of some dutiful IPS officers.
The Gujarat government and its police seem to be headed for a confrontation over the strangest of issues: why did senior district police officers stop rioters from running amok on the fateful days after the Godhra incident? Punishing officers for fulfilling their duties is unprecedented in the annals of police history. To further precipitate matters, the Gujarat government, in an unusual move last week, filed a caveat emptor with the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), pre-empting the officers from doing the same, i.e. moving the court against what is being seen as blatantly partisan and politically-motivated transfer orders.
Two Gujarat ministers with known communal credentials violated every law in the book and took over the police control room during the riots.
The cause for this consternation is not far to seek. The controversial transfer of police officers who stood their ground against marauding VHP and Bajrang Dal mobs—allegedly abetted by the Narendra Modi government—and did their best to control the continuing carnage in Gujarat, has triggered a wave of anger among police officers. In a force tainted by its studied inaction and partisanship in the anti-minority pogrom after Godhra, the few who swam against the tide were targeted for punishment while several Sangh parivar acolytes were rewarded in the slew of 27 transfers which shook the administration on March 24.
So blatant was the move that state director general of police A.K. Chakravarty—who was apparently not even consulted about the transfers—wrote to the additional chief secretary, Ashok Narayan, taking strong exception to four IPS officers being moved out for fulfilling their obligation to the Constitution. Chakravarty is believed to have specifically objected to the transfers of Kutch SP Vivek Srivastava, Bhavnagar SP Rahul Sharma, Banaskantha SP Himanshu Bhatt and Bharuch SP M.D. Antani. In his note to Narayan, Chakravarty had noted that he "fears that the transfer of competent officers would demoralise the police force". Srivastava evoked Modi's ire by arresting the area's Home Guards commandant, Akshay Thakkar, a member of the VHP, local VHP leader Vasant Patel and a Shiv Sena pramukh for attacking the priest of a dargah in the area.
The state home minister, Goardhan Zadaphiya, a hardcore VHP man and an appointee of Sangh strongman Praveen Togadia, called Srivastava asking him to drop the charges. This was followed by a call from the chief minister's office to the SP. But he refused to buckle under the pressure.
At the Post-riots briefing on March 23, Modi only flayed biased action by the police against VHP Mobs.
Srivastava told Outlook: "I was just doing my job as a police officer. But my sudden transfer as DCP (prohibition and excise) has come as a surprise. Earlier, we used to at least receive hints about impending transfers but this time I had no idea at all." Rahul Sharma's transfer just a month after he assumed charge as SP of Bhavnagar has more than raised eyebrows. He took strong action to quell rioting mobs in Bhavnagar on March 1, and even resorted to firing several rounds himself. He was also instrumental in rescuing over 400 Muslims who were attacked by a mob near a madrassa in Akuada. Sharma is known to have taken strong action against rioters, including Shiv Sena's Kishore Bhatt.
But given the way the administrative structure functions, Sharma came under pressure from local leaders to dilute the sections under which offences were registered. Says Sharma: "I am not one to run away from transfers. I take these things in my stride. There seems to be a calculated strategy to keep things simmering through small incidents. Other than controlling the riots, I did no mischief." This is the tenth time Sharma has been transferred in the last six years.