Gujarat Riots Whistleblower Sanjiv Bhatt Jailed for Life. Wife Says Justice Denied

Sanjiv Bhatt (center) File Photo, Courtesy: The Indian Express
Sanjiv Bhatt (center) File Photo, Courtesy: The Indian Express

Sanjiv Bhatt claimed that he had attended a meeting, during which Modi allegedly asked top police officials to let Hindus vent out their anger against the Muslims.

By Rakesh Raman

Sanjiv Bhatt, a police officer who blamed India prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi for Gujarat riots of 2002 – has been sentenced to life imprisonment in an unrelated 30-year-old custodial death case.

The Jamnagar Sessions Court on June 20, 2019 sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in connection with a custodial death in 1990.

Shweta Sanjiv Bhatt, wife of the police officer, claims that it is a fabricated case against her husband who spoke truth to power. In her Facebook post, Shweta wrote that her husband is being targeted for a crime he did not commit.

Bhatt, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from Gujarat, had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India against the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi (who is now the PM of India), alleging that the riots were committed at Modi’s behest. Nearly 2000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed in the riots.

In his affidavit, Bhatt claimed that he had attended a meeting, during which “Modi allegedly asked top police officials to let Hindus vent out their anger against the Muslims.” However, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India concluded that Bhatt did not attend this meeting, and dismissed his allegations.

In 2015, Bhatt was removed from the police service, on the ground of “unauthorized absence.” In October 2015, the Supreme Court quashed Bhatt’s plea for constituting SIT for cases filed against him by the Gujarat Government.

The court lifted the stay on his trial and asked him to face prosecution. The court observed that “Bhatt was in active touch with leaders of a rival political party, was being tutored by NGOs, was involved in politics and activism of creating pressure, even upon 3-judge bench of this court, amicus and many others.”

In November 2012, Bhatt and six other policemen were charged with murder in the 1990 custodial death case of Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani. On 20 June 2019, Bhatt was sentenced to life in relation to this case.

A couple of days before his sentence in June 2019, the Supreme Court refused to entertain Bhatt’s plea, seeking to examine 11 additional witnesses in the 30-year-old custodial death case.

A vacation bench of justices Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi said that a three-judge bench had already passed an order on a similar plea and therefore it cannot entertain the petition.

Shweta Bhatt also alleges that the case was based on a false complaint filed by Amrutlal Madjavji Vaishnani who is an active member of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), an Indian right-wing Hindu nationalist organization which has close ties with PM Modi’s political outfit Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The complaint filed against Sanjiv Bhatt is a classic case of political vindictiveness,” Shweta Bhatt complained in her Facebook post, adding that the so-called custodial death occurred after 18 days of being out of custody.

It is also strange to note that in the past 16 years in Gujarat, 180 custodial deaths occurred, but no police official was punished. Obviously, Sanjiv Bhatt was singled out for deposing against Modi in the Gujarat riots case.

According to Bhatt’s Facebook post, the hospital records as well as the forensic postmortem records of Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani have noted that there were no internal or external indication of any injury, torture, or any grievance.

While Shweta Bhatt plans to approach the higher judicial forums to seek justice for her husband, she said justice has not only been denied, but an innocent man has been persecuted for doing his duty with diligence.

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Bhatt is an accused in the custodial death case. He was posted as the additional superintendent of police in Gujarat’s Jamnagar at that time. According to the prosecution, Bhatt had detained more than 100 people during a communal riot there and one of the detainees had died in hospital after he was released.

He was suspended in 2011 on charges of remaining absent from duty without permission and misuse of official vehicles, and later sacked in August 2015.

The chattering classes believe that Bhatt is being punished for raising his voice against Modi for his involvement in the Gujarat massacre. It is largely believed that India has become a despotic state under Modi’s rule where Modi’s opponents are either removed from their jobs, jailed, or killed.

For example, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) judge B.H. Loya – who was hearing a controversial case of the alleged ‘fake encounter’ killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005 – had died in mysterious circumstances.

In this case, the prime accused Amit Shah – who is Modi’s friend and current Home Minister of India – was Gujarat’s Home Minister at the time of Sohrabuddin’s killing. It was alleged that Sohrabuddin was killed at the behest of Amit Shah who was the Home Minister when Modi was Gujarat’s Chief Minister.

It is largely believed that the Modi government had influenced the investigation to get Amit Shah off the hook and the case was hushed up surreptitiously.

Similarly, the Gujarat riots case in which Modi was an accused could not reach any logical conclusion. While about 2,000 Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots, there were incidents of rape, robbery, and widespread destruction of property affecting Muslims. It was alleged that the killings were executed at the behest of Modi. Although Indian courts had almost exonerated Modi in this case, most Muslims in India still believe that Modi was responsible for Gujarat pogrom.

According to Human Rights Watch, the attacks against Muslims in Gujarat were actively supported by state government officials and the police. Police told Muslims, “We don’t have any orders to save you.”

It is stated that the 2002 Gujarat riots were premeditated and constituted a form of ethnic cleansing while the state government and law enforcement were complicit in the violence that occurred.

As a result, the U.S. administration had denied visa to Modi in view of the allegations of human rights violations against him in the 2002 incidents of riots and carnage. But now as he has become the PM of India, Modi is visiting the U.S. frequently because now he enjoys political immunity.

In defence of her husband, Shweta Bhatt has given facts of the case in a 50-point Facebook post, and appealed to the people of India to support her in this difficult time: “India, it’s time to wake up. Today it is us, tomorrow it can be you.”

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society. He also creates and publishes a number of digital publications on different subjects.

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