Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, the BJP’s candidate from the Bhopal parliamentary seat, made an irresponsible and controversial statement on April 18. While addressing a meeting of party workers, she targeted the late Hemant Karkare, who had arrested her for her alleged role in the Malegaon blast case in 2008. She claimed that it was her curse (“tera sarvnash hoga”), which ended Karkare’s life soon afterwards. The resultant controversy and its fallout in the press, including the withdrawal of her statement, took me back in time by nearly 11 years. About a month before his death, I discussed the issue of violence by Hindu reactionary groups or the so-called “saffron terror” with Hemant. I had known Hemant as my cadre-mate and he was posted to New Delhi on deputation. A fine officer, he had the reputation of being an outstanding and professional cop.
Having worked in Punjab and fought militancy/terrorism there for more than a decade, terrorism was surely a subject that interested me, irrespective of its hues. One day, in October 2008, I bumped into Hemant at the reception of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. I asked him about this new form of terrorism. Was it real? If so, how serious was the matter, what were its parameters and what was its potential? We sat for about two hours in my room where Karkare enlightened me about the acts of violence undertaken by groups consisting of radical Hindu youths, which were for quite some time, attributed to Muslim militant groups.
He told me that some blasts took place accidentally in some parts of Maharashtra without any reason, which set him thinking. Some of the blasts were in the rural areas of Marathwada in Hingoli and Nanded districts. These cases of accidental blasts had resulted in injuries to some persons but no satisfactory explanation for the blasts was forthcoming. So Karkare, as chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad of the Maharashtra Police, visited some of the blast sites and also probed into the backgrounds of the persons who were injured. Interestingly, his enquiries revealed that the injured persons were close to some ultra Hindu groups closely associated with the RSS. Probing deeper, Karkare widened the scope of his enquiries and started verifying similar cases in other parts of Maharashtra. These enquiries confirmed his earlier impression and deeper probes established the emergence and existence of radical Hindu groups forming terror modules to meet the challenges posed by pro-Islamic terror groups.
These groups had formed Abhinav Bharat, which began as a social organisation that engaged young Hindu boys, radicalised them and made them aware of threats posed by Islamic forces and the need to forge a hardened group from within the Hindu population which would pose a challenge to the hitherto dominant Islamic groups. It also created groups who indulged in blasts in Muslim areas and operated in such a manner that the needle of suspicion would point towards the Muslim groups. In fact, the police were already looking for the culprits among Muslims. But this revelation completely changed the direction of the investigation. In several cases, the complicity and participation of Hindu groups was clearly established soon.
Karkare successfully investigated the Malegaon blast case, in which the Hindu group was involved. It was established that the motorcycle used in the blast was registered in the name of Sadhvi Pragya, who was arrested. The investigation also established the active role of several other persons, including a serving officer of the Indian Army, holding the rank of lieutenant colonel. Karkare and his team collected evidence and arrested many of them including, Lt Colonel Purohit.
Karkare also told me that several groups from political as well as administrative circles put pressure on him not to implicate these groups as these were the “forces of nationalism”. But Karkare did not relent. Later, those who put pressure also tried to accuse him of being pro-Muslim or anti-Hindu, a charge that he vociferously countered, “Sir, I am a Maharashtrian Brahmin and a high-caste Hindu. But does it mean that only Muslims and Sikhs are terrorists and violent acts of Hindu groups needed to be condoned?” He took strong objection to such bulldozing for religious reasons. He stood his ground.
Unfortunately, Karkare was killed on the night of 26/11/2008 during the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Due to his sudden death, the dedication and commitment that he had put into the case slackened to some extent. Similarly, the changed political equations played their role and the investigation of the case was transferred to the NIA. Later, similar political changes took place in Maharashtra too and the grip on the case became loose.
Another development is that the main accused, Pragya Thakur, is out on bail. Not only that, the hidden forces which tried to pressure Karkare then have become more assertive now. They have not only accepted Thakur but have even adopted her as the candidate of the ruling party from Bhopal. The hidden hand is no longer hidden. I feel that blaming Hemant Karkare has just begun, it will pick up. Thakur said that it was her curse that killed Karkare. Condoning her own role, she tried to put the entire blame on a professional and duty-conscious officer who had sacrificed his life in the line of duty.
Thakur perhaps forgot that besides Karkare, 15 other officers and men of the Bombay police and dozens of innocent citizens were also killed on 26/11. Is it not strange that the fulfilment of her curse came through the bullets fired by emissaries of Masood Azhar? Truth is that Sadhvi and Masood Azhar both wanted to kill Karkare; both celebrated his death, though for different reasons.
In democracies, many wrong things do happen. But this is too blatant. An accused facing trial is presented as a party candidate and a national hero who sacrificed his life is denigrated. Will such irresponsible behaviour on the part of rulers not harm society or its secular fabric? How insensitive and apoplectic do we want to make our society?
Rest in peace, Hemant. You surely do not need a certificate either from Sadhvi who cursed you or from the emissaries of Masood Azhar, whose bullet claimed your life. You gave the ultimate sacrifice. I am sure that coming generations of cops will always look to you to determine their direction and goals. My salute to you.
This article first appeared in print under the headline: ‘Rest in peace, Hemant Karkare’
The writer is former DGP of Punjab and Maharashtra. Views are personal