Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s claim that former Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, who was killed in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, died after she “cursed” him has triggered outrage among Karkare’s former colleagues who expressed shock at the “hurtful” remarks.
Former Maharashtra DGP, Anami Roy, under whom the Karkare-led ATS charged Thakur in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, said he was “appalled by the unethical and immoral statement”.
Thakur’s remarks also brought back into focus a visit by the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the central Mumbai residence of Karkare on November 28, 2008, even as NSG commandos were clearing the attack sites. And his promise of Rs 1 crore to the families of “security forces who were martyred while fighting terror”.
Eleven years ago, speaking to reporters outside the Oberoi Hotel, Modi had said: “We must commit ourselves to destroy terrorism from its root.. I have visited the house of two brave police officers — those of Shriman Karkare and Shriman Salaskar… I have made an announcement today that those jawans of the security forces who were martyred while fighting terror, the Gujarat government will give their families Rs 1 crore… Yesterday, the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) had a message for the country. I also expressed my feelings through the media yesterday, but the country had many expectations from the Prime Minister, his message to the country was disappointing.”
Karkare’s wife Kavita Karkare reportedly declined a cash award from the Gujarat government at the time.
On Friday, speaking to The Indian Express, former state DGP Roy said: “(Thakur’s) comments have really hurt me and hence I am talking to you to defend someone who is not alive to defend himself. As the ATS reported to me, I was involved in the overall supervision of the investigation and stand by the chargesheet, which was done in a professional manner and without any extraneous influence or pressure. The chargesheet stands vindicated as the accused were not discharged and the trial court has framed charges and the trial is underway.”
Speaking about Karkare, Roy said: “He was an absolute professional who did not have any political leanings. The man is no longer there to defend himself and as a service colleague, it is hurtful to hear such statements.”
Former IPS officer Meeran Borwankar, who was a batch senior to Karkare, said she was “distressed” at Thakur’s comment. “I knew him for more than 20 years. He was a gentleman to the core and one of the most professionally sound police officers I have interacted with. Just because he is no more to defend himself, what right does Pragya Thakur have to smear his name? It is most unethical and against the Indian culture that the lady professes to believe in. I condemn her statement.”
Last year, marking the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 attacks, Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis had paid homage at the Martyrs’ Memorial outside Police Gymkhana in south Mumbai. Later that evening, speaking at The Indian Express Stories of Strength event at Gateway of India, he had said: “I pay homage to the brave policemen who fought for Mumbai’s safety and laid down their lives for us on 26/11. We are proud of them and we will strive hard for the safety and security of our state.” To those who lost family members in the attacks, he said: “Yeh desh aap ke saath hai (The country is with you).”
Speaking to The Indian Express, former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro said: “Karkare was one of our finest officers and it is so annoying to see such statements being made about him.” On Thakur’s case, Ribeiro said: “He did what Krishna told Arjun on the battlefield: To do one’s duty. Karkare did his duty like a good Hindu.”
Dinesh Agarwal, a retired officer who was an inspector with Maharashtra ATS when Karkare was its chief, said: “He was one of the most upright officers I knew… Do you think it is easy to charge someone as influential as a Sadhvi (Pragya Thakur) or an Army Lt Colonel (Prasad Purohit) unless you have foolproof evidence against them? No officer would take such a chance.”
On November 29, 2008, Karkare was given a state funeral and later conferred the Ashok Chakra for displaying “courage and leadership of the highest order by leading from the front against grave odds”.
A few years after the attack, a garden in Jogeshwari developed by the Shiv Sena-run Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was named ‘Divangat Hemant Karkare Udyan’. In 2013, a road in Mira Bhayander was named after Karkare — the local civic body at the time was run by the BJP-Sena.