Hemant Karkare was a brave, upright and nononsense police officer, admired and respected by all. He was, as many of his friends and colleagues have iterated, knew his job well, and did not bend in the face of pulls and pressures from different quarters. During the terrorist carnage in Mumbai on 26 November 2008, he led his men from the front and was a victim of terrorist bullets.
He, along with a number of policemen, died with boots on while combating a hideous terrorist attack. It was, indeed, an instance of martyrdom. Hence, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur’s atrocious statement that Hemant Karkare tortured and implicated her in a false case, and his violent death was due to her curse, is unfortunate, even outrageous to say the least.
One can’t fathom how her “curse” could cause the death of not only Hemant but of many more police officers, who had nothing to do with the blast cases being investigated against her. Her statement was an insult to officers and men who had shed their blood for the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is supporting Pragya’s candidature for the Lok Sabha elections from Bhopal, has dissociated itself from her shocking statement.
She has now issued a qualified apology to the effect that she is withdrawing her statement because it may “benefit the enemies of the country”. Sadhvi Pragya was in jail for about nine years. Her allegation of torture in the Malegaon bomb blast case remains unsubstantiated. The National Human Rights Commission, which probed the allegations of torture levelled by her, found that the charges were not borne out by prison, police and hospital records.
The Supreme Court also had come to the same conclusion. Hence, it seems that allegations of torture levelled against Karkare and the force under him are the outcome of anger and frustration due to prolonged incarceration, and are not grounded on evidence. The decision of the BJP to nominate a candidate, who is accused in a criminal case, in a very important constituency, is open to serious objection. Of course, many candidates, belonging to different political parties, with a criminal background and charge-sheeted in very serious cases, are contesting the elections to the Lok Sabha and certain state assemblies.
The nexus between criminal dons and political netas is a matter of deep concern. The present electoral law does not bar such nominations. The situation has worsened because the mafia dons have now realised that it is smarter and better to emerge as netas, instead of kowtowing to them. This malaise of the body politic, which was highlighted by the Constitution Review Committee chaired by Justice MN Venkatachaliah, still persists.
According to the analysis of the National Election Watch, the affidavits of a number of candidates in the first phase of the election shows that criminal cases are pending against many of them. Public interest would have been better served if the BJP, instead of projecting Pragya Thakur as a mascot of Hindu nationalism, and trying to appeal to the lowest common denominators, had avoided giving the ticket to her.
This would have refurbished the image of the party and enhanced its appeal to the public. Another issue that calls for reflection is the effect of these thoughtless pronouncements on police morale. The job of the police, by its very nature, is unbelievably thankless. One astute police scholar, Ben Whiteaker, has said, “Janus-like, we have turned two faces towards the policemen.
We resent him when he enforces the law in our case, yet demand his dismissal when he does not elsewhere. We want crime to be eradicated, but only by the use of sporting methods.” Thoughtless and unwarranted denunciation of the police by the citizenry, and more so by political leaders, has a harmful effect on the police morale.
Psychologists have shown that self-regard is linked to the perceived regard for oneself by others. Therefore, frequent criticism of the police by the people and political leaders coupled with unreasonable demands and thanklessness of the job, breeds cynicism within the force. They lose professional pride and dignity, and develop negative feelings towards life, work and the people, in general. Hemant Karkare was a blueblooded Maharashtrian Brahmin.
He was accused of a pro- Islamic tilt and an anti-Hindu bias because in the Malegaon blast case he had ordered that Pragya Thakur and her group, which included army officers, be chargesheeted. For this, Karkare had to face fire and brimstone, but he did not waver. Subsequently, investigation of the case was taken up by the National Investigation Agency.
Without commenting on the NIA’s probe, one could argue that Karkare’s investigation was on the right track, and that he was not vindictive. Karkare and his team of investigators, after painstaking investigation, unearthed the role of an ultra- Hindu group ~ the Abhinav Bharat, which included Sadhvi Pragya and Lt Col Purohit. Both the Shiv Sena and the BJP hauled Karkare over the coals and debunked the police investigation as a “sinister campaign”.
They had planned to organize a bandh. Karkare’s martyrdom during the Mumbai terror attacks silenced the critics. Denunciation of a dead man, a victim of spite and rancour, who cannot reply to the allegations, is sad and unfortunate. Investigation of cases against terrorists is as difficult as it is daunting. It requires painstaking and meticulous collection of evidence spread over different states and countries.
Such investigation can be impeded if the investigators fear that politicians will not hesitate to run them down on communal grounds. This will be highly discouraging and demotivating. Terror has no religion. A police officer has to be neutral in his work and conduct. Misgivings that allegations will continue to be levelled by Pragya Thakur and her followers against Hemant Karkare are not unfounded. The police fraternity and civil society should come forward to defend the honour of a brave heart.
(The writer, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, had served as Director-General, National Human Rights Commission, and of the National Police Academy)