For the last four years, expelled IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt had been the rallying point for all those who accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of complicity in the 2002 riots in Godhra. But not any longer. A judgement pronounced by a two-bench jury of the Supreme Court has punched holes in Bhatt’s narrative of the riot and Modi’s perceived role in it, castigating the ex-cop to have approached the judiciary with “unclean hands” and for being in “connivance and constant consultation with the adversary political party and vested interest groups”.
Chief Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra on Monday said, in their 76-page judgement, that Bhatt was “tutored by NGOs”, in an apparent invalidation of the ex-cop’s claim that he was present in a meeting held on 27 February 2002 in which Modi, then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, allegedly said that “Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger”.
Bhatt’s affidavit, asserting his presence in the said meeting in Gandhinagar, had come to be viewed with suspicion ever since his driver K.D. Panth turned hostile and told the SIT that he had been forced by the former to testify that he accompanied him to the venue of the meeting. An FIR was filed against Bhatt in the matter, and the two judges were discussing the merit of his request that a court-monitored SIT be constituted to probe allegations against him in the FIR.
Dattu and Mishra, however, dismissed Bhatt’s petition and upheld the SIT report which said Bhatt did not attend the meeting and that he had forced Panth to file an affidavit to his liking under duress. This comes as a major embarrassment for civil society and political groups who have long used Bhatt’s testimony against the PM to suggest that what happened in Godhra was a state engineered pogrom. Here are the salient features of the judgement.
BHATT FORCED PANTH FOR FALSE TESTIMONY
The court noted that Panth did not corroborate the version of Bhatt that he accompanied him in his staff car to then CM Modi’s residence on the night of 27 February 2002, when the said meeting took place. “He (Panth) has further stated that the affidavit was got signed from him by Bhatt fraudulently after threatening him, for which a complaint was lodged with the local police.” Bhatt had in fact provided legal assistance to Panth to draft the affidavit. He had then handed over Panth’s affidavit to the amicus curiae appointed by the SC in the latter’s absence. When Panth contradicted this “forced” affidavit, Bhatt petitioned that the former be examined by the SIT in his presence, a move which was seen by the justices as “pressure tactics”. The SIT ultimately examined Panth on 5 April 2011. Panth did not second Bhatt’s claim that he had attended the meeting on 27 February 2002.
PANTH WAS NOT IN GANDHINAGAR ON 27 FEBRUARY 2002
The court noted that Bhatt tried to mislead them by filing concocted documents that he awarded Rs 500 to Panth for working till late night on the said day, while in fact Panth was in Maharashtra from 25 February 2002 to 28 February 2002. “The original award is in vernacular language, not in English. It was not for working overnight on 27 February 2002 as contended by Bhatt. The award was given by the state government to all employees for taking care of the situation post the 27 February 2002 incident. Bhatt has tried to mislead this court and has made false suggestions,” the judgement pronounced.
It further said that Panth was not in Gujarat on the said date. “He (Panth) was in Maharashtra from 25 to 28 February, 2002. He had visited notary/advocate at Bombay (Maharashtra) for the purpose of getting the translated documents notarized/certified. Bhatt has falsely asserted that he accompanied him to the meeting at the residence of the then CM on 27 February 2002,” the judgement pointed out.
BHATT DID NOT ATTEND THE CM’S MEETING
Bhatt, the court pointed out, was trying to ascertain the location of one Haren Pandya on the night of 27 February 2002 from an officer. Ironically, Bhatt had stated that Haren Pandya was also there in the CM’s residence and had attended the said meeting. Bhatt was also trying to ascertain the precise time of the meeting in his e-mail exchange with the said officer. The court took cognizance of this and said Bhatt has not come to this court with “clean hands”, questioning also why the former police officer sat quiet for nine years and made the accusation only in 2011. “He (Bhatt) was exchanging e-mails for ascertaining the time and presence of the persons. In case he was present in the meeting it was not required of him to ascertain those facts,” the court said.
The court stamped the SIT report submitted in the Trial court that Bhatt was not present in the said meeting. “That investigation had been made by the SIT appointed by this court and there is absolutely no basis now to order constitution of a fresh SIT to look into the aforesaid aspect,” the SC said, in an evident acceptance of the SIT stand that Bhatt lied about his being present at the CM’s residence that night.
CONNIVANCE WITH POLITICAL PARTIES
The two justices said that Bhatt was in “connivance and constant consultation with the adversary political party and vested interest groups”. They said that the e-mails sent/received by Bhatt established that he had interacted with the Deputy leader of Assembly belonging to the rival political party. “He was receiving packages and materials from the leader of rival political party in Gujarat. He has referred to rival political party as his own party,” the two-member bench noted. It added that there was “yet another set of e-mails exchanged with another political leader of rival party in which there is reference of approaching the high echelons in the party”. The judgement further said that Bhatt sent another e-mail in May 2011 to the said leader asking him if there has been any progress on the front of Amicus Curiae. “Time is running out. We need to act quickly”, Bhatt wrote in that e-mail. He acknowledged his meeting with other political leaders of rival party in yet another e-mail in April 2011.
The bench noted: “Bhatt had also sent on 17 May 2011 an e-mail to said incumbent indicating the performance of the advocate appearing for rival political party was absolutely pathetic and he has also mentioned ‘I am under exploited’. Bhatt also exchanged e-mail with chairman of Legal Cell of rival political party. In one of the e-mails, Bhatt has mentioned influencing the amicus curiae of this court.”
Bhatt’s affidavit, asserting his presence in the said meeting in Gandhinagar, had come to be viewed with suspicion ever since his driver K.D. Panth turned hostile.
BHATT HACKED E-MAILS
The two-bench jury said that Bhatt is guilty of hacking the e-mail account of the then AAG for which offence under section 66 of the IT Act has been registered. Bhatt was leaking information and interacting with media and other vested interest groups, the jury added. “Bhatt is guilty of hacking and tampering with the e-mail account of the then AAG,” it further stated.
MANUFACTURING MEDIA PRESSURE
Bhatt apparently incited a journalist to submit affidavit, validating his claim that he was present in the meeting. He sent an e-mail to the said journalist, asking him to mention that he had met him (Sanjiv Bhatt) on 27 February 2002 when he (Bhatt) was about to go to the “disputed meeting”. He then followed this up with an e-mail sent to one of the TV news channels on 19 May 2011. He wrote in this e-mail: “(The journalist) Filed an affidavit in Supreme Court on 16th May, saying that he (Bhatt) was with me (the journalist) when he (Bhatt) had to leave for CM’s meeting on 27th. Kindly confirm through your sources in Supreme Court.”
In one of the e-mails, Bhatt even asked the journalist whether he would be comfortable with certain media persons. On seeing his hesitation, Bhatt further wrote to him: “My feeling is what we could let the press sniff it out and contact you. It will not make a good story for them, but, make the print media to take notice of your affidavit and finally force the hand of amicus and Supreme Court to take notice and subsequent affirmative action.” The court castigated Bhatt for unfairly using the media to pressurise the judiciary. Bhatt had sent yet another e-mail to the said journalist suggesting him to play the media card. He had said, “I think we should play the media card and make it difficult for the other side. If you fear that amicus and Supreme Court will not take it seriously then media trick can be tried”.
BHATT DEFAMED SIT TO MISLEAD SC
Bhatt alleged that the SIT had sent e-mails to then AAG of Gujarat, which he had come to access. He accused the SIT of leaking reports to the then AAG. But the court contradicted the allegations. “In our opinion, the allegation that the SIT had been leaking very sensitive and confidential details pertaining to the ongoing investigation is totally false and baseless. Two e-mails referred to by Bhatt were sent by Geetha Zohri, IPS, 57 Additional DG of Police, and the then Convener of SIT from the e-mail of SIT for Godhra cases to the then AAG. Both these e-mails were related to the investigation done in the year 2005 in the Sohrabuddin encounter case by the State Police (Crime) of which Geetha Zohri IG (Crime) was incharge. She wrongly used the e-mail ID of Godhra cases at her cost to transmit these information pertaining to CID (Crime) to the then AAG. That information absolutely had nothing to do with the matters pending investigation/inquiry/trial with the Supreme Court-appointed SIT for Godhra cases. Bhatt had made deliberate attempt to mislead this court and has enclosed only the covering text of the e-mails and intentionally avoided the enclosures because the same would have exposed the falsity of his stand,” the court noted.
BHATT IS TAINTED
While assessing Bhatt’s petition, the court also threw light on Bhatt’s blemished record as a cop. The court noted that a chargesheet was served upon Bhatt in December 2010 for irregularities in the Police recruitment under his chairmanship as SP, Banaskantha. Bhatt had also allegedly committed atrocities on peaceful and innocent villagers belonging to a place called 15 Jamjodhpur in 1990, in which one person was killed. “He invoked the provisions of TADA and arrested 140 innocent persons. An inquiry was got conducted by the state government and the petitioner was found guilty of misuse of TADA and unnecessary imposition of curfew for 70 hours,” the court said.
The SC summed up: “The entire conduct of Bhatt indicates that he was not acting bona fide and was catering to the interest elsewhere”.