The popular Hindi cinema adage that it is unwise to either befriend or make foe of a police officer* seems to be playing out in Gujarat’s realpolitik.
The suspended and incarcerated police officer D. G. Vanzara’s stinging ten-page indictment of his two former bosses, Chief Minister Narendra Modi and disgraced Home Minister Amit Shah, has the potential upend Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions.
Certitudes about Modi not only emerging as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and winning the country’s highest office in 2014 look a little less certain in the aftermath of the letter. Of course, there is nothing to suggest that Modi would not be able to spin his way out of this rather damning setback but it is bound to crack his edifice.
For those of you unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of India’s politics, or for that matter not even know where India is, I suggest you don’t read this post. The specifics may not make much sense although the underlying theme of egregiousness is universal.
Vanzara, who was the Deputy Inspector-General of Gujarat Police until 2007 when he was detained, has been alleged to be the main force behind the policy of extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists. He has been in prison awaiting trial since 2007 along with 31 other police officers. He in particular has been charged with four cases of “fake encounter” killings.
With mounting frustration that the political masters he served have turned their backs on him and his fellow officers, the former police officer has hurled a firebomb from his prison cell in the form of a ten-page resignation letter. The resignation has been rejected by the state government on technical grounds. So Vanzara in effect remains an officer of the Gujarat police but under suspension.
He has spewed toxic stuff against Modi and Shah but what caught my attention was the categorical assertion that police officers “simply acted and performed their duties in compliance of the conscious policy of this government.” To claim that extrajudicial killings or fake encounter killings were the “conscious policy” of the Modi government is by far the most damning indictment of a politician whose juggernaut to Delhi has seemed unstoppable to his followers.
Having “adored" Modi like “God” (his words, not mine), Vanzara must have felt particularly betrayed to now suggest that the state government is not only spineless but is sailing in the same boat as the jailed police officers. He in effect argues that if there is complicity it ought to be equally shared by the police officers as well as the two politicians.
“The CID/CBI (Criminal Investigation Department/Central Bureau of Investigation) arrested my officers and me holding us responsible for carrying out allegedly fake encounters. If that is true, then the CBI investigating officers for all four cases have to arrest the policy formulators too as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the policy of this government, which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters,” Vanzara’s letter widely published in full by the Indian media says.
I don’t think there has been a more blanket indictment of the Modi government so far. It is quite obvious that the detained police officers, who were once among the most powerful law enforcement figures in the state, feel terribly forsaken by the Modi government. Although Vanzara still tries to offer some sort of mitigation for Modi by saying that he was under the “evil” influence of his trusted advisor and former interior minister Amit Shah, in the charged political climate what he has said is fraught with serious problems for the chief minister personally. I would be very interested to see how Modi manages to get out of this one.
Another interesting aspect of the letter is Vanzara’s clear claim to link Gujarat’s much heralded economic development to the kind of rough and brass- knuckle law enforcement carried out by his anti-terror squad.
“I can say with pride that my officers and men could not only prevent Gujarat from becoming another Kashmir but were also instrumental in providing a solid atmosphere of durable peace and security… I state with all humility that, but for [our] sacrifices, the "Gujarat Model of Development" this government is so assiduously showcasing at the national level would not have been possible,” Vanzara says. That is quite a striking assertion.
The letter ought to rudely interrupt the mounting mood of optimism within the BJP about the 2014 general election. Publicly, the party’s otherwise hyperloquent (my word) talking heads may choose to play the letter down but privately I am pretty certain much of the leadership would be worried about its implications. Normally, Modi considers it infra dig to offer explanation for anything but he might have to put together something approaching reasonable to answer these charges.
Police officers have their own peculiar sense of loyalty toward one another and no one should be surprised if Vanzara’s fulminations inspire others in the force to turn against the Modi government.
* The most commonly used version is “Policewalon se na dosti achchhi na dushmani.”