Last month, D.G. Vanzara, former Gujarat "super cop" who had been arrested in 2007, sent a letter of resignation in which he said: "To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in any part of the country, such a big number of police officers were/ are arrested and continuously being kept in the jails for such a long period of time, except in the state of Gujarat."
Vanzara may be right, given the large number of Gujarati policemen in jail — 32, according to the letter. The behaviour of the state police has been problematic for years. In 1985, they participated in the caste-turned-communal riots. At that time, members of the BJP became their victims. But on April 22, 1985, a policeman was killed in Khadia, the constituency of BJP MLA Ashok Bhatt, who was accused of having been part of the violence. In reaction to this, policemen attacked and burned the Gujarat Samachar office — the newspaper had been accused of portraying the police action without objectivity.
When the BJP came to power in 1998, the party was keen to improve the law and order situation and reform the police. That was part of the mandate given by voters. But the situation only seems to have deteriorated. Human rights organisations allege that in 2002, the police sent a message to Muslims that the force had no orders to save the community. Police officer Sanjeev Bhatt has been under constant attack after testifying that the chief minister had instructed the police to let the Hindus react to what had happened in Godhra. Rahul Sharma, then SP in Bhavnagar district, said he was transferred to an innocuous post after having protected a mosque from a mob. Vivek Shrivastava, then SP of Kutch district, met with the same fate for having arrested a BJP leader on charges of attacking a Muslim family. So did Himanshu Bhatt, SP in Banaskantha district at the time, allegedly because he took action against one of his sub-inspectors, who had participated in the violence.
Vanzara and his men are in jail for their alleged involvement in fake encounters that took place immediately after the 2002 riots. Between 2002 and 2006, 21 people, mostly Muslims, were victims of these alleged encounters. Among these, the cases of Sadiq Jamal Mehtar (2003), Ishrat Jahan (2004) and Sohrabuddin Sheikh (2005) are the most well known. After their deaths, they've usually been described as terrorists supported by Pakistani groups who planned to kill Modi. Some of these victims were petty criminals. In at least one instance — the Sohrabuddin case — they were said to have had ties with senior politicians and policemen in extortion activities.
In these three cases, the judiciary had to turn to the CBI and transfer the trials to Mumbai because of political pressure and the close links between the state investigation agencies and the Gujarat government. Fake encounters may be a peculiar category of crime, but other developments also suggest that police reform has not taken place, in spite of Narendra Modi's emphasis on it.
The safety of citizens in the state is not guaranteed. The "missing persons" issue is a case in point. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau report, in 2010, Ahmedabad saw 229 kidnappings. Besides, the State Human Rights Commission, in its 2010 report, showed that police malpractice (including several cases of torture, custodial death and attempts to murder) has increased from 163 cases in 2006-07 to 394 in 2007-08, 602 in 2008-09 and 910 in 2009-10.
That may be due to the fact that Gujarat Police is understaffed. In 2010, the comptroller and auditor general indicated that it had "58,158 personnel against the sanctioned strength of 76,780 personnel, including state reserve police". The "Crime in India 2012" report issued by the NCRB shows that Gujarat's vacancy rate for the civilian police is much higher than the national average. Reportedly, Gujarat policemen are also underpaid compared to their counterparts in other states.
Dysfunctions may also be attributed to political influence, such as the pernicious practice of transfers. The problematic relationship between the state police and politicians is precisely what Vanzara points out in his letter, where he says that he has suffered silently so far "only because of my supreme faith in and highest respect for Shri Narendrabhai Modi, Hon'ble Chief Minister of Gujarat, whom I used to adore like a God. But, I am sorry to state that my God could not rise to the occasion under the evil influence of Amit Shah". The latter is a former minister.
Vanzara's letter sheds light on the implications of such collusion. He assumed that "mutual protection and reciprocal assistance is the unwritten law between police and government in such cases [fake encounters]". Indeed, Vanzara seems to have been favoured by the government for years. Between 2002 and 2007, he was promoted from the position of deputy commissioner of police in Ahmedabad's crime branch to deputy inspector general of police, anti-terrorist squad, Ahmedabad, and then to deputy inspector general of police, Border Range, Kutch-Bhuj.
But his expectations were dashed after his arrest: "With the passage of time, I realised that this government was not only not interested in protecting us but it also has been clandestinely making all efforts to keep me and my officers in the jail so as to save its own skin from [the] CBI on one hand and gain political benefits on the other. It is everybody's knowledge that this government has been reaping very rich political dividends, since [the] last 12 years, by keeping the glow of encounter cases alive in the sky of Gujarat". The last sentence suggests that the government of Gujarat was instrumental in perpetrating fake encounters to cash in on the politics of fear — the fear of the jihadists supposedly targeting Narendra Modi. This impression is reinforced a few lines later: "The only fault, if that is to be construed as a fault, which they [the policemen in jail] committed was that they performed their duties diligently and served their country well under the direct instructions from this government."
Vanzara is even more precise a couple of pages below: "Gujarat CID/ Union CBI had arrested me and my officers in different encounter cases, holding us... responsible for... alleged fake encounters, if that is true, then the CBI Investigating officers of all the four encounter cases of Sohrabuddin, Tulsiram, Sadiq Jamal and Isharat Jahan have to arrest the policy formulators also as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from the very close quarters. By this reasoning, I am of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinagar, should either be in Taloja Central Prison at Navi Mumbai or in Sabarmati Central Prison at Ahmedabad."