|Who Killed Karkare? The real face of terrorism in India|
|by S M Mushrif|
|Pharos Media, 2009|
Hindutva changes strategy: ‘Who Killed Karkare?’ by S M Mushrif
By Pushpa Sane
The author of this new work, S M Mushrif, is a former inspector-general of police with a distinguished record, including having exposed the infamous scam carried out by Abdul Karim Telgi, who in 2006 was found guilty of a wide-ranging ‘stamp paper’ counterfeiting scheme that had netted him hundreds of billions of rupees. Now, Mushrif has turned his attention to the Sangh Parivar, whom he refers to as “Brahminists”. The Sangh’s earlier modus operandi, Mushrif writes, consisted of instigating Hindu-Muslim riots, but it has in recent years “decided to switch gears … to raising the bogey of Muslim terrorism”. In this, the Sangh’s members have allegedly been aided by the fact that they have infiltrated much of the Indian media and the Intelligence Bureau.
These arguments are illustrated by detailed analysis of several incidents of extremist (though not necessarily Hindutva) violence, ending with the 26 November 2008 Mumbai attacks. These sections are meticulous and, on the whole, convincing. For example, the Nanded bomb blast of April 2006, at the house of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member Laxman Rajkondwar, which killed and injured members of both the RSS and Bajrang Dal, should have alerted the authorities to the bomb-making activities of these outfits. Moreover, maps of Muslim religious places, artificial beards, mobile phones fand other evidence seized from the suspects showed them to have perpetrated three attacks on mosques in Parbhani, Jalna and Purna, while planning another in Aurangabad.
Investigations showed that the RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal had been conducting indoctrination and extremist training camps since 2000, and had been procuring explosives. Yet the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), then headed by K P Raghuvanshi, failed to follow up or take action on these leads, instead proposing to drop charges against most of the accused on grounds of insufficient evidence. Public outrage led to the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), but this agency only further diluted the charges – ultimately treating the Nanded blast as an isolated incident instead of connecting it to the Parbhani, Jalna and Purna blasts; deleting the charge of conspiracy, removing references to the Sangh Parivar, and dropping charges against still more of the accused.
A similar tale is told through analysis of the investigation of the first Malegaon blast, in September 2006, which killed over 30 and injured more than 300 – all Muslims. The Nasik District police investigating the case realised that the Bajrang Dal was among the possible perpetrators, given the group’s record at the Parbhani, Jalna and Purna mosques. Nasik police officers were able to identify the shop from which the cycles used to plant the bombs had been bought, and released sketches of the two men who had bought them. They also probed telephone calls made before and after the blasts, and detained 20 people from a predominantly Hindu area. But at this point, the ATS, still under Raghuvanshi, stepped in, held a press conference saying that a Muslim organisation was responsible, and arrested nine Muslims on suspicion of involvement. Thereafter, just as the case was being handed over to the CBI, the ATS submitted a chargesheet in court. Finally, on 16 November 2009, after the accused had been incarcerated for three years, the CBI informed the Bombay High Court that there was no evidence against them. Mushrif suggests that the ATS had simply concocted the case.
Next to come under Mushrif’s scrutiny are the investigations that followed three other bomb blasts – those on the Samjhauta Express in February 2007, at the Hyderabad Mecca masjid (May 2007) and at the Ajmer Sharif dargah (October 2007), all blamed on Muslims. Again, the author demolishes the official story. His accounts of the Nanded and Malegaon (2006) blasts resemble those of anti-communal activists, but he also draws significantly on the work of Hemant Karkare, who was appointed as head of the Maharashtra ATS in January 2008. It was during the course of Kakare’s investigation of the Malegaon blasts of September 2008 that he uncovered evidence of a Hindutva extremist network, which had been responsible not only for those blasts but also for many others, including those mentioned above. Karkare was also killed during the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds. The author points out the striking contrast between the earlier investigations and Karkare’s own enquiries, which followed the clues in a logical manner and resulted in the arrest of several Hindutva activists. A simple explanation of police incompetence in the earlier cases is ruled out, however, by the fact that, in many instances, a perfectly professional investigation by the local police was subsequently derailed.
The most original part of the book is its analysis of the Mumbai attacks of 26-29 November 2008, which necessarily relies on material in the public domain. According to Mushrif, there were two completely different operations taking place simultaneously: first, the attack on the Taj and Oberoi/Trident hotels and Nariman House; and second, the episodes at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Cama Hospital and Rangbhavan Lane. The latter, Mushrif alleges, was planned and implemented by Hindutva extremists, in order to eliminate Karkare. The author explains this line of thought by showing that while the extremists in the first operation were instructed by their handlers in Pakistan to avoid killing Muslims, 40 percent of those killed in CST were Muslims – who could, further, have been easily identified as such by their skull caps, beards and burqas. (This certainly does seem anomalous: two Western-looking Turkish survivors of the hotel attacks said in an interview that when they started praying, thinking that they were about to die, the gunmen realised they were Muslims and spared them.) Second, there are well-authenticated reports that the terrorists in Cama Hospital spoke fluent Marathi, and spared an employee when he said he was a Hindu. Third, although the attackers involved in the first operation received 284 calls from their handlers in Pakistan, those in the second received not a single call; instead, the SIM cards in two of their mobile phones were traced to Satara, in Maharashtra.
These may be fascinating details, but the larger question remains: If these were two separate operations, how and why were they synchronised? According to newspaper reports, on 18 November 2008, US officials alerted India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) that a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) ship was trying to infiltrate Indian waters, even providing the coordinates of its location. The following day, RAW passed this information on to the IB for dissemination; and on 20 November, the IB’s joint director forwarded it to the principal director of Naval Intelligence as well as the Coast Guard. But apparently, that is where this seemingly critical information stopped. It was not forwarded to the Western Naval Command; nor to the Mumbai Police, whose coastal wing, which had been patrolling the waters off Badhwar Park in Cuffe parade where the attackers landed, had been withdrawn 40 days earlier by a high-ranking police office despite warnings of a seaborne attack on coastal hotels. The Coast Guard, unable to locate the ship because it was still in Pakistani waters at the time, asked the IB for more information, but this was never received.
Furthermore, on 21 November, a highly placed source had furnished the IB with a list of 35 mobile phone numbers being used by the LeT, with a note requesting that they be monitored carefully. It later emerged that three of the numbers were used by the attackers to keep in touch with their handlers in Pakistan, and were also active during the four days prior to the attack. Yet either they were not monitored, or the information obtained by monitoring them was not used to avert the attack.
Mushrif argues that the IB’s failure to revert to the Coast Guard, warn the Western Naval Command and Mumbai Police of the impending attack, or use the information obtained by monitoring the mobile phones, adds up to something much worse than an intelligence lapse. Rather, he suggests, it was a deliberate decision to allow the attacks to take place, because these formed the perfect cover for a parallel operation aimed at eliminating Karkare, whose revelations about a Hindutva extremist network striving to establish a ‘Hindu rashtra’ justified charging its members with ‘waging war’ against India. His contention gains credibility from the fact that, immediately after Karkare’s death, Raghuvanshi was re-appointed ATS chief – despite his abysmal performance in the Nanded and earlier Malegaon blast investigations, and despite his being an acolyte of Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit, the kingpin of the network uncovered by Karkare. Predictably, the investigation came to a halt and charges were diluted.
According to reports, there were six individuals involved in the CST-Cama-Rangbhavan operation. Mushrif claims that Ajmal Kasab, the only alleged attacker captured alive, was already in police custody, and there is no evidence linking him to the attack. Anita Uddaiya, a witness who not only saw the attackers land at Badhwar Park but actually spoke to them, confirmed there were six individuals, and that Kasab was not one of them. Uddaiya was ultimately dropped as a prosecution witness and had a police case filed against her when she refused to change her story; yet she was able to identify the bodies of the six in J J Hospital, suggesting that she was a reliable witness. Initial reports suggested that 16 CCTV cameras in the CST mainline station captured the carnage, but two weeks later it was reported that every one of these cameras had been malfunctioning. Further, reports as well as a transcript of police communications established that the two gunmen in a vehicle intercepted by the police at Girgaum Chowpathy were both killed, so Kasab could not have been one of them. The much-publicised photographs of Kasab at the station could have been taken before or even after the incident, if he was in the custody of the IB. From his experience as a police officer, Mushrif opines that recovering DNA samples or fingerprints from a fishing trawler or inflatable dinghy that had been at sea for hours would have been essentially impossible, and he pours scorn on the “ridiculous” procedure whereby an accused whose pictures had been publicised for months was purportedly “identified” by witnesses.
Despite building a potent case, there are weaknesses in Mushrif’s broader argument. For example, why is the IB alone suspected of being infiltrated by the Sangh Parivar, when numerous reports (including, for example, that of the Srikrishna Commission, which looked into the 1992-93 Bombay riots) provide ample evidence of the communalisation of the police and their participation in the attacks on Muslims in communal riots? Clearly, other agencies too could have been infiltrated. Mushrif also fails to mention the more diffuse prejudice against Muslims prevalent even in supposedly secular individuals and parties, which predisposes them to blame ‘Muslim’ or ‘Pakistani’ attackers even when there is no evidence to support such an accusation. Finally, he does not explore the Indian tendency to bow to ‘authority’, which is instilled in Indian children from childhood onwards and again predisposes the public and media to accept without question accounts of extremist attacks provided by ‘experts’ – even if a moment’s thought shows them to be full of gaps and glaring contradictions.
Nonetheless, Who Killed Karkare? is a wake-up call to the government and public to take cognisance of the shift in the strategy of Hindutva terror, and the dire threat this poses to Indian democracy. The only fitting tribute to Karkare’s exceptional courage and integrity would be for the government to ensure that his investigation is pursued and his own death investigated by someone with equal courage and integrity.
Pushpa Sane is a writer based in Mumbai.