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Posted at: Apr 23, 2019, 6:46 AM; last updated: Apr 23, 2019, 6:46 AM (IST)

The honourable Karkare

Julio Ribeiro

Julio Ribeiro
Recognising the perils of having Pragya Thakur in the power seat
The honourable Karkare
Ominous sign: The Sadhvi’s nomination appears to be an undeclared war on a particular section of the populace.

Julio Ribeiro
Former DGP, Punjab   

The BJP leadership, including our Prime Minister, has tried to justify the candidature of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as the party’s candidate from Bhopal on the specious ground that the opposing Congress candidate, Digvijay Singh, was the person who coined the words ‘Hindu terror’ and that needed to be put to the people of Bhopal to decide.  The PM also mentioned the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. He said that foul incident could also be described as terror and yet one of the suspects in the carnage was today the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Let me deal first with the misnomer ‘Hindu terror’. The words ‘saffron terror’, used later by Chidambaram, I agree would be preferable to ‘Hindu terror’.  I remember my days in Punjab. Soon after I took over as the DGP, my intelligence chief, who was a Jat Sikh, took me to meet a group of 20-odd well-heeled Jat Sikhs at the home of one of them. The host sported a beard and a turban, but his brother was clean-shaven. The host complained that whenever they travelled from Jalandhar to Chandigarh, his car would be stopped by CRPF patrols, who would then question him minutely about his identity. His brother accompanying him would be spared the questioning.  Others present at the meeting objected to the words ‘Sikh terror’ being bandied about. They pointed out that they themselves were not terrorists and yet they were being branded under the same umbrella!

That meeting with the Sikh gentry made me wise about the hurt that ordinary Sikhs felt about all Sikhs being branded as terrorist, though only a minuscule segment was involved in such activities. So, when some extremists born into the Islamic faith succeeded in bringing their co-religionists into general disrepute, I felt sorry for my Muslim friends who were as far away from terrorism as the stars are from Earth.

I sympathise with the BJP leaders and our PM when they feel offended at being clubbed into the general category of Hindu terror. I can understand why Sadhvi Pragya and Colonel Purohit decided to avenge the death of innocents caused by terrorists born into the Islamic faith. I, though personally would not subscribe to any such revengeful method nor would I be tempted to take up arms to resist such troubles.

The nomination of Sadhvi Pragya to contest the Bhopal Lok Sabha seat against Congress candidate and former CM Digvijay Singh appears to be a statement in the same mould, as made by the ruling party when it nominated Yogi Adityanath as CM of the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. It is an undeclared war on a particular section of the populace. I do not know whether it will bring any political dividends but if those dividends are, indeed, won, it would be for all the wrong reasons and these reasons should alarm all right-thinking citizens of this country.

Sadhvi Pragya was not unknown to the keepers of the law. In the then BJP-ruled state of Madhya Pradesh, she was arrested for conspiracy to murder a fellow Hindutva activist named Joshi, accused of evil intentions towards the opposite sex. The accused were acquitted after trial but the very fact that she was arraigned before a court of justice brought her to the notice of the law-enforcers.

Hemant Karkare — chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad — was an honourable man. No one had even raised a finger of suspicion against him during his 30-odd years of service. Many members of his wife’s family were active BJP supporters and their discomfort with his findings in the Malegaon blast case made poor Karkare doubly uncomfortable. A day before he was killed by Pakistan-based terrorists in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, he met me to voice his conflicting emotions — his loyalty to his own family versus his loyalty to the truth and to his oath to the law and the Constitution. It reminded me of the dichotomy of feelings that Arjuna harboured when he had to confront his own cousins on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and the advice of Lord Krishna to the troubled warrior. ‘Do your duty’ is what the Lord ordained and this is what I felt my friend Karkare should do.

The public prosecutor entrusted with the case by the ATS was Rohini Salian, a known stickler for truth and her own conscience. She was asked by the new investigators, the NIA, to ‘go slow’, which she refused, and actually made the approach of the NIA public knowledge. She was convinced that the evidence on record was sufficient to convict Pragya Thakur, despite the circumstantial nature of the evidence the ATS had gathered.  Pragya’s motorcycle, registered in Surat, was found at the spot of the crime in faraway Malegaon. The fact that she had a series of meetings with the two absconding accused in Bhopal prior to the blasts brought the needle of suspicion to bear on her.

Pragya’s allegations of torture, made at a later time and not during her production in court when she had a chance to say what she is now saying, can be discussed as afterthoughts. As Rohini Salian has mentioned, Pragya has the backing of the investigation agency. The NIA may help her get off, but her deplorable statement that it was her curse that caused the death of Karkare (and along with him more than a hundred other innocent people) should surely alert all right-thinking citizens about the danger of having a sorceress as a possible Member of Parliament and, who knows, even a minister in the government!

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