HERE’S LOOKING AT US
The new police commissioner of Mumbai, Rakesh Maria, is easily the city’s most controversial cop. But going by newspaper reports of his appointment, you wouldn’t know it. Only the Indian Express and The Hindu mentioned a few of the controversies related to him.
The most damning indictment of Maria came after the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, in which three of the city’s senior cops were killed in a by-lane behind the Police Commissioner’s office. Maria was on duty in that office at that time, in charge of the control room. The three cops lay in that by-lane bleeding for 40 minutes, after having been shot by two of the 10 gunmen who’d taken over the city.
Vinita Kamte, wife of Additional Police Commissioner Ashok Kamte who was killed there, conducted her own investigation into her husband’s death, after she failed to get answers from the Mumbai police. In fact, when she applied under the RTI for her husband’s mobile phone call records, the application was rejected with a note by Maria saying: “Please reject the information sought by Mrs Vinita Kamte under the RTI Act. The information cannot be given to her under Sec 8 (h) of the said Act.”
What Mrs Kamte found when she could finally access the Log Book of calls made to and from the Control Room that night formed the basis of her book: To the Last Bullet. The book showed that it was Maria who had summoned her husband to Cama Hospital (located behind the Police Commissioner’s office) where two terrorists had entered. Yet, when she specifically asked him if he had done so, he replied, “I don’t know.”
Vinita Kamte’s book also showed that the three officers had sent several SOSes to the control room, asking for reinforcements to stop the terrorists who had left the hospital. But none came. Vinita got no explanation for this. Her allegations were substantiated by the facts that emerged from the cross-examination of policemen during the trial of the only surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab. Her book further showed that residents who saw the officers lying injured in the by-lane called the Control Room, yet no help came for 40 minutes. Three police vans passed by without stopping during that time.
Among the three cops killed that night was Hemant Karkare, then head of Maharashtra’s ATS. Karkare had just unearthed the hand of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindutva hardline group, behind the September 2008 Malegaon blasts. A serving military officer, Lt Col Srikant Purohit, and a sadhvi with strong RSS links, Pragya Singh Thakur, had been arrested for the blasts. Karkare’s mysterious death coming soon after these arrests continues to arouse suspicion. While the allegation (made in secularist and Muslim quarters) that Karkare was killed by the RSS under cover of the 26/11 attacks, is far-fetched, the lack of answers to why the three cops fell like sitting ducks despite being in the vicinity of the Police Commissioner’s office, and having sent SOSes continuously, makes the official version suspect. Maria is the man who could explain this.
But he has steadfastly refused to do so. After Vinita Kamte’s allegations which got huge coverage, Maria threatened to resign. The Maharashtra government stuck by him, and played its own dubious role by refusing to table the Ram Pradhan inquiry report into police conduct on 26/11. Maria had apparently given his version to Pradhan.
But the stink was so strong that for the media, at least, the name Maria should immediately conjure up Vinita Kamte, 26/11, Hemant Karkare. Yet, no English paper made this connection while reporting his appointment.
Maria has been associated with other major controversies. Two years after the ATS had supposedly cracked the serial train bomb blasts that took place in Mumbai in July 2006, Maria, head of the Crime Branch, came up with an entirely new set of accused: the Indian Mujahideen. One Sadiq Shaikh, arrested by the Crime Branch, had “confessed’’ that the IM was behind the Mumbai train blasts, not the 13 men arrested by the ATS.
So thanks to Maria, Mumbai had at the same time, two sets of accused for the same crime. But the ATS found no merit in Sadiq Shaikh’s claim, and let him be discharged from the case. Later, Shaikh retracted his confession, alleging torture by the Crime Branch.
The 13 original accused are still rotting in jail. They too had been tortured, and the torture stopped only after the PMO intervened. Who actually set off the bombs that killed 187, Mumbai citizens may never know, thanks to the cynical rivalry between the heads of the Crime branch and the ATS.
Again, no mention was made of this huge controversy while reporting Maria’s appointment as Police Commissioner.
In 2008, the name of Abdus Subhan Qureishi or Tauqeer was being mentioned by various police officers across the country as the “Osama Bin Laden of India’’. The mysterious Tauqeer was alleged to be behind the disturbing number of blasts that had taken place in quick succession in 2008, in Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, AP…. But Maria, in the same press conference where he presented Sadiq Shaikh as the mastermind of the Mumbai train blasts, dismissed Tauqeer as ‘media-creation’. In one stroke, he felled the speculation that top cops of various states had been making. No journalist dared to publish the latter’s reaction to Maria’s remarks.
Soon after came another major gaffe, in which then Home Minister Chidambaram too was embarrassed: the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal’s brother Abdul Samad for the German Bakery bomb blast, that took place in Pune in February 2010, killing 17. Maria had just been appointed head of the state ATS. . Arrested in an arms case as soon as he landed from Dubai, Samad was immediately linked to the German Bakery blast. Chidambaram congratulated the ATS for having cracked the case. Unfortunately for the ATS, Samad could prove that he was attending a wedding miles away in Bhatkal on the day the Pune blasts took place. To make matters worse for the ATS, Samad was acquitted in the arms case within two months, with the judge finding no evidence against him. In its charge sheet in the German Bakery blast case, the ATS made no mention of him.
This wasn’t the only questionable arrest in the German Bakery case. Maria had told the press that Himayat Baig, hailing from Udgir, had accompanied the main bomber Yasin Bhatkal, to the Bakery. However, ATS Additional Commissioner Ravindra Kadam asserted that Baig had not visited Pune on that day. The next day, Kadam had to recant. Soon after, he was transferred to the Naxalite belt of Gadchiroli, a punishment posting. Interestingly, after the elusive Yasin Bhatkal was arrested last year, he revealed that Himayat Baig, who had by then been sentenced to death by the trial court, was innocent. In a letter to the High Court registrar, Baig alleged that the ATS tortured him into confessing his crime, and asked that the NIA be handed over the German Bakery case. So again, it remains a mystery as to who was responsible for the German Bakery blast.
One of Maria’s biggest defeats was when the special court trying Ajmal Kasab acquitted two Indians Fahim Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, of the charge of having helped the 26/11 Pakistani bombers. Their acquittal was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Bombay High Court once mulled serving a contempt notice to Maria. As the joint commissioner crime, he had declared in a press conference that two Muslims who had been arrested, were aides of gangster Chhota Shakeel, and were on a mission to kill the lawyers of Sadhvi Pragya (who was in jail in Mumbai then). However, their remand applications spoke only of them trying to commit dacoity. When questioned about the assassination allegation by the court, Maria’s lawyer denied that Maria had said anything of the sort. But the media had quoted Maria to this effect.
Why should a police officer describe two petty criminals as communally motivated assassins?
Just last month, two arms dealers arrested in another case and then charged with the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, told the court that Maria had offered them Rs 25 lakh to plead guilty, and that they were being tortured by the ATS. A week later, they recanted, saying they had made the allegations in “a fit of rage”.
Interestingly, the Afternoon Despatch and Courier, describing the arrest of one of the arms dealers as an “ATS breakthrough’’ in the Dabholkar case, ended the report with these comments: “If the Dabholkar case is solved by the ATS soon, then the decks are practically clear for Maria to become the Mumbai police chief, if IPS cadres are to be believed. He is anyway rather a favourite for the post, given his track record of achievements and his showing while heading the ATS. The recent arrest of Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Afzal Usmani, who had escaped from a city court, by the state ATS has further made him a favourite in the eyes of the political bigwigs who hold the reins of selection to this all-important post in their hands.”
Alas! Dabholkar’s family is not impressed by this super-cop. This week, they were allowed to intervene in a PIL asking that the case be handed over to the CBI.
It is true that all accused cry torture; but the controversies surrounding Maria go beyond such routine allegations. All of them have been widely reported. Yet, when he was chosen as the Commissioner, only three were mentioned, and that too only by theIndian Express and The Hindu. The reason for such restraint may lie in “Maria’s darbar”, reportedly held in his cabin every evening. Tehelka’s Rana Ayyub described it as the site where “his department feeds the press stories of its gallantry which find their way into the newspapers the next day.” Maria has always been a media darling. Black Friday had the sexy Kay Kay Menon play Maria as a tough yet sensitive cop, who inspires respect despite torturing innocent Muslims.
Interestingly, Muslim websites don’t seem to share this perception. ‘Muslim Mirror’ announced Maria’s appointment thus: “Anti-Muslim cop Rakesh Maria is new Mumbai Police Chief.’’ The report mentions two controversial aspects of the German Bakery probe: the “implication” of Himayat Baig and the killing of suspected terrorist Qateel Siddiqui in Pune’s Yerwada Jail in 2012. Siddiqui had been handed over to the Maharashtra ATS by the Delhi police who wanted to probe his role in two terror cases: the German Bakery case and the planting of a bomb outside Pune’s famous Dagduseth temple on the same day. He was in judicial custody when he was killed. Later “ATS sources” said that a “patriotic” Hindu don may have had him killed.
Of course, the Muslim media characterises all arrests of Muslims on terror charges as false and communally-motivated, believing that either the RSS or the IB or both are behind all bomb blasts. But it can’t be denied that many innocent Muslims’ lives have been ruined after having been wrongly arrested as suspected terrorists. The coverage of Maria’s appointment once again shows how the English media fails to include the viewpoint of the country’s largest minority, even though it reports on this minority all the time.
Another example of this exclusion was the coverage of the dramatic entry into the BJP of Maria’s predecessor, Satyapal Singh. Singh was appointed as Mumbai’s Police Commissioner under sensational circumstances. The then Commissioner Arup Patnaik was kicked upstairs after the English press and opposition leaders bayed for his blood because of his restrained handling of a mob of Muslims who attacked the media and police without provocation in August 2012. Apparently, the NCP was waiting to push Satyapal Singh into the top post. That Singh was Sharad Pawar’s man was reported. But when he left to join the BJP, only the Mumbai Mirror and The Hindu pointed out his special links with the BJP. In 2011, he had been the Central government’s nominee to the SIT set up to probe the Ishrat Jahan encounter. Singh recused himself within a few days.
Maria’s appointment saw two contenders for the Commissioner’s post, Ahmed Javed and Vijay Kamble, go on leave. Both were vocal about having been by-passed despite their seniority. The media reported their resentment, and also the signals sent out by by-passing a Dalit contender to the top post. But not a word was written about the signal sent out by by-passing a Muslim contender. Guess that story too, had to be told by the Muslim media.
Read morehere — http://www.thehoot.org/web/Controversial-cop-media-darling/7313-1-1-10-true.html
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