Whose bullets killed the Maharashtra ATS chief and Inspector Vijay Salaskar, if they were not that of Kasab and Ismail? Was there some other sinister force out to eliminate Karkare and stop him at all costs? And how come Karkare's line of investigations has finally opened up the terrorist can of Hindutva outfits that triggered bomb blasts across the country?
Hardnews Bureau Delhi
ML Tahaliyani is one old-fashioned judge. Refusing to get swayed by endless rants on hysterical news channels to hang all the accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror atrocities, Tahaliyani not only confined himself to the evidence presented by the Mumbai Police during the trial of Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the attack, but also revived the unsolved mystery of the killings of Hemant Karkare - and, also, ACP Ashok Kamte.
So who killed the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief of Maharashtra, Hemant Karkare, on that bloody night of carnage unleashed by Pakistani terrorists in Mumbai, November26, 2008?
Indeed, two others accused of complicity and for being local handlers behind the Mumbai attacks were acquitted by the judge for lack of evidence against them. The evidence against Faheem Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed seemed planted - especially the maps found on them did not look 'soiled' despite their alleged overuse.
The judge's queries and certain incomplete answers lead to a complex and uncanny zone of mysteries: Ballistic experts could not clarify the most crucial dimension of these killings: whose bullets killed Karkare and others?
There is absence of authentic information. Why could no reliable police explanation be provided on whether Ansari handed over a map to Sabahuddin in Nepal?
Why was the police unable to produce even one of their witnesses to depose against Faheem and Sabahuddin?
How did a hand-drawn map on a paper remain unsoiled and unstained even though it was recovered from the bloodstained pocket of dead terrorist Abu Ismail, where it was supposed to have been for four days?
The outcome of Tahaliyani's informed scepticism has revived all the conspiracy theories about the motive behind the ATS chief's killing. Karkare, who exposed the involvement of Hindu terror organisations in the Malegaon blasts in 2008, was threatened with death via anonymous phone calls if he did not relent in his tireless efforts to unearth the vast network of Hindu terror cells that were involved in similar incidents of blasts and killings all over the country. Intriguingly, he had got a call two days before he was killed. Karkare had to be stopped - at all costs.
Many of Karkare's leads have now been decisively corroborated from investigations undertaken by police in different states. So if there is merit in what Karkare and his team ferreted out during the Malegaon blast probe and if he was not killed by the terrorist's bullet - then it is possible to surmise (or speculate) that there were others who took advantage of the chaos of that neurotic terror-filled night to stalk him and stop him in his heels.
Hardnews understands that these are extremely serious allegations that could give a different spin to 26/11, but there have been a series of unfortunate events like the disappearance of his bullet-proof jacket and the initial reluctance of the police to give his autopsy report that further deepens this mystery. The autopsy report suggests that Karkare was shot from shoulder down by someone who was inside the vehicle. If it had not been for the perseverance of Karkare's wife, Kavita, and Kamte's wife, Vinita, who doggedly used every possible means to get to the bottom of the happenings on that night, far less would have been known. (Kamte was killed along with Karkare and Inspector Vijay Salaskar).
Home Minister P Chidambaram's detailed reply in Parliament in response to the doubts raised by the former minority affairs minister, AR Antulay, would need more investigations now. Antulay had raised a storm by asking for an inquiry into the killings of the ATS chief and other officers. He had said, "There must have been some reason why Karkare went to Cama Hospital instead of Taj and Oberoi hotels." Also, he had raised doubts over why three officers were travelling in the same car, which is against the norms.
Antulay was reported to have said that "someone" could have told Karkare and other officers with him to go to Cama Hospital,suggesting that the ATS chief fell victim to a 'set-up' as he was probing cases which involved fanatic Hindu terrorists in the Malegaon bomb blast case, with strong and powerful linkages.
The comments were showcased on television. It created an uproar in the Lok Sabha where BJP and Shiv Sena MPs were up in arms, castigating Antulay, who insisted that directions issued to the officer must be probed. BJP leader Arun Jaitley said that Pakistan could now quote Antulay to contest the account of the lone surviving Mumbai terrorist, Ajmal Kasab. "Having made such a preposterous statement, Antulay cannot be allowed to remain in government even for a day," he had said.
But the uncanny questions remained, even while there have been efforts to connect the dots between the various bomb blasts and Hindutva terror links. Indeed, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was recently on record alleging that the previous BJP-led state government in Jaipur had tried to go slow and fudge the investigations linking the Hindutva terror outfits. That some of those involved had old fraternal links with RSS has also been established.
There have been nagging questions in the public domain as to why Hemant Karkare chose to go to this particular spot. In which security force does the chief of the force rush to the spot of violence, along with other top cops, and that too in one vehicle, wearing an outdated helmet and bullet-proof jacket? And then gets shot, as if almost in close range.
As per the PIL filed in the case, according to specifications laid down for bullet-proof vests, the body should be covered from the neck till the waist. But the jacket worn by Karkare had only his chest covered while the neck portion was open. The post-mortem report stated that Karkare received a "total of five wounds on the shoulder blade, top region between neck and right shoulder, four entry wounds in one line." The post-mortem report further revealed that he received one bullet in the neck and the other four were in a line entering the shoulder and exiting from the armpit.
Curiously, there were reports about two bullets being found in his body during autopsy. What happened to those two bullets? Whatever happened to the bullets that passed through his body? Were they found in the vehicle, in his bullet-proof jacket, around his body, or somewhere else? Has the gun been identified, the gun(s) which killed Karkare and others? If not, why? If he was shot at close range, was the shot fired from inside the vehicle, and if so, who fired it and why?
While the entire media attention was directed at Judge Tahaliyani's judgement that declared Kasab guilty of the killings at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal (CST - old name Victoria Terminus, VT), it made light of the revelation made by the judge when he questioned the Mumbai Police about the ballistics experts having failed to prove whose bullets killed Hemant Karkare and Salaskar on that fateful night.
The implications of his questions are very serious. For reasons of reiteration, it can also be implied that the two police officers did not die from the bullets of either of the Pakistani terrorists, Kasab or Ismail, but from someone else's gun. Whose gun? Whose guns?
The reason why the media and the police has been reluctant to dwell on this aspect is because truth, unfortunately, has acquired a nationality, and any departure from the officially accepted narrative, it is asserted, would be anti-national and thereby dilute the gravitas of the government of India's chargesheet against Pakistan's involvement in the Mumbai terror attack.
Although there is little disagreement among sceptics about the quality of evidence against Kasab, the terrorists' journey from Karachi and the involvement of their handlers in unleashing such an organised and planned carnage in Mumbai, what is disputed are the circumstances in which Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar were killed. The allegation that they were driven to their death by an invisible hand that brought all of them together to Cama Hospital from different parts of Mumbai has not been adequately refuted.
Tahaliyani's monumental question further befuddles when it gets known that there was no one inside the police Qualis except the driver and Constable Jadhav. Perhaps there were some unknown people outside - who are not accounted for. Ashok Kamte's autopsy shows that he was killed by Ismail, the terrorist accompanying Kasab.
"As the bullets had passed through the bodies of both Karkare and Salaskar, the court cannot come to a conclusion on who shot them. However, it is proven that Ismail shot Kamte," the court was reported to have said.
Tahaliyani also criticised Constable Jadhav, the sole eyewitness and survivor of the killings of Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar, for changing his statement a few times. Although the testimony of the accused, in this case Ajmal Kasab, can never be taken seriously, but he called Jadhav a "liar" and claimed that his version of what happened at Cama Hospital, where all the three Mumbai Police officers were killed, was wrong. Interestingly, Kasab's cross-examination on the happenings around Cama Hospital and its periphery was conducted in camera.
Jadhav had also expressed outrage when defence lawyer Abbas Kazmi had asked him why he didn't use his carbine at the Pakistani terrorists when they were driving around in the Qualis. He had claimed that he was shot on his hands and could not lift his carbine. It was clear that Kazmi was making a loaded suggestion, but he did not follow up on his query.
The scepticism displayed by Tahaliyani towards Jadhav's version of events as well as the fact that the Pakistani terrorists did not shoot Karkare - if ballistics experts are to be believed - once again resurrects a question that has never been settled: Was Karkare's death an accident or was it an outcome of a conspiracy as many have been hinting, including the former minority affairs minister, AR Antulay.
This question gets revived, ironically, at a time when police in different states are giving credence to the path-breaking findings by Hemant Karkare where he was able to establish the presence of a radical Hindu outfit, Abhinav Bharat, as responsible for the blasts in Malegaon, and later on stitching it with a larger conspiracy of these extremists to use elements in the Indian army to organise a coup.
Karkare had then said in an interview to a weekly: "We are not looking at seers or saints in relation to the Malegaon blasts. We are not looking at people from a particular community when we question them. We are just detaining people on the basis of evidence... There are a lot of people going around claiming to be saints."
He had also said: "There are agencies that have been looking at the various links, namely the CBI, which has been looking at the Malegaon blasts of 2006. The link we found is that of Rakesh Dhawre. He is a Pune-based counterfeit arms dealer who was involved in the training that took place for the blasts of 2006. He is the common link between the 2006 blasts including the ones in Purna and Parbhani, and the 2008 Malegaon blasts. Investigating agencies are working on it... We look at individuals and not organisations when we carry out our investigations. We are not looking at Abhinav Bharat, we are looking at the individuals involved..."
On being asked if the army was cooperating on the involvement of ex-army officer Shrikant Purohit and his leave records, Karkare had clearly stated: "I would like to clear this. The army has given cooperation to the ATS right from day one on every aspect of the interrogation. There have been reports that the army has not been cooperating with the ATS and that's absolutely untrue. The army gave us his leave records and other documents, which we needed."
The ATS probe had revealed a vast network that seamlessly linked Hindu extremists with some indoctrinated members of the Indian army and some shady Jewish organisations abroad. All of them seemed to have been consumed by their hatred for Islam and their desire to coalesce a muscular Hindu Rashtra to take on Wahabi radicalism. Abhinav Bharat had also displayed impatience with some elements of the RSS and their status quoist minimalism.
In many ways, what Karkare and his team scooped out from the interrogation of extremists like Pragya Thakur, Dayanand Pande, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, and others, make for serious allegations that give a different spin to the bomb blasts that had been taking place in the country over the last few years. In fact, just a day before Karkare was killed, there were media reports whereby he sought permission from the defence ministry to follow up on some of the leads that he had collected during his investigations. He was apparently keen to check the extent of infiltration of this subversive ideology in the defence forces, but his efforts proved stillborn. These leads went cold after his death.
His successor, KP Raghuvanshi, who had reportedly intersected with Lt Col Purohit on some occasion, did not show similar enthusiasm in taking the case to its logical conclusion. In fact, during his tenure, the courts had worryingly refused to book the culprits under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
Karkare's investigation began after the Malegaon blast in September 2008, but they took the lid off what had been happening in the country since 2002 when the BJP-led NDA government was in power. Under his leadership, the Maharashtra ATS managed to establish links between elements within Hindutva terrorists, Sangh Parivar and the BJP governments that were in power in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
Initial investigations had quickly linked these incidents to Muslim terror organisations like SIMI and Hizbul. Even some Congress-ruled states like Andhra Pradesh were not immune to this prejudiced mindset to blame innocent Muslims who were arrested, tortured and hounded in places like Hyderabad. After the harrowing process of torture and jail, and public condemnation as terrorists, scores were released for lack of evidence. The tragedy and the scars have still not healed, and there has been no justice; even as the Batla House encounter in Delhi is widely perceived to be fake and the subsequent arrests unfair, the government's refusal to order a judicial enquiry only strengthens this public perception.
Significantly, some of these blasts took place in BJP-controlled states like Rajasthan, where the police ignored the leads, like what happened after the blast in Modasa in Gujarat. (In the 'Hindtuva republic of Gujarat', meanwhile, a fake encounter regime was being widely legitimised - witness the encounter killings of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi, eyewitness Tushar Prajapati, and even the dubious murders of Ishrat Jahan and others, apparently by top cops of Narendra Modi).
In the Ajmer Dargah, where the blast triggered by a cell phone took place in October 2007, the arrests were mostly of some Muslims. Two years later in 2009, Rajasthan ATS has arrested one Devendra Gupta from Bihariganj in Ajmer. These arrests became possible due to the change in regime in Jaipur and de-legitimisation of the line of investigation pursued by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the state intelligence that mindlessly arrested Muslims without bothering about evidence.
The ATS of Rajasthan, which was working in consonance with the IB, found that the SIM cards used for the blasts in Hyderabad, Ajmer and Malegaon were procured from the same source. The links are becoming irrefutable.
What is worrisome about the vast extent of this Hindu network is its agenda: to demonise and push for ethnic cleansing of the minorities (as in the Gujarat genocide of 2002), sow greater divide between the two communities, and provoke a war between India and Pakistan. This nefarious game was being played out before the 2004 elections and subsequently in 2008 - a year before the 2009 general elections. There is a body of circumstantial evidence to show that the activities and networks of these fanatics would have tangentially helped in building a climate of opinion in favour of Hindutva forces, which would help bring the BJP back to power.
The chargesheet put together by the Maharashtra ATS had also shown Abhinav Bharat's links with Jewish chauvinistic elements in Israel and how it was seeking endorsement for its actions from them. Unrelated to Abhinav Bharat's activities, Israeli covert outfits have been accused even by Americans for triggering off blasts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These allegations found expression even in one of the big Israeli newspapers, Ha'aretz.
The purpose and intent of these blasts, as perfected by agent provocateurs in different theatres of violence, is to deepen the divide between communities, create a sense of anarchy and revenge, and provoke retaliation. Hindu terror groups since 2002 have also followed the same model.
The first attempt was made in Bhopal where an improvised explosive device was found that seemed to have been placed to target Muslims who were coming to attend a Tablighi Jamaat meeting. In 2003, there was a blast in the Mohammadiya Mosque in Parbhani in Maharashtra. Jalna and Purna, again in Maharashtra, were targeted in 2004 and, later, Nanded in 2006. Police found that Bajrang Dal activists were involved in that incident. In 2006, the Malegaon mosque was devastated by a blast that killed 38 people. The police quickly arrested many Muslims. However, the worst was yet to come.
On February 18, 68 people were killed and scores injured when two suitcase bombs exploded in the Indo-Pakistan Samjhauta Express. Among the dead were 42 Pakistani nationals. Expectedly, Indian investigators blamed Paksitani jehadi elements for trying to disrupt ties between the two countries. If it hadn't been for Karkare, this line of enquiry would have prevailed, even while one community in India would have suffered terrible injustices. Now, the Samjhauta Express blasts are also under the scanner, with Hindutva links being exposed.
Again, in May 2007, the bomb blast in the historic Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad killed nine and injured more than 50 people. More than 200 Muslim youths were arrested and many of them tortured. Several of them, after torture and condemnation, had to be released later due to lack of evidence.
The all-India network of these Hindutva subversives can be gauged by the fact that in August 2007, two Bajrang Dal activists were killed in Kanpur while assembling bombs. There were more incidents in Hyderabad and Ajmer. Needless to say, Bajrang Dal-VHP-BJP-RSS are integral to one joint family - the Sangh Parivar - often operating in tandem, their jarring notes in symphony.
However, the blasts in Malegaon on September 29, 2008, changed the blinkered view of the investigative agencies and the police. After the Malegaon violence came a phase of increasing corroboration and endorsement of the presence of the Hindutva hand in these terror happenings. The Goa blasts in 2009 were again another manifestation of how different Hindu organisations were intrinsically linked with the same agenda, using almost the same methodology. They are like the hundred heads of Ravana that have a common heart and mind - and goal.
After Karkare's investigations, subsequently followed up by other state police, there has been a fall in the number of such incidents. During the last general elections, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar made an interesting observation: there has been no bomb blast after the hand of Hindu terror outfits has been exposed.
More recently, Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh and the Left parties asked the Union home ministry to bring in more energy into this concerted fight against Hindutva terrorism and its sinister and entrenched front organisations' networks. Singh wants a special cell to be created in the home ministry to monitor these cases.However, the truth is, all the pieces will fall in place once there is a sharp clarity about the killing of Karkare on that night of the dead when the terrorists went berserk. And that is the question Hardnews is asking: Who pulled the trigger on Hemant Karkare?