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The Moral of Vanzara's letter

The cacophony over the anointment of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is drowning out a very important letter by one of his police officers that exposes all the cogs in an authoritarian machine. 

On September 3 this year, a document came into public view. It was a letter, all of ten pages, dated September 1, written by an officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS), addressed to a top civil servant, copied to the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, counter-signed by a witness and sent from jail. 

The author of this “letter bomb” (as the media chose to describe it), D G Vanzara, a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, had served as deputy commissioner of police and additional commissioner of police (Crime Branch) in Ahmedabad City, deputy inspector-general (Anti-Terrorist Squad) in Ahmedabad and DIG Border Range (Kutch-Bhuj) between the years 2002 and 2007. During this period, he was the most high-profile police officer in Gujarat who led the state’s fight against “jihadi terrorism”. He was credited with pre-empting several acts of terror and neutralising many “terrorists” in “encounters”. The letter was, in fact, his resignation after 33 years in the police service, the last seven of which he had spent in jail and under suspension. 

Vanzara was arrested along with two other IPS officers on April 24, 2007. The CID (Crime), Gujarat, named him as an accused in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh “encounter case”. Even while Vanzara was in prison (having been refused bail), he was “arrested” again on July 7, 2010, in the Tulasiram Prajapathi encounter case. Two more “encounter cases”, those of Ishrat Jahan and Sadiq Jamal, were opened – this time by the CBI – both of which saw Vanzara figuring as one of the top accused. 

Vanzara’s letter – which holds the Gujarat government directly responsible for the encounters – has however belied the media’s expectations of becoming a “bomb”. It went bust in the cacophony of headlines ranging from the rupee’s fall, the country-wide jubilation over death penalty to the Delhi rapists, and most notably, the naming of Narendra Modi as BJP’s “prime ministerial” candidate. Less-known spokespersons of political parties and commentators slugged it out, briefly, while the stalwarts – who are known to rant at prime-time over trivial issues – went missing. Clearly, there was no sign of a nation experiencing a revelation -- from the horse’s mouth so to say -- that the man being projected as the next prime minister of the country, subverted law, divided communities and built his image and that of Gujarat by presiding over a murderous police-state. The Gujarat government’s acknowledgement of the letter came only in the form of a formal rejection of Vanzara’s resignation. Even the CBI said that the letter had no value as Vanzara had not provided evidence to back his claims. However, what seems important is not whether Vanzara has backed his charges with evidence (unearthing which is the investigative agency’s job), but simply that Vanzara spoke out. He “sang”, mafia-style. 

Confessions of an “encounter-policeman”

The letter is a must-read for anyone who is interested in understanding the mind of an policeman specializing in “encounters”, a mercenary whose allegiance is towards the government in power  -- in this case to the man who heads this government who he apparently sees as his “personal god” -- than to the law. The letter confirms the police force’s total disregard for law and human rights. It gives us an insight into the working of a government that uses its police for politics. It demonstrates the limitless power of a state and its ability to control and manipulate the truth to further a fascist agenda. 

More tellingly, nowhere in the letter does Vanzara once say that he and his men are innocent. In fact, there is pride whenever he speaks of the “honesty, integrity and sincerity” of his men in their “epic struggle” to “prevent Gujarat from becoming another Kashmir”. He speaks for all the 32 police officers and policemen who are in prison for the four encounter cases. He says “they are made to suffer in jails in spite of the fact that they had been loyal soldiers of the Government who fought incessant war against Pakistan inspired terrorism…”  That the government, which handpicked him for the encounters, is going scot-free leaving him to languish in prison, is the central theme of the letter. The letter reads,

The CID / CBI arrested me and my officers in different encounter cases holding us responsible for carrying out alleged fake encounters, if that is true, then the CBI investigating officers of all the four encounter cases 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 very close quarters. 

This is not an angry outburst of a man accused of a rare, triple-murder charge (“rare” following the merger of the Sohrabuddin and Prajapathi cases which also involves the killing of Sohrabuddin’s wife Kausar Bi). Vanzara maintains the composure and pride in duty reminiscent of colonel Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) in the 1992 Hollywood film “A Few Good Men” in which the officer finally defends his right to take another man’s life in the name of national security. 

The extent to which civil servants are hand-in-glove with politicians in power is clearly underlined by Vanzara himself. He claims to be “loyal soldier of the government” and refers to Narendra Modi as “god”. “I have maintained a graceful silence only because of my supreme faith in and highest respect for Shri Narendrabhai Modi, whom I used to adore like a god.” It is when Modi moved heaven and earth to protect his then minister of state for home Amit Shah (who was arrested in the Sohrabuddin case and is out on bail), but failed to rescue the 32 policemen that Modi diminished in Vanzara’s eyes. He says,

But it would not be out of context to remind him (Modi) that he, in the hurry of marching towards Delhi, may kindly not forget to repay his debt which he owes to jailed police officer who endowed him with the halo of brave Chief Minister. 

Vanzara’s understanding of a civil servant’s role is interesting in its unabashed defiance of any constitutional norm. The letter says,

He who protects the police is protected by it…mutual protection and reciprocal assistance is the unwritten law between police and government in such cases. As the Government has miserably failed in protecting its encounter police, there remains no one-sided obligation on part of me to protect the traitors sitting in this government who almost have pushed patriotic and nationalistic police officers into the Jaws of Death.

Demoralisation of the Gujarat police, as a result of this, would have a cascading effect on the police all over the country, he warns, confirming that the said “unwritten law” is commonsense in police circles.

Far from remorse for killing young Muslim men and women in fake encounters, Vanzara claims credit for bringing peace and stability and elevating the image of the Gujarat government. He says,

I state with all my humility that but for the sacrifices made by me and my officers in thwarting the onslaught of initial disorder in the State, the Gujarat Model of Development, which this government is so assiduously showcasing at the national level, would not have become possible.

It, however, remains a mystery how conspiracies to assassinate Modi – which Sohrabuddin, Prajapati, Ishrat Jahan and Sadiq Jamal were allegedly involved in and to thwart which they were accused of and killed – stopped after Vanzara was put in prison. 

In the final analysis, Vanzara’s letter proves that he too is small fry in the larger scheme of a fascist polity. If Vanzara believed that Modi would save him from the law – however long it took to knock on the door – his understanding of fascism is woefully inadequate, even though he is a cog in its all-crushing wheel. Its respect for Vanzara’s human right is no more than its disrespect for the human rights of Sohrabuddin, Prajapati, Ishrat or Sadiq. Vanzara would do well to spill all the evidence he has, and quickly. Prajapati paid with his life for knowing more than he ought to have. 

Finally, what is most intriguing is the relative lack of indignation, or even interest, on the part of political parties, so vociferous in their opposition to Narendra Modi, in the so called “letter bomb”. The fact is that there have been many Vanzaras and their political masters in other shapes and forms in many other parts of India – Punjab, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam and Manipur – who have presided over massacres but slipped out of our memories and conscience.

The moral of the Vanzara letter, therefore, goes far beyond the petulant anger of this serviceable killing machine. This moral is that the Indian state, while retaining for the most part the outward forms of legality, rule of law, democratic accountability, periodic elections, trials and convictions of criminals and so on, has really lost its legitimacy when it comes to tackling the rot within itself. 

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