Journalist and old friend of Sanjiv Bhatt asks: Did you use me Sanjiv Sahab?

This piece is about two people. One a politician who is the Prime Minister of India and the other a Gujarat cop – now dismissed. From a reader’s perspective there are always different ways of looking at a writer/blogger. On the other hand, bloggers too preserve their rights and prejudices too.

Narendra Modi has been a politician and a chief protagonist of my three books on his state and him. But Modi was never a friend though I had always admired him for certain traits as an administrator in Gujarat and as a ‘grounded’ leader who looked decisive on many matters chiefly working on developmental projects.

On the other hand, Sanjiv Bhatt was a good friend and more a ‘good source’ in Gujarat police when I was deputed by Press Trust of India (PTI) there to cover the year’s toughest assignment the post-Godhra mayhem of 2002. I always believed Sanjiv or our ‘Sanjiv Sahab’ never lied to me. I will continue to cherish this belief.

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But on October 13, 2015, none other than the Supreme Court of India had choicest of words and phrases for him. “We are not impressed by aforesaid submissions. It cannot be said that the petitioner (Sanjiv Bhatt) has come to this Court with clean hands,” the court of Chief Justice of India H L Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra ruled.

I continued to be in a mystified stage as the reports of the court proceedings came in. Of course, I knew from 2009-10 that Sanjiv Bhatt was perhaps erroneous in his handling of the entire episode wherein he had filed an affidavit claiming Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat told select few senior police officials (on February 27, 2002) that the Hindu rioters should be allowed to avenge the injustice of Godhra train inferno. Other police officials, including the then DGP K Chakravarthy had denied that Sanjiv Bhatt had attended such a meeting. There was no police record to substantiate Sanjiv’s claims too. The official version being – he was too junior to be summoned for such a high-level meeting.

Despite regarding him a friend and ‘reliable source’ – to use a journalistic cliche – I was somehow not convinced about Sanjiv Bhatt’s version. I was often ridiculed in the established secular lobby of New Delhi and Ahmedabad journalism for my ‘not trusting’ a friend and backing a Hindutva leader, NaMo.

I probably went by my instincts and thought Sanjiv Bhatt must have fallen into some wrong hands. The official claim that Sanjiv Bhatt was too junior to attend such a meeting somehow worked for me. One reason for the same being, only ‘trusted’ senior cops would be convened for a high-level meeting with a Chief Minister. I knew from my experience in Nagaland, mere seniority does not make you win a Chief Minister’s trust. S C Jamir, the former Nagaland Chief Minister and the present Odisha Governor, had tutored me a few tricks of running an administration.

So my argument was: Even if Sanjiv Bhatt was authorized to go to such a meeting (in the absence of his senior), there was no surety the Chief Minister would trust a junior fellow. To say that Sanjiv Bhatt did not know this would be wrong again.

Nevertheless, the detailed ruling from the apex court of the land and that too telling in as many words that  Sanjiv Bhatt has used ‘media card’ and was only a tool to Modi’s political detractors was a sad affair overall.

The court had ruled, “He (Sanjiv) had exchanged e-mails with rival political party leaders and was being tutored by the  lawyer of NGO and its activist. Ghost questions and answers were also prepared as to what the petitioner was required to speak before Justice Nanavati Commission. Petitioner has used the media card, has even sent the e-mails to influence the judicial proceedings of a  3-Judge Bench of this Court (Supreme Court) and has tried to influence the amicus  curiae. The e-mails also indicate that he tried pressure groups and  tried to invoke media pressure”.

I felt let down. Did Sanjiv use some of his media friends too and needless to add – by basking in the ‘glory’ of being one-man against Modi – Sanjiv’s friend circles in media had changed by then? His onetime ‘babu moshai from Mumbai’ (this blogger) was hardly in the inner circle! And thus during December 2012 election campaign for the state assembly, my interaction with Sanjiv Bhatt – when his wife Shweta was contesting against Modi from Maninagar assembly segment – was minimum and more of a courtesy meeting. Sanjiv’s friends now were high flying journos, TV anchors and Padma Shri awardees.

On October 14, a day after the apex court ruling, I confided in my wife and few close friends in Delhi and Mumbai and also with one special friend on Facebook that overall it was a ‘sad’ affair. Sanjiv has been slammed – this time not by BJP’s battery of spokespersons but by the Supreme Court itself. And if Sanjiv sahab had any ‘media card’ – our profession has been misused.

I have stated earlier of the apprehension I had about him falling into ‘wrong hands’ – for essentially I thought and many journalists who have served in Ahmedabad would believe that he was a sharp cop. I still have a few fond memories of his genuine friendship and helping me in discharge of my duties as a journalist for a highly demanding wire agency Press Trust of India (PTI).

But, I am afraid, one cannot sympathise with him further. So, rather one is convinced to take the harsh but candid line of a noisy TV anchor that ‘the credibility of Sanjiv Bhatt is over’. This is perhaps a big casualty of the 2002 Godhra train inferno and the subsequent politics perpetrated from either side.

On a broader larger scale, what angers me most is that the ‘credibility’ of a police official has been hit. It demonstrates gross abuse of police force, IPS cadre and a brilliant police officer by the Congress party and the NGOs — the permanent Modi detractors. This judgement of the Supreme Court, according to me, has made our friend Sanjiv Bhatt the Man-of-the-year 2015 – of course for the wrong reasons. Is Sanjiv Bhatt a case of abuse of a ‘weakest’ link by Congress party and the NGO brigade?

We know in a contest of unbalanced confrontation, like the story of David and Goliath; the weakest has to outsmart the strongest. My friend just could not. Sanjiv sahab is still active in social networking. He has the right to do so. But he needs to pull himself back for a while. And I sincerely feel so.

Now, the bigger question is should there be a probe into Congress-Sanjiv Bhatt nexus in the entire episode — to dig out the truth?

– by @nirendev1
(Nirendra Dev is a Spl. Representative with The Statesman, New Delhi and author of books including
‘Modi to Moditva – An Uncensored Truth’ and ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’)

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