RB Sreekumar has long been a thorn in Narendra Modi’s side. The former DGP was the first serving officer to depose against the Gujarat government after the 2002 communal carnage.
He retrieved the then chief minister Modi’s speech comparing relief camps for riot-displaced Muslims to “child producing centres” and handed it over to the National Commission for Minorities. It’s considered valuable evidence of the alleged complicity of Gujarat’s political leadership in the violence against its vulnerable minorities.
Sreekumar deposed before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission, which probed the carnage, four times. He handed over notes from his diary about what transpired in official stock-taking meetings, whose minutes were deliberately not kept.
He also provided a discreetly-recorded audio tape of officials threatening him with dire consequences for not bending to the regime’s will.
The state hasn’t forgiven him for this. Last week, on 4 September, it secured a court order to launch a probe against him. He has been charged on nine counts, including for keeping a private diary and making it official, taping a meeting with officials and “leaking” intelligence reports to the media.
Sreekumar laughs heartily while recounting his 14-year-long legal battle with the Gujarat government. It’s a fight that has seen his peers, friends and even relatives desert him and to continue which he has had to sell his property.
In this conversation with Catch, Sreekumar also talks about his encounters with Modi and claims the now prime minister had asked him to cook up cases against Congress leaders and tap Shankersinh Vaghela’s phone.
SM: You were the Gujarat police’s head of Intelligence during the 2002 riots. How did you find the government’s attitude towards Muslims and to their rescue and rehabilitation?
RBS: I felt the state was prejudiced towards the victim community, which was clearly the Muslims. So I started collecting reliable information, prepared detailed analytical reports about remedial measures.
This really disturbed the state. In April 2002, I prepared a detailed analytical report about how the police was prejudiced against the Muslims and were not registering cases properly. This happened in Naroda Patiya and other places as well; FIRs were not registered. I suggested immediate remedial measures, but they neither asked for my clarification nor took any action.
Soon after taking over as Additional DGP for Intelligence, I got reports about Sangh Parivar people and some Muslims instigating mobs, but none of these reports except those on the Muslims were forwarded to government.
I told the chap in charge, “These reports are coming from the ground. You only have to polish and collate them properly and send it to government.” But that fellow didn’t do it.
RBS: It was due to a phenomenon I call anticipatory sycophancy. There was an understanding among officials that only what the chief minister liked was to be reported to the government. But that wasn’t their duty. It was to collect actionable, real-time intelligence.
So, the first such report during that time was prepared by me. The report directly accused the Sangh Parivar of instigating the riots. Immediately, the then chief secretary and the DGP asked me to withdraw it. But how could I suppress information?
DGP, chief secretary, additional chief secretary were all liable to be punished under section 166 of the penal code for dereliction of duty. Even the Nanavati Commission later noted that several top officials ignored their duty like this.
Sreekumar: I sent a report about the Sangh instigating the riots. The DGP asked me to withdraw it
SM: After the riots, the Gujarat government wanted to hold elections immediately to benefit from the polarised Hindu vote. But based on your intelligence report, the Election Commission decided against immediate polls. What was the state’s reaction?
RBS: It was the most glorious moment of my 36-year-long career as a police officer.
Narendra Modi’s government prematurely dissolved the assembly, forcibly shut down relief camps and asked the EC to hold elections. The EC then sent a team on a fact-finding mission. The team called me in my capacity as ADGP for Intelligence. The government told me not to go, but I defied them.
The state gave a presentation to the EC claiming that only 66 of the 182 assembly constituencies were affected by violence. But I countered them with facts and reports from the ground.
I told the EC that 154 constituencies were affected and 1.56 lakh people were displaced. Most of those people didn’t even have a document to prove their identity and vote. I told the EC that their names could be misused during voting.
They highly appreciated this and on 16 August 2002 and issued a 40-page order saying the government’s proposal was not acceptable. They said we fully accept Sreekumar’s assessment and are postponing elections. That’s why, you see, that the state can never forget or forgive me. They said you let us down badly. They started inquiries over minor things.
SM: You were the one who retrieved the full text of Modi’s speech during his Gaurav Yatra in which he called relief camps for Muslims “child producing centres”. It was a major loss of face for the government and for Modi personally. Recount for us what exactly happened?
RBS: It was 10 September 2002. At two places during his Gaurav Yatra, Modi made these notorious statements inciting communal hatred.
The National Minorities Commission asked for a report on this speech. And it was my duty as the ADGP, Intelligence, to get it.
Now see how funny the situation became. The chief secretary and the DGP called me and said we are giving you a formal letter to provide details about the speech to the commission, but don’t actually do it.
I said that’s not possible unless you give it to me in writing. They threatened me. They said, “you are about to be promoted, why are you creating trouble for yourself?”.
Then they actually gave me a written order to not report Modi’s speech. But on 17 September, I submitted the speech and also observed that it contained elements of communal hatred which vitiated the atmosphere in the state.
That very night, I was transferred to a specially-created post called Additional DGP, Police Reforms. The post didn’t have any charter of duties, any specific job. They provided me one peon, one car and one room, but no work, no files came to me. I continued in this post till my retirement on 28 February 2007.
SM: How do you respond to the charges that the Gujarat government has leveled against you? You have been accused of maintaining a private diary and making it official, taping a meeting with officials and leaking intelligence reports to the media.
RBS: Sometime in August 2004, Nanavati cross-examined me and I gave my first affidavit to the commission. Immediately, two home department officials summoned me without any authority to do so, and directed me to not speak against the government.
They thought that I, who was head of the intelligence wing, was a fool. I recorded the entire conversation and presented it in a letter as my third affidavit to the Nanavati Commission.
At that time, no charge sheet or departmental inquiry was pending against me. Then they cooked up some charges and filed a case against me. I went to the Central Administrative Tribunal and on the last day of my service, the CAT quashed the case against me.
I showed the Nanavati Commission a copy of the notebook in which I had noted details of meetings. They have charged me for this also.
How can you remember details of a meeting where 10-15 people come but no minutes are kept. And how can you blame somebody for doing it?
I noted down details of the meetings to aid my memory. But the government issued a charge sheet in September 2005 and charged me with clandestinely recording home department meetings.
The high court hasn’t found me guilty of any misconduct, moral decrepitude, corruption or violence, but I am being hounded. There are many IPS officers who are accused of these very crimes, but no action has been taken against them.
This is like the Nuremberg trials. I have made them an offer that I’m willing to undergo a narco-analysis test anywhere in India, but they haven’t accepted it.
Before Teesta Setalvad helped arrange a lawyer, I had to sell my car to fight the case: RB Sreekumar
SM: So how are you going to respond to the high court order allowing the state to launch a probe against you?
RBS: I’ll fight it in the Supreme Court.
SM: You have been fighting the state for the last 14 years. You are nearing 70 and with high court approving a probe against you, you have a long legal battle ahead. Do you ever regret taking on the state?
RBS: I knew I was up against the Himalayas, an iron wall. Before Teesta Setalvad stepped in and helped me by arranging a lawyer, I had to sell my car to fight the case.
The lowest point for me personally was when Modi was re-elected after the 2002 riots. My colleagues in the police stopped speaking to me, even my relatives cut ties with me. All social relations broke down. The absence of an active social warmth was a painful setback.
You know I am a Vedic sort of a person and I’ve been able to get through these crises by always believing that this too shall pass. The Gita has a verse: ‘Matra sparsas tu kaunteya, sitosna sukha duhkha dah, agamapayino nityas, tams titiksasva bharata’. It means that sadness and happiness come and go like seasons, one must learn to live through them without getting disturbed.
SM: You must have met Modi while you were serving in Gujarat. How did you find him as a chief minister? Did he ever make any special requests to you?
RBS: After my appointment as ADGP, Intelligence, I had many meetings with him. He once asked me to prepare a report that said that Congress workers were responsible for inciting communal violence in Ahmedabad. I refused.
Sometime later, he asked me to tap Shankersinh Vaghela’s phone. I again refused, arguing that Vaghela was not a criminal nor a threat to society.
One of his secretaries once told me, “CM bolte hain to karo na (If he’s telling you to do something, just do it)”. But I have to say that though I continuously defied him, Modi never shouted at me.
I think the closest parallel Modi has is Joseph Stalin – a narcissist, opportunist, megalomaniac. Stalin was an antithesis of Lenin, who was a purist Marxist. Stalin was a downright dictator, he made use of soviet secret police to settle personal scores, but he never believed in the communist ideology.
Modi doesn’t really believe in the Hindutva ideology, it just happens to be convenient for him. He is the sort of person who can convert any crisis into an opportunity.