‘I am going ahead with my resignation’

Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santhosh Hegde, whose resignation was rejected by Governor H R Bhardwaj on Thursday, has refused to reconsider his decision.

Speaking to rediff.com about his telephonic conversation with Home Minister P Chidambaram, Justice Hegde said it was merely a courtesy call.

“He has every right to call me since we have been friends since the past 40 years. He was obviously taken aback by my decision to quit so suddenly. The home minister asked me, ‘is it right for you to resign at a time when there is so much corruption in Karnataka’. He also asked me to reconsider my decision,” said Hegde.

Maintaining his tough stance on the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka which has completed two years in power, Hegde said it was unfortunate that the party had termed the home minister’s call as part of a political game.

“There is no politics involved in this and I can say that with conviction. I have told the home minister that the situation over here is not conducive to work. I also told him the same thing I had said while putting in my papers — it is not right for me to continue in a place where I cannot protect my own officers,” said Hegde.

When asked whether he would reconsider his decision to resign, Justice Hegde said that as of now, the answer was an ’emphatic no’.

“I have been under a lot of pressure not to go ahead with my resignation. Many lawyers came up to me with a memorandum urging me not to go ahead with my resignation. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

But the anti-corruption official added, “As of today, I am going ahead with my resignation.”

It is better to quit, if one feels unwanted: Justice Hegde

Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde’s sudden resignation has come as a shock to the state and an embarrassment to the Bharatiya Janata Party government, which is incidentally gearing up for grand celebrations on Friday marking two years in office.

Justice Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, was appointed Lokayukta — the state’s top anti-corruption body– four years ago by the (then) ruling BJP-Janata Dal-Secular combine. During his tenure, he prepared the controversial report on the mining lobby, which was never discussed or even placed in the Assembly.

With one year remaining in office, Justice Hegde decided to call it quits. In an interview to Vicky Nanjappa, Justice Hegde lists out the reasons behind the resignation and also his four years in office.

Why did you quit suddenly?

I would not call it a sudden decision. There have been certain instances which have led me to take such a decision. It is a well-thought-out decision and I felt that it was necessary.

Could you list out the reasons?

When I am unable to protect my own officers what is the point in me staying over? I am quitting since I myself feel helpless. There were some officers, who we had booked on corruption charges and these officers were brought back to the same position. That was a slap on the face of the Lokayukta. I am pretty upset that several of our requests were overlooked by the government. What is the point in me staying on in the same institution where I happen to be the “only angry face”. The government does not care; what is the deal in me staying over here.

There is a talk that you are upset over the suspension of one of your officers based on the recommendation of a Cabinet minister.

Yes, that is correct. I do not want to pick names, but I would say that this incident has hurt me no end. A Cabinet minister had written to the chief secretary, recommending the suspension of an official from my office. I fail to understand why this was done. When I looked into the issue, I saw that the suspension was ordered on flimsy grounds. It was stated that the officer was missing when the minister visited that location. I felt helpless watching this turn of events. What is the point in me sitting on a chair when I can’t even protect my own officers who were only obeying me and my officers.

What about Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa? What has been his take?

I had spoken earlier about two officers being posted in the same position after we had initiated a probe against them for corruption. He had assured me that these officers would not be brought back. But that was not to be. They were brought back to the same position.

You have been working without a deputy for six months now.

Yes, it is a worry that the government has failed to fill in that post for the last six months. I had made a plea to the chief minister, but nothing has been done.

When we spoke to you, when you took over as the Lokayukta four years back, you said that you had lot of hope from the government. How has the government’s approach towards the institution that is meant to fight corruption?

The government has been indifferent, I would say. We sought additional allowances to the Lokayukta police exactly on the lines of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. We made a requisition to the government not to revoke the suspension orders against some officials. The government has deliberately ignored our recommendations.

Let us talk about the famous mining report which your office had prepared. The same was not tabled by the same government which had asked you to prepare it. Was that another major reason behind your decision?

This is not one of the main reasons. The report was submitted long time back and it was not tabled. I could have resigned then. It was my duty to prepare a report and in that we have not targeted a particular lobby. We have spoken in general about illegal mining. There have been several worrying instances though. On one occasion, we had seized trucks carrying 5 lakh tonne of iron ore. We had registered an FIR on the same. However, these vehicles disappeared and were found in Goa. We once again sought permission of the court and re-seized these vehicles. How do you expect us to function in such a set-up? I had submitted the first report in December last and will submit one more before demitting office.

Does that mean that you will not demit office now?

No. I will be here till the end of August since I still have some unfinished business. Moreover, this organization will die if I walk out immediately. The government does not have an Upa Lokayukta and if I too walk out right away, then what remains? I am giving the government time to fill up these posts so that the institution survives.

Any regrets?

No regrets at all. The decision is final and this not a tool to blackmail someone. I don’t want to continue in an office where I feel like an unwanted person. I could have been indifferent to everything and continued enjoying the protocol. But that is not what I have come here for.

Your resignation is very much like your father Justice K S Hegde who stepped down following the Emergency as he was superceded to the post of Chief Justice of India by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi .

I don’t know about that.But my father told me that it is better to quit, if one feels not wanted.

Karnataka: Justice Hegde resigns

Justice N Santosh Hegde, the Lokayukta of Karnataka, is scheduled to meet the state governor on Wednesday evening to tender his resignation. The news has shocked many as Justice Hegde has decided to resign an year before the end of his term.

“I will not like to spell out the reasons for my resignation as of now, but I will tell you more later,” Justice Hegde told rediff.com.

According to sources, he was upset with the manner in which the government had treated some of his reports, including a high-profile report he had prepared on the mining lobby operating in the state.

The Lokayukta had repeatedly sought additional powers to deal with corrupt members of legislative assembly, but was not granted any. It was becoming extremely difficult for him to function, pointed out the sources, as the government had not acted on almost any of his reports.

The delay in the appointment of a deputy Lokayukta had also slowed down work in the office and also made his functioning difficult, said sources.

Justice Hegde was appointed Lokayukta for a term of five years in 2006.

Riot inquiry report divided Bhatkal

Rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa travels to Bhatkal on Karnataka’s west coast to investigate how a quaint town turned into a hotspot and finds it divided over a riot inquiry report.

The very mention of the Justice Jagannatha Shetty Commission report can tauten the air in Karnataka’s Bhatkal town.

Bhatkal, which did not react even after the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, is today a metaphor for communal tension.

It all began after 16 people were killed in riots in late 1993 for reasons under probe. Sources say the riots were not linked to the masjid’s demolition.

However, it was not the riots but the probe into it has widened the rift between Hindus and Muslims in Bhatkal — a town with a population of about 45,000.

The commission, which was set up to inquire into the reasons behind the riots, allegedly implicated local Muslim bodies, and this has enraged the community.

While Hindus in the town have been pressing the state government to table the report in the assembly, Muslims do not want it done as they feel the conclusions will only escalate the tension and label them as culprits.

Muslims in Bhatkal, who constitute about 60 percent of the town’s population, said the commission has only made matters worse for them.

According to the report, the Ajuman Hamie-e-Muslimeen Bhatkal, an eminent Muslim institution that runs many educational institutions including an engineering college, was allegedly responsible for the riots. Another Muslim social welfare organisation in Bhatkal, ‘Lion Club’, has been also reportedly been held responsible.

Adding to the tension, the riots were followed by the murder of the local legislator Dr U Chittaranjan in 1996 while the commission was still at work. Chittaranjan had made statements before the panel testifying that Hindu groups were not involved in the riots.

The commission has exonerated the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu Jaagran Vedike, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It also quoted BJP leaders Ananth Kumar and the late Dr Chittaranjan as saying that no Muslim had filed any complaint against these organisations and their members over the riots.

The main suspect in the Chittaranjan murder case is absconding, and the reports in the case have been inconclusive.

Senior Muslim leaders from Bhatkal feel the report was a strategy to declare Bhatkal a riot zone.

“If this report is tabled, there will be a threat to the lives and property of every Muslim (in the town). Their educational institutions will be targeted and they won’t be allowed to form any youth organisation,” an elderly Muslim said on condition of anonymity.

“The report is not an ordinary one and unless it is dismissed officially, the danger will loom large over our heads. The Congress was in power when the report was first released. But since it did not think the report was right, it never tabled it. The BJP, on the other hand, continues to use it as a tool against us,” he adds.

Others from the community went on to add that the report has targeted educational institutions.

“We cannot accept that our children could be involved in this incident and unless the report is dismissed there is no chance of peace,” says a Muslim resident from Bhatkal.

Political parties are playing it safe with regard to the report.

The BJP had “promised to table” the report once it came to power in the state, but it is yet to gather courage to do so. BJP leaders believe the report could restore peace in Bhatkal.

However, senior BJP members preferred to be evasive about tabling the report. They said they would study the report very carefully before tabling it, as they did not want further communal problems in the state.

Bhatkals transition into communal hotspot

Rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa travels to Bhatkal on Karnataka’s west coast to investigate how a quaint town turned into a hotspot. Bhatkal has been in the news since the Indian security agencies zeroed in on terror links to this town.

Bhatkal is considered to be one of the most communally charged towns in Karnataka and which has gained notoriety thanks to locals like Riyaz Bhatkal who is alleged to be a key member of the Indian Mujahideen.

This town, with a population of 45,000, did not witness a single skirmish during the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots which rocked the country. However, it did face some communal violence in late 1993, which is generally regarded by the locals as the beginning of communal tension in the town.

The Hindus claim that an Inter-Services-Intelligence programme in 1993 after the riots changed the face of the town, while the Muslims say certain stage-managed incidents by the Bajrang Dal changed the communal equations in Bhatkal.

Shocked by the violence, the Karnataka government set up the Justice Jagannatha Shetty Commission which squarely blamed the Muslims for the violence. But the Muslims of Bhatkal claimed the judge had been biased in his report. The Hindus on the other hand allege favouritism and blame the government for ‘minority appeasement’, since the report has not been tabled in the assembly till date.

In 1996, the sitting Bharatiya Janata Party MLA, Dr U Chittaranjan, was murdered and this led to communal violence for nearly spanning six months, and which claimed 17 lives and damaged property worth Rs 15 crore. Since then, the town has not been the same. The Muslim community in Bhatkal says it was the JP which has brought about the rift.

Bhatkal has two major communities, the Namdharis (toddytappers, Hindus) and the Navayats who are Muslims, and both have coexisted pecefuly. The Navayats were traditional landowners in and around Bhatkal and the Namdharis were its caretakers. The residents of the town said the Navayats helped the Namdharis and even provided them with interest-free loans.

There is also an interesting recording in one of the government files at Bhatkal which relates the story of how the Shabandri Navayats helped a Namdhari family to repair a chariot and the Namdhari family, out of gratitude, parades the chariot at the Shabandri’s house.

Things began to change when the BJP made a entry into Bhatkal. The party asked Dr Chittaranjan to go to Bhatkal and establish the party there. He readily agreed and set up his practice in Bhatkal. The Muslims allege that he managed to change the social fabric of Bhatkal and convinced the Namdharis to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which sowed the seeds of communal discord.

The RSS and Bajrang Dal in Bhatkal rubbish this claim. They claim the ISI had made inroads into Bhatkal and was influencing Muslims. A former top cop said there was an ISI programme in Bhatkal in the early 1990s and a lot had changed since then. The police had submitted a report to the government to this effect but no action had been taken on it as yet, claimed the cops.

The Muslims allege that the ISI programme was just an excuse to target the community. “The RSS used this as an excuse to put the police on to us. The Namdharis who had lived in communal harmony were all brainwashed by Dr Chittaranjan and his men, and he managed to win the 1995 elections with a thumping majority. A year later he was murdered mysteriously and the matter continues to be debated as to who was behind the murder.”

The BJP on the other hand says the ISI and its elements could not bear Chittaranjan’s success and had him killed

‘My sons were branded as SIMI members’

Rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa travels to Bhatkal on Karnataka’s west coast to investigate how a quaint town turned into a hotspot. There he meets the parents of Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal who, security agencies say, are behind a spate of terrorist attacks in the country.

Ismail Shahbandri and Suwaida live in the Madeena colony of Bhatkal, Karnataka, along with 12 other family members. Leading up to this modest dwelling, one cannot believe that this belongs to Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal Shahbandri, the ‘founders of the terrorist outfit Indian Mujahideen,’ as mentioned in the Intelligence Bureau records.

Famously known as Riyaz Bhatkal alias Shahrukh Khan, he has been on the run for several years now. He has been accused of masterminding terror strikes in Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Delhi, apart from founding the IM following the disintegration of the Students Islamic Movement of India.

At Bhatkal, when you speak of the Shahbandri brothers, there is immense anger for two reasons. A section of the locals believe that the two brothers could be involved in terrorist activities and thanks to them, there is a massive Intelligence Bureau and police presence in this place, something that Bhatkal could do without.

Secondly they are angry that the name ‘Bhatkal’ is being attached to their names. “What on earth is Bhatkal? It is not a surname; there is no Muslim with such a surname. They are Shahbandris, and let it remain that way. By attaching that name to them, you are spoiling the name of the entire town,” they say.

Suwaida and her husband Ismail live with 12 others, including Riyaz’s wife Nausha and her three children. Iqbal’s wife Sana too lives with them with her four children, one of whom is mentally challenged.

As we prepare to speak to the mother, Suwaida, a couple of people also go on to add that the two brothers have hardly anything to do with Bhatkal. They are ‘Bombaywallahs’ and they have spent half their lives over there. Only when the heat on them rose, did they take shelter in Bhatkal and with that they got the entire police force following them.

The mother says, “My sons grew up in Mumbai. They visited Bhatkal a couple of times since we have relatives here. I am originally from Bhatkal, but we used to stay in Mumbai. I gave my sons a good education (both are engineers) and more importantly, I always taught them to be good Muslims. What is more heart-breaking for a mother than not to see the faces of her sons for so many years?”

“The scenario is tough. We used to live in Kurla (in Mumbai’s central suburbs) in a rented apartment. After this problem took place, we had to come down to Bhatkal and settle down with the help of our family members. However, today there is so much written about my sons in the media that even our family members do not want to talk to us,” she adds.

“My sons were never members of SIMI. They just used to visit its office in Kurla once in a while in order to study, since our house was very small. The trouble, however, began when two of their friends were killed in front of them. For no fault of theirs, the police began chasing them. A few years later SIMI was banned and it became harder on us, since my sons were branded as SIMI members,” she says.

“In 2000, we realised that it was impossible to live in Mumbai and shifted to Bhatkal. The police followed my sons here and unable to bear the pressure, Riyaz fled; and since then we have not seen him. Two years later my other son, Iqbal, too fled the place. It is sad that they have to suffer due to fabricated stories,” she adds.

“While this is one part of the story, there are other families too which face similar problems. Yaseen Bhatkal, who the Anti Terrorism Squad thinks is the mastermind behind the Pune blasts, too is missing. There are other names such as Arif who has been practicing medicine in Bhatkal whose name crops up every time there is a blast. Arif says that according to the IB I am absconding, but see, I am very much here and carrying on my daily work,” she says in amazement.

“When one looks into the police records in Bhatkal and speaks with the local police, they say they have a record only regarding Bhatkal. Interestingly, that report has only now come up, all these years he enjoyed a clean slate in the police stations of Bhatkal,” she adds.

From Bhatkal: Noorunisa’s wait for her son

Rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa travels to Bhatkal on Karnataka’s west coast to investigate how a quaint town turned into a hotspot. There he meets a mother who awaits the return of her son, an Arabic tutor who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Noorunisa can hardly walk or talk. It’s been several months since she last saw her son, Moulana Shabbir Hussain Gangawali.

Thirty-three-year-old Shabbir was the sole breadwinner for his family. With the Rs 3,000 that he used to earn every month by giving Arabic tuitions, he used to support his ailing mother, four brothers and four sisters.

His dilapidated house looks as though it may collapse any time. Today, only his mother lives in that house. With whatever voice she can muster, she wants to know when her son would return.

Shabbir was picked up in connection with the Pune blast of February 2010.

The case against Shabbir is a strange one. He had gone to Pune to visit his ailing sister, promising his mother that he would return soon. Then the blasts happened in Pune. The police questioned Shabbir, who was in the city then.

The first thing they asked him was about his native place. When he said Bhatkal, they searched him and found a Rs 500 note on him. Claiming that it was a fake, they put him behind bars. An inquiry later found him to be innocent.

However, minutes after his release, he was picked up on the grounds that he had played a crucial role in the Pune blasts and had on an earlier occasion supplied jihadi content to several youths, thus inciting them to carry out this attack.

How could the police release and then re-arrest him? ask Bhatkal residents. There is a conspiracy against him; they are just using the name of his native place to place him under arrest, they allege.

Residents say Shabbir’s case is similar to that of Abdul Sammad, who was recently granted bail by a court in the Pune blasts case.

Interestingly, the Pune blasts investigation too has not gone anywhere. The ATS and the Pune police have not yet been able to confirm the role of the Indian Mujahideen in the incident. There is now talk about the blasts being the handiwork of some Hindu groups, which has given several Bhatkal residents a ray of hope.

Meanwhile, Noorunisa continues to pray for the return of her son.

New twist in Malegaon blast case

Colonel Shrikant Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Dayanand Pandey and Devendra Gupta were all arrested in connection with the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Ajmer Sharif bomb blasts. While a lot of evidence has been gathered with the help of these accused, the question is whether the leads provided by them are good enough to crack the conspiracy.

The Central Bureau of Investigation would do well to take into custody a man named Ramnarayan Kalsangra, believed to be person who planted the bombs in Malegaon. In the beginning, there were doubts whether the Malegaon blast operatives such as Pandey, Purohit and the Sadhvi were connected to the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts. However, Gupta’s confessions in judicial custody have made it clear that they were part of a single module.

The CBI says Kalsangra, an Abhinav Bharat activist, was introduced to Gupta by Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Sunil Joshi. Kalsangra’s role becomes crucial since all the accused who are in custody have told their interrogators that he was the man who planted the bomb at Malegaon.

The CBI thought the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer operations were independent ones while another module headed by Purohit had carried out the Malegaon blasts. However, during her interrogation, Sadhvi Pragya claimed that she and Sunil Joshi had introduced Kalsangra to Devendra Gupta. This fact was confirmed by Gupta too during his interrogation. This crucial disclosure proves that the three blasts are linked. Moreover, it also goes on to substantiate the claim made by Dayanand Pandey, who had confessed to carrying out the Hyderabad blasts.

Kalsangra is considered to be an expert at assembling bombs. He was the one who is believed to have planted the bomb at Malegaon, and the CBI also believes he helped prepare the bombs for both the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts.

While these groups had been planning on undertaking such operations for quite some time, they turned aggressive following Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh pracharak Sunil Joshi’s killing. During the initial part of the Malegaon investigations, it was revealed that Joshi and the Sadhvi were close friends and she wanted to avenge Joshi’s death which she believed was carried out by the Students Islamic Movement of India activists.

Joshi had, on various occasions, spoken of the need to take revenge against the Pakistan-based terrorists. Joshi decided to rope in his friend Kalsangra and asked him to train in bomb-making. Joshi, Kalsangra and the Sadhvi then met Gupta in a Jharkhand village and decided to execute attacks on Muslim shrines.

These meetings indicated that they had first decided to target the Ajmer dargah, and Malegaon was never on their radar. However, investigators say the plan to target Malegaon was made after Joshi’s murder since the Sadhvi believed that it was the Malegaon SIMI module which killed her friend.

All through the planning stages of the Ajmer blast, Joshi and Kalsangra kept in touch with each other and even procured 14 different SIM cards to use during the attack.

The investigations into the Ajmer blasts reveal that all the SIM cards were procured from Jharkhand, where Kalsangra’s brother Shivanarayan sold mobile phones. The CBI says the primary focus of Gupta’s interrogation would be to find out Kalsangra’s current location.

Sammad awaits release for want of guarnteer

Abdul Sammad, who was granted bail in the Pune blasts case on June 15, continues to await his release for the want of a guarantor.

Sammad, who was picked by the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad from Mangalore on the suspicion that he was involved in an arms case and also the Pune blasts case, was granted bail five days back. The court, while granting him bail, had ordered him to pay surety of Rs 25000.

The procedure mandates that apart from paying a surety he should also have a person standing guarantee who in turn would be liable if the accused fails to adhere to the bail terms.

Sources told rediff.com that nobody has come forward to stand guarantee. Another issue is that he has no relatives in Mumbai where he is currently lodged.

Family sources say that they have managed to find a person as of now, but there has been some delay with regard to the verification of his documents. The police are looking into the records and do not want any trouble in the high profile case. The verification is expected to take another day following which he will be released.

Photograph: Sammad(in Blue shirt) sitting with his family

Mecca Masjid suspects seek apology and compensation

At least 50 suspects were picked up from Hyderabad city alone for allegedly carrying out both Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blasts. All of them have been acquitted by the court and they currently are seeking an apology coupled with compensation from the Hyderabad police.
“While these youth try and put their life back on track, they say that it was not enough that they were acquitted, but the real joy came when the Central Bureau of Investigation announced who exactly had carried out these attacks. We are hopeful that the stigma will come down now that the real perpetrators of the attack have been nabbed,” says Dr Junaid, who was named the main accused in the Mecca Masjid blasts.

“There was a reason why we insisted on a CBI probe right from the start,” Dr Junaid told rediff.com.

“The Hyderabad police were not looking at this case from the investigating point of view and while in custody there was a lot of communal feeling from their side which I got to witness each day. The police cannot base its investigations on a communal angle. I was in their custody for two years and I cannot even explain the torture that they meted out to me on the basis of my religion.”

Abdul and Sayeed (names changed) who were in the custody for the same case too say that it is scary living in the city.

“We have been cleared by the courts, but there is this lurking fear that we could be picked up any time. Anytime there is an incident anywhere in the country, Hyderabad becomes the focal point and the nightmare starts for all of us. Even recently when there was a constable who was shot at, we were in fear since we thought that the police may come and pick all of us up again.”

Lateef Mohammad Khan of the Civil Liberties Movement Committee India, who took the lead in fighting the case of all these youth, says that it is the communal nature of the police which has made things worse.

“The trauma that these youth and their families have undergone is unimaginable and there have been instances where the marriages of some of the family members have been called off due to these cases. Who can compensate all that? Khan questions

Dr Junaid states that their stand today has been vindicated.

“I was working as a doctor in a private hospital before my arrest and the police without any basis picked me up. When in custody, there were constant taunts about my religion. I was reading our Holy Book when one of the police officers took me into a room and gave an electric shock on my lips. They joked about my beard and passed various other comments.

“I would not say that all in the department are communal. The CBI for instance has been very fair since day one. They have acted very late, but they have acted well. I am sure that they will take it to the logical end.”

Sayeed goes on to add that being acquitted was one thing, but investigators finding the real culprits was another.

“When we were acquitted, we were happy, but some in the society would continue to think that this happened due to a technicality. However, following the revelations of the CBI, people have started looking at us differently and accept our innocence.”