Both retired from the elite Indian Police Service (IPS) – one on superannuation and the other prematurely on own volition. One to settle down in Gujarat and the other in Orissa – states that saw large-scale communal violence this decade. One is now engaged in crusading for human rights to bring justice to victims of carnage; the other allegedly spewing venom and hatred to arouse communal sentiment for political gain and more.
R.B. Sreekumar was additional director general in the Gujarat police heading state intelligence during the 2002 riots. He raised his voice against unconstitutional directives by politicians and seniors asking the police to turn a blind eye at frenzied zealots wreaking revenge on Muslims for the Godhra train killings.
In the aftermath, he gave statements to the National Human Rights Commission, the Election Commission of India and the Nanavati Commission indicting the state government for its role in the riots.
He accused Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of hatching the anti-minority carnage, and the state government of violating basic police regulations by allowing bodies of people killed in the Godhra fire incident of Feb 27, 2002, to be paraded through Ahmedabad – to instigate crowds and provoke them to violence. He was privy to the then police chief’s anguish over instructions to “…give a free play to the Hindu ire for next three days”.
Sreekumar also accused his colleague, the then police commissioner P.C. Pande, of colluding with the Modi government to delay imposition of curfew – to facilitate the parading of the bodies – and of taking no action to prevent communal riots from erupting, which resulted in nearly 2,000 people being killed.
For his stoic and courageous stand defying the official government line, Sreekumar suffered – he was transferred to positions with no responsibility; and denied due promotion to the rank of full director general of police (DGP).
This did not deter him from fighting to protect law and human rights. He fought his victimisation, and won the legal battle to secure his full rank as DGP after retirement. Settled in Gandhinagar, he strives to work for justice to the victims of the Gujarat genocide. Happy over the judiciary’s commitment to ensuring justice, in the recent Supreme Court directive to the Special Investigation Team to inquire into the alleged role of Modi in the post-Godhra carnage – he finds vindication of his own stand, and the country’s secular fabric protected.
Ashok Sahu is the other officer – originally of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre of the IPS – who resigned from service to settle down and join the BJP in his native state. Currently reputed to be Hindutva’s poster boy in Orissa, he is also president of the Hindu Jagaran Samukhya, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.
Local cadres are apparently awed by Sahu’s claims of having “terrorised ULFA” (the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assom) during his Assam tenure; he is now accused of having found other targets to terrorise in his native Orissa.
The work of Christian missionaries and the impoverished tribal Christians have become his arena to denounce consistently, cultivating for himself the image of a crusader for Hindus. In the August 2008 killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, Sahu and his colleagues in the Sangh Parivar found an opportunity to target further the Christians in Kandhamal by blaming them for the killings.
There followed then the worst ever carnage on Christians in India – of pogrom proportions like those in Gujarat of 2002. Fanatical mobs ran amok attacking and killing Christians, raping nuns, looting and burning churches, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions run by Christians on the allegation that they were behind Laxmanananda’s murder.
With the announcement of elections this year, Sahu became the BJP candidate for the Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat – in a gamble that piggybacking on the emotive issue of Saraswati’s killing he would surely win – to become the face of hardline Hindutva in Orissa. Laxmanananda’s murder was a handy election issue.
So, despite the arrest of CPI-Maoist leader P. Rama Rao alias Uday and his confession to the killing of Laxmanananda, Sahu continued with his campaign to blame and accuse Christians for it.
Apparently Sahu’s popular façade of being above the law by not caring or fearing the law which he had once sworn to protect, couldn’t last forever. His hate campaign was eventually taken adverse note of by the election authorities and local administration.
Just before the campaign period was to end Sahu was arrested by the Orissa police for his hate speech made at a rally in Raikia. Sahu was released on bail within three days. Most poll observers believe it was part of Sahu’s larger scheme to get arrested and gain electorally as a martyr for the Hindu cause.
Sreekumar and Sahu have their admirers and detractors – both are considered dedicated crusaders committed to their individual cause. Who deserves support – the one with courage and integrity to fight for justice, or the one accused of perpetrating hate and violence in the name of nationalism for political gain? Only time will tell how true or pseudo we people are, and who ultimately wins in this our so-called moralistic, tolerant and constitutionally declared democratic and secular polity.
(10.05.2009 – The author is a former joint commissioner of Delhi Police. He can be reached at email@example.com)