Swetha Bhatt, Sanjiv Bhatt | Photo: Mathrubhumi/PTI
From blatant lies to targeted personal attacks, Shweta Bhatt, the wife of the incarcerated former IPS officer of Gujarat, Sanjiv Bhatt, says she has seen it all. A staunch critic of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shweta is fighting a lengthy legal battle to get justice for her husband. Sanjiv's allegations about Modi's complicity in the Gujarat riots became a thorn in the BJP's ascendance to power. However, Bhatt's allegations were dismissed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court and a slew of legal battles followed. Bhatt, who was removed from the service in 2015, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Sessions Court of Jamnagar District in a 1990 custodial death case.
Terming her husband's plight as 'witch hunt' and 'scapegoating', Shweta Bhatt , who was in Kozhikode recently to speak at an event organised by the Indian Association of Lawyers in connection with their state conference, opened up about her legal battles in a brief interview with Mathrubhumi.com.
Is your family a victim of political babus' vested interests in Gujarat?
First of all, I don't see ourselves as victims. We are getting targeted, and that's the truth. Yet we are fighting it. We had the choice to back away, reach a settlement, and not pick a fight. Things would have been different if we had taken that path. Yet we chose to fight because my husband thought what happened was not right. He is a Police Officer who believes that the duty is to maintain law and order. He became the voice of thousands of people because he never compromised or was ready to retract his stand. In his absence, I am continuing the fight.
What is the present status of the legal battles you are fighting against incarceration of your husband?
I am presently fighting two decades-old cases; the 1990 custodial death of VHP activist Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnavi and the 1996 drug seizure case. If we look at Section 161 in the police manual, no case can be filed against a police officer after a period of two years. The provision is included to safeguard police officers from facing illegal prosecutions. It is worth noting that under section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), prior sanction from a competent officer is needed to prosecute a government servant. Sanjiv Bhat was prosecuted in violation of these provisions.
Can you recall the incident that led to the case of custodial torture in Jamnagar in October 1990?
The rioters were arrested for arsoning houses, mosques and others by the local police in Jamnagar. It was not under my husband's jurisdiction. It was the Sub-Inspector who asked Sanjiv to visit the area. By the time he reached there, all 33 rioters were arrested by the police. Sanjiv never arrested them nor interrogated them. Nobody complained when they were produced before the magistrate the next day nor at the jail. After 8-10 days, they were released from the jail. To this point, nobody complained about police torture. One of the arrested rioters, Prabhudas Vaishnani, died 18 days after he was released from jail. No shreds of evidence were present to indicate police torture was the cause of death.
You mean to say that Sanjiv was deliberately dragged into the case?
If we use our common sense, we know that a police officer holding such a position would not go out in the street using a stick (baton) to beat rioters or arrest them. The arrests were done by local police officers. During the trial, the prosecution demanded examining around 300 witnesses. However, when the time came, they reduced the number of witnesses to around 30 people, declaring others were not important in the case. Out of the 30 witnesses examined, none were doctors, investigating officers, or individuals relevant to the case. We were never given a single defence. At the same time, an order came from the Supreme Court directing the trial to be completed within 15 days. The trial was completed within the stipulated time. Even our bail petition in the Supreme Court remained in the registry for almost three-and-half years. Eventually, our bail petitions were dismissed by Justice AM Khanwilkar days before his retirement on July 29, 2022.
How did Sanjiv Bhatt's revelation against Modi change everything?
Everything changed in our lives the day my husband decided to file an affidavit against Narendra Modi in 2011. What did he do? He was an intelligence chief officer at that time. If the Special Investigation Team (SIT) calls and asks him a question, he is bound to answer them. My husband is not a person who pretends that he forgot what happened during the 2002 Gujarat riots. He dispatched every document, report and others he had in his possession. It was the duty of the SIT to confirm and verify the documents and reports. We only performed our duty. How could someone say he should have remained quiet and not revealed anything? Even now, the lawyers in Gujarat are afraid to get involved in our case.We are not allowed to see the relevant documents in the cases. I am running from one court to another fighting for my husband. These are very hard times, and I am struggling to cope with the situation. I meet my husband only when he is brought to the court.
In our case, two Public Prosecutors came to Gujarat to appear against my husband. They concentrated solely on Sanjiv Bhatt's case in Palanpur-- a three hours drive from Ahmedabad. So just for this case, two PPs were paid lakhs per day along with all other necessities for the past 4 years and 8 months.
Why is the government spending such an exorbitant amount of money to keep Sanjiv Bhatt inside? Why are they so scared of him coming out?
Let him come out. When we look at the political history in India right now, we have many examples of how the BJP can silence leaders, activists and journalists. They need Sanjiv to remain silent.
Do you think BJP's Gujarat Model is getting implemented across the country?
It has already started. The Gujarat Model is everywhere. You need to understand that BJP is not comfortable with governing a country. I don't think they have a vision for it. They are always in an election mode, going from one to another on a regular basis. Have you ever heard about a Prime Minister doing so many personal rallies instead of looking at the country and planning for its future? BJP is only bothered about winning elections in whatever way possible even if they have to purchase opposition members or leaders. This is the type of government and governance we are facing. It is up to us to decide how much we can tolerate this.
Is BJP losing its ground in Gujarat?
Yes, People are all fed up with the government. You need to realise that Gujarat is a state where people are involved in some kind of business, no matter how small it may be. Right now, businesses are struggling due to the implementation of GST, demonetisation and other policies. Nobody is happy. I do not know how they won the last election.
How much support are you receiving from opposition parties?
Everybody is supporting us. But we are in a legal loop until the day Sanjiv Bhatt receives his bail. However, the people of Kerala love Sanjiv Bhatt and continue to support him. Today, everyone knows him. Everybody knows that he's innocent. He's being penalized and incarcerated for a crime he never committed. Look at how the Gujarat Court is handling Rahul Gandhi's case. Where will people go? So these are scary times.
What do you think of Modi's prospects in the 2024 Assembly elections?
I don't see anything in Modi, I don't want to see anything in Modi. He is stuffless. I fail to understand what impresses the people of India. I am not impressed by his oratory and don't approve of it. His rallies and theatrics remind me of Bhavai, a popular folk theatre form performed in Gujarat villages. The performer uses extended dialogues and loud gestures, and Modi's rallies and speeches remind me of such a character. I also very much doubt his so-called educational qualifications. We need a very nice human being to govern such a secular country. After seeing some great leaders, I feel pathetic about the person who is now leading our country. And then there are hundreds of crores of rupees spent on his rallies. My question is, whose money are they spending?
Can you recall the day the police stormed into your house and arrested your husband?
It was on September 5 2018. At around 8 am, the bell rang, and 35 to 40 police people stormed into our house, stating they needed to see my husband. It is not an unusual sight for police officers to visit our house. My husband directed me from the first floor to ask the police officers to wait as he was freshening up. However, we soon realised these were not the regular police officers who came for my husband's assistance. Shortly after, they arrested him and took him away. See, we all have some differences with the government. But that doesn't mean that you put such a respected police officer, without any reason, behind bars to keep him quiet. It was beyond my imagination. We never thought that any government could stoop to such a low level.
They did not even allow him to meet his family or the lawyers. They failed to inform the reason for the arrest or where he was taken to. It was a very scary moment. I feared they would kill him in an encounter. His whereabouts remained a mystery until he was produced before a magistrate in Palanpur on the third day. We did not receive any information about this development until a well-wisher informed me that Sanjiv had been brought to court. Without a lawyer, Sanjiv ultimately had to fight his case himself. The magistrate realised the whole situation and outrightly dismissed the case saying there was nothing in this case. It was a big blow to the government. Now the government leaves no stone unturned to ensure that Sanjiv Bhatt remains behind bars.
The Supreme Court has directed the government to provide Z-Category security following his revelations. However, whatever little security we were provided was slowly withdrawn. We were not informed about the government's decision.
How important is Congress's triumph in Karnataka?
Congress did well. But now, BJP would hit back with double power, and we should all be prepared for that. We need to understand that they have so much money. The withdrawal of the Rs 2000 note itself is a reminder of how the BJP makes their move to tackle its opponents.
What is your message to Kerala?
People should see to it that BJP doesn't come to power in the South. They have done a fantabulous job till now and should continue doing that. The people in the South are well-educated and aware of what is good and bad for them. I was living the life of an IPS officer's wife before all this. I was very naive at that particular time, and we never expected life imprisonment for an officer. So it was all a very huge shock to me. I fainted in the court that day.
I was returning home, unaware of what to do next, and my phone started ringing. The caller was from Kerala, assuring me of help and support. That gave me courage. People also started sending me money from Kerala. You would not believe I have received Rs 10, Rs 50, Rs 100 as contributions. Money does not matter; the gesture matters. The politicians from Kerala also gave the much-needed boost.