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Hands of law finally reach the mighty
By MH Lakdwala, Mumbai
seems justice is finally catching up with those indicted by the Srikrishna
Commission in the Suleman Usman Bakery firing notwithstanding slowly. The
ruptured psyche and lost communal harmony in Mumbai is still awaiting the
day when justice is delivered.
The Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by a retired Mumbai police
commissioner who was seeking bail apprehending his arrest on the ground
that he was indicted by the Srikrishna commission probing the Mumbai riots
A division bench comprising justice G B Pattanaik and justice Ruma Pal
dismissed the anticipatory bail petition of Ram Deo Tyagi, who was a joint
commissioner of police at the time of riots. Tyagi had appealed against
the Bombay high court order, which had refused him anticipatory bail.
Tyagi who was arrested on August 14 in connection with the murder of nine
innocent Muslims in a firing at Suleman bakery on Mohammed Ali Road during
the January 1993 communal riots, moved the session court for bail.The
arrest followed a letter written by Tyagi to the STF stating that he was
giving himself up according to the Mumbai High Court's directives
following the dismissal of his special leave petition by the Supreme
Court. On July 4, the high court had dismissed Tyagi's anticipatory bail
plea after the STF filed an FIR against him and 16 other policemen.
Nine persons died in the raid led by Tyagi, who was joint commissioner of
police then, and his Special Operations Squad. He masterminded the
Suleiman Bakery operation, which resulted in the death of nine people in
1993. By the time the policemen, led by Tyagi, left the mosque and the
abutting Suleman bakery, where they had entered to ‘flush out’
suspected rioters, eight people lay dead.All the eight were ‘shot
point-blank and in cold blood’, said Justice B.N. Srikrishna, in his
report on the Bombay riots of December 1992 and January 1993, laying the
blame squarely on Tyagi, who had overseen the ‘operation’ in one of
the biggest minority pockets in the financial capital of the country.
Inspite of this, Taygi was promoted to the rank of police commissioner
afterwards. When he retired as the commissioner, he was chosen to head the
elite National Security Guard (NSG) meant to protect VVIPs. Afterwards, he
joined a prominent TV channel and started his own Tiger security agency.
But since police have to be unbiased in presenting the case before the
court it seems the department is not very keen on asking remand for Tyagi
and the 16 accused in the case .The police have made it clear that they do
not need Tyagi for interrogation. It is expected that they will not oppose
‘The arrest of Tyagi is the darkest chapter in the history of Mumbai
police,’ said city police commissioner M.N. Singh ‘It is sad that such
a thing has happened to a top police officer and others who were called
upon to do their duty. It may have been bad judgment on the part of these
officers while discharging their duty. But then the law of the land is
supreme. The majesty of law must prevail and be respected,’ observed
‘However, I do not hide the fact that it has an upsetting effect on the
cops. But to say that the police will not act strongly in the future is
not correct. The thing is when a jawan dies the war does not stop there,
it goes on. We are also like soldiers. Our war against bad elements was
always on and it will be so. We will continue to do our duty, no matter
what the pressure is,’ said Singh.
Neither police, nor state, nor even opposition are interested in taking
action against those indicted by the commission. In a strategic move, the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to lend support to Tyagi, who has
been remanded to police custody. The party has now decided to take up the
issue right to the Union home minister L.K. Advani, seeking his
Senior BJP leader and leader of the opposition in the state legislative
council Nitin Gadkari,criticized the decision of the state to arrest Tyagi
on August 14, by calling it a victory for all anti-India forces, which are
out to destabilize the nation. ‘What was the need to arrest Tyagi on
Pakistan's Independence Day? He was not running away anywhere,’ he said.
Though the official Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna condemned the arrest of
Tyagi in a strong editorial, the party is yet not decided on how to tackle
the Tyagi issue. ‘The Tyagi arrest is not even discussed in the
meetings.Two months ago, Tyagi had visited Matoshri to seek help, but
there is no official line on this meeting so far’, says a senior Sena
Sena leader Gajanan Kirtikar who was indicted for carrying ammunition
during the Mumbai riots and making inflammatory speeches, also admitted
that he was not aware of his party's position on Tyagi. ‘I would not
like to comment on this. As far as my case is concerned, the matter is
pending before the metropolitan court’ he said.
Meanwhile, Gadkari also dubbed Tyagi's arrest as yet another attempt of
the state to woo the Muslim vote bank. ‘Dawood Ibrahim, the ISI and SIMI
are spreading their network all over the country. There was a fear
psychosis during the entire Independence Day celebrations,’ he added.
Meanwhile, other BJP and VHP leaders too condemned Tyagi’s arrest.
Condemning the arrest, BJP city unit president Vinod Tawde said it would
demoralize the police force. Tawde said that by raking up the Srikrishna
commission issue, the government was vitiating the atmosphere and
practicing vindictive politics. He alleged that the arrest was effected
with an eye on the forthcoming local self-government elections. VHP Mumbai
president Ramesh Mehta said the arrest was an action that smacked of
political vendetta. He expressed fears that it might act as a severe blow
to the morale of the police force and adversely affect the effective
handling of communally explosive situations. He alleged that it was aimed
at appeasing the Muslim community and ensuring that the minorities voted
en masse for the Democratic Front government in the next election. ‘The
arrest is another instance of the anti Hindu stance of the so called
secular government,’ he remarked.
Dismayed by the political parties and police stand in the case against
Tyagi and 16 co-accused, Abdullah Qasim, son of Maulana Abul Qasim, who
was killed during the raid on the Suleman Usman Bakery, is planning to
approach the court on the issue.
Qasim’s lawyer Colin Gonsalves said, ‘We are considering applying for
cancellation of the anticipatory bail granted to the 16 policemen, and
also opposing grant of bail to Tyagi.’’ But the police have made it
clear that they do not want either Tyagi or his co-accused for
interrogation, nor do they expect them to abscond.
‘Those factors are not important,’’ said Colin. ‘In granting bail,
one of the principal considerations is the gravity of the offence. In the
case of heinous social crimes, such as rape, dowry deaths, mass murders,
the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that bail should not be given.’’
Gonsalves said,’I find it very surprising that the anticipatory bail
applications of the 16 policemen accused along with Tyagi do not appear to
have been seriously opposed by the state government.’’
‘This is no ordinary case,’’ says Shakeel Ahmed of the Nirbhay Bano
Andolan, which has been campaigning for the Srikrishna Commission
Report’s implementation. It has been rallying around Qasim. ‘It’s a
case where the entire police machinery was used to make the victims look
like the accused. This is what Special Prosecutor P R Vakil had argued in
the High Court. How can the same force be trusted to do justice to the
victims? And the way the government has behaved at every step in Tyagi’s
case, has proved our worst fears right. First the delay in arresting him,
then the delay in appointing a special prosecutor. Then their absence in
the Supreme Court. And now, they did not even ask for police custody for
Tyagi! It was the court which forced it on them.’’
Abdullah Qasim still hears the thud of police boots, the crash of broken
panes, the torrents of abuse, the crack of automatic fire and the searing
screams of victims.For the last eight years, Abdullah, now 20 and studying
Arabic at the same madrasa, has been fighting the sound and the images
stuck in his mind. But the memories of death, especially of his crippled
father, are hard to shake.
The embers of anger still smoulders beneath the business-as-usual surface.
‘Arrest is not enough,’ Abdullah said, his eyes flashing in anger.
‘When the policemen who are supposed to protect you kill your father,
the officers responsible should be hanged if the state cannot kill them
the way they killed my father.’ Abdus Sattar, owner of the Suleman
bakery, agreed. ‘How can you say you are happy when the police officer
who ordered five of my men to be killed is merely arrested,’ he said.
Sattar said the policemen under Tyagi broke through the door to the
bakery, only to ‘shower’ people inside with fire.
‘They entered on the pretext that the bakery was harboring rioters and
anti-national elements, but failed to seize a single weapon inside or
outside the bakery,’ he said.
Maharashtra is yet to show justice to Srikrishna report. Although there is
some movement forward but overall progress is far too slow. The general
impression consequently is that ends of justice are not being met. By
letting wrongdoers get away with their crimes governments store up trouble
for the future and allow public resentment to grow. A particularly harsh
view should be taken of law-enforcers who break the law. q