Sunday, June 16, 2013

Intelligence Failure or Design?: Karkare, Kamte and the Campaign for 26/11 Truth

ABSTRACT: For an event that traumatised the nation and created a serious crisis of citizen loyalty to the Indian State, the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai have not been put through a rigorous process of public accountability. Information available in the public domain has frequently been inconsistent and the official responses, often reflexive and formulaic, have evaded serious scrutiny because they have conformed to a predetermined template on terrorism. Though the pressures enforcing conformity have been acute, a number of independent analyses have emerged which point to the need for greater public engagement with the process of unravelling the truth behind the sixty hour siege of Mumbai. Dispassionate examination of all available evidence indicates that terrorism in the current millennium is a more complex phenomenon than ordinarily supposed, with a vastly variegated cast of actors.

KEYWORDS: Mumbai, 26/11, terrorism, Islamic jihad, Hindutva, Intelligence Bureau

Shock and grief are the first reactions to violence committed with cruel premeditation. And then, anger and indignation. Spasms of rage were unleashed when India’s maximum city – a vast and teeming multitude where dreams are made and more often unmade -- was held under siege in a 60-hour ordeal of terror beginning 26 November 2008. Covered for most part in real-time by the country’s numerous news channels, the initial shock at Mumbai’s horror was followed soon enough, by the moment of mass derision, of revulsion against the Indian practice of democratic politics. The “political class”, guilty of complete indifference to the daily anxieties that people face, was additionally held responsible in its corrupt and inept ways, for the double jeopardy of unpredictable and randomly targeted terrorist violence faced by those who elected them.

Competition among news channels – at the time fighting the very real possibility of falling victim to the September 2008 financial meltdown -- left no room to step back from the hysteria. The media stoked the thirst for vengeance, but did little to meet the greater public need for a dispassionate investigation that would unravel the full conspiracy. Acts of terror are designed to kill and maim without discrimination. There may be a central target with a specific identity, but the object most often is not merely to kill, but to destroy citizen loyalty to the State and civic order. Those who suffer personal loss are condemned to live with it in a milieu that has little time for them. Those who escape physical injury and personal loss, nonetheless encounter their own vulnerability at very close quarters and wonder if they could be less fortunate the next time around. It is a moment when rational minds are susceptible to irrational quick fix solutions and tend to gravitate towards media platforms that advocate such remedies. In the deeply overwrought moments of Mumbai 26/11, with emotions raw and the sense of violation running deep, guilt may have been prejudged, allowing little room for informed participation in judging how best to deal with an event that deeply undermined citizen loyalty to the State.[1]

On 21 November 2012, just ahead of the four-year anniversary of Mumbai’s horror, India woke up to the news that Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only survivor among the marauding gang of terrorists that had held Mumbai hostage, had been put to death. Newspaper readers that morning would have woken up to a story that Kasab’s plea for commutation of the sentence of death, had been rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee, who has the ultimate right to determine when the quality of mercy is invoked.[2] Readers of another category of newspapers would have been told, without any assurance that the information was accurate (since the headline was hedged around by an interrogation mark), that Kasab may have been shifted from Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison to Pune’s Yerawada jail. There was no suggestion that the information, even if true, was of any significance, other than the sensitivity of the 26/11 anniversary that approached.[3]

Cold print cannot quite convey the chortling delight with which most of India’s channels broadcast the news of the hanging, when they were not quarrelling angrily over who had first rights on the breaking news. Newspapers the following day carried faint echoes of the celebratory tone: “A Puppet’s Life Ends on a String” said The Times of India (ToI), under a strap headline which described the execution as a “top-secret operation executed with surgical precision”; “26/11 Butcher Hanged”, said The Hindustan Times (HT). The timing of the execution and its announcement seemed programmed for the media, with the government fielding spokespersons to maximally exploit the 24-hour cycle through which public hysteria ascends and just as rapidly subsides. These spokespersons in turn struck a posture of decisive action, of having lived up to some construct of a masculine State that could take hard measures at just the time they were being accused of effete softness. The country’s main political opposition called for more executions as a firm deterrent against terrorism, unsurprisingly focusing most demands for fast-track dispatches to the gallows, on persons of the religious minority. Again echoing this rising clamour for retribution, ToI had right under its banner headline, a story asking if Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri sentenced to death in a judicial verdict that many question, would be next. HT also addressed the question on its front page, assuring the readership that the Home Ministry would take a “quick call” on it.

As through his trial, Kasab’s identity, his motivations and his antecedents, were shrouded in mystery till the very moment of his death. His burial in the premises of the Yerawada jail after his putative family and the government of Pakistan refused to take possession of his body, reinforced the image of a young vagrant who was drawn into a brief career in extreme terror by material inducements and the illusory promise of a paradise to come in the after-life. One newspaper published an account of Kasab’s life which was as much the documentation of a determined investigative effort by a news reporter of Pakistani origin to locate the exact coordinates of his origin, from sketchy details published of his interrogation[4]. A popular news website revealed that he was a sharp and canny learner who had picked up the Marathi language while in custody, from police personnel assigned to his inner security ring. As reported on a widely visited news website, he had, “during the 26/11 trial surprised the Judge, policemen and court officers with his humour and grasping power so much so that he picked up Marathi and even conversed in it with everyone around him”. Indeed, his understanding was of a very high order, since he had, “ever since the trial began in May 2009 .... been keenly observing the proceedings and (had) picked up bits of English and even Marathi as witnesses, lawyers and the judge spoke in those languages although the evidence was recorded in English”.[5]

Other accounts of Kasab spoke of him as morose and taciturn. And Mumbai’s prison authorities finally put to rest the fiction that he had been treated to unimaginable gastronomic luxuries while in detention. Kasab was served the same fare as all other prisoners, they said, since departures from the prescribed regime were only permitted on health grounds.[6] He was being guarded by an extra layer of police deployment, but that was no special privilege, just necessary precaution against an effort to rescue or eliminate him.

It was a puzzling and inconsistent picture that emerged of the person who had come for all of India, to symbolise the terrorist menace. Curiously though, the rendition of Kasab’s linguistic abilities that emerged after his execution, chimed with a random bit of information put out during his trial in the highly secured and fortified confines of a Mumbai prison. This solitary report from PTI (the Press Trust of India), a news agency that does not embellish factual recording of events with rhetoric, was distanced from any responsibility for what was said, by the simple device of identifying Kasab’s demonstration of Marathi linguistic proficiency, as an “antic”.[7] That rendition of events has a troubling resonance with certain telling points made in a book under review here, where S.M. Mushrif calls up eyewitness testimony from one of the scenes of mayhem on 26/11 – Mumbai’s Cama and Albless Hospital – suggesting that the attackers found their way around in part, by interrogating those at the scene in Marathi.[8]

Just under a month after Kasab’s execution, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for the Interior, Rehman Malik, paid the visit to India that had been earlier scheduled for mid-November, but then deferred at Delhi’s insistence. There was no clear reason given at the time for the postponement of the visit, which had the agenda -- agreed well in advance -- of formalising a new arrangement for the mutual grant of visas. But the imminence of the 26/11 anniversary to the date originally fixed for the visit, undoubtedly played a part. When the visit did finally occur, the minister was characteristically blunt, seemingly unmindful of diplomatic niceties. It is not clear that he was briefed sufficiently in advance about the issues he would likely be ambushed by. But Rehman Malik must surely have been aware that Pakistan’s intent in the matter of Maulana Mohammad Hafiz Saeed, the cleric believed to have inspired and planned the 26/11 attacks, would be among the principal questions he would have to address in the odyssey to India. When the occasion arose, Malik responded with an affirmation of Pakistan’s commitment to take all action warranted by the evidence it was presented. India’s bill of indictment against Hafiz Saeed, based entirely on Kasab’s confession, by implication, did not meet the standards of proof needed for action under criminal law.

The visiting Pakistani dignitary’s locutions were taken by Indian counterparts as an insufferable affront, an expression of disdain for the multiple dossiers that had been presented, which ostensibly laid out a compelling and clear-cut case against Hafiz Saeed. With the media proving more than willing to echo and amplify the official sense of offended hauteur, the little information accessible to the public was buried in rote statements of loyalty to the theology that terrorism was exclusively and uniquely a creation of the country next door.

In August 2009, India’s Ministry of External Affairs called in envoys of major western nations for a briefing on the diplomatic state of play in securing justice for 26/11. The U.S. embassy in Delhi soon afterwards put the proceedings on record as a diplomatic cable to the U.S. State Department and key missions abroad. Appended to the cable was the full text of the dossier presented that very day to the Pakistan government. In March 2011, as part of a collaborative effort with the citizen journalism website Wikileaks, The Hindu published the text of the diplomatic cable with the annexed dossier.[9]

Though it had acquired compelling mystique as a document that applied irresistible moral pressure on Pakistan, the intelligence dossier proved a fairly simple document to negotiate. Brief and relatively uncomplicated in its narration of facts, it was based entirely on the confessions rendered by Kasab and two fellow detainees: Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Sheikh, who were already in Indian custody at the time of 26/11 but went on trial with Kasab on charges of possessing prior knowledge and making a material contribution to the attacks.

Considering its contents, it really needs to be asked why the dossier was not made public at the very time it was presented to the Pakistan government. The term “public” in India is subject to various interpretations, but it could be understood in an inclusive sense, as anybody who has a stake – direct or indirect – in knowing about an event of consequence. There is also in possession of this “public”, a fair legal knowledge, as also the ability to arrive at a reasonable assessment of the value of confessions made in police custody. International criminal cooperation normally requires that stringent criteria be met. The Indian government was undoubtedly very ambitious in expecting a foreign government to initiate criminal proceedings against a citizen on the basis of a detailed narrative of events by an individual of uncertain provenance but wide linguistic ability – from Punjabi to Urdu and then, Marathi. It may have been smart as politics, but not so convincing as legal strategy in an international domain.

Kasab’s living testimony – rather than the confession rendered in custody – would have been key in bringing to book others who allegedly played a role in the 26/11 horror. And here, there was Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, ostensibly the military operations head of the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT) militant outfit, who was – apart from Hafiz Saeed -- in the line of sight of Indian enforcement agencies.

Viewed in this manner, Kasab’s execution could be seen as a potential impediment to the successful prosecution of other key figures involved in the conspiracy. If the decision to bring forward his execution – as the morbid imagery of the day puts it, by “jumping the queue” – was made after due consideration of the longer-term implications, there is a need to explain what it means for the integrity of the trial process.

Among the counts on which Kasab was convicted and executed, was the murder of eight police personnel just outside the Cama Hospital premises. Those killed included two officers from the IPS cadre, Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte, one senior inspector, Vijay Salaskar, and five constables, Bapurao Durgude, Balasaheb Bhosale, Arun Chite, Jayawant Patil and Yogesh Patil. Detailed post-mortem examinations and ballistics matches for the bullets that caused these deaths were by all accounts carried out. And the outcome of these ballistics tests, in the case of Karkare, was summarised in the 1,500 page trial court judgment in fairly clear terms: “..the bullets received from the dead body were sent to the ballistic (sic) expert. The comparison did not lead to any conclusive opinion whether the bullets tallied with those test fired from the weapons held by the accused number 1 (Kasab) or the deceased accused number 1 (Abu Ismail)”.

Similarly, the trial court judgment summarises the findings from the technical analysis of two bullets recovered from Salaskar’s body in the following terms: “They were sent to ballistic expert for examination. The comparison did not lead to any conclusive opinion”.[10]

These findings were reaffirmed by the Bombay High Court which heard and decided Kasab’s appeal against the death penalty.[11] Yet these were not deemed to be a serious infirmity in the case of the prosecution, since proof of guilt did not require that every piece of evidence should tally: merely that the preponderance of evidence should suggest guilt. At the final stage of appeal, the Supreme Court held that the ballistics tests firmly established Kasab’s responsibility in the killing of at least six people, not including either Karkare or Salaskar, while Kamte’s death was in all probability caused by Abu Ismail, who accompanied him in the rampage of terror through Bombay VT and its environs.[12]

Factually, despite Kasab’s guilt being established and the most extreme punishment meted out, there is sufficient reason to allow S.M. Mushrif the indulgence of posing the question that titles his book: “Who Killed Karkare?” might seem a superfluous question for all signed up devotees of the official theology on 26/11 and the wider issue of terrorism. But the plain facts, which the evidence recorded in judicial proceedings vouch for, show that this is a far from settled question.

Hemant Karkare is the most senior Indian official to fall to terrorism in recent years. Chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Maharashtra Police, he was killed in a firefight in the near vicinity of Mumbai’s iconic railway station – the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST, or Bombay VT in common usage) – during the very early hours of the attacks. Having joined Maharashtra Police in 1976 and been inducted into the IPS in 1981, Mushrif was one year ahead of Karkare in cadre seniority. And his judgment is that Karkare paid a price that day for having dismantled the official theology while investigating a September 2008 bomb blast in Malegaon town in Maharashtra, among the first terrorist acts to occur under his watch at the ATS. The official narrative sought to locate this incident within the template of the Islamic holy war or jihad. But Karkare’s investigations revealed the hand of a terror ring of a rather different religious stripe.

That breakthrough opened up new lines of insight into a collaborative venture between Hindutva fundamentalists and an active-duty military intelligence officer. It was a campaign of provocation, well-endowed and systematic, which was assured of impunity merely because the axiom that all acts of terror had their inspiration in the ideology of Islamic jihad, had secured wide social diffusion and acceptance, in part through the lazy compliance of the media. Even when the targets of terror were communities and symbols of the Islamic faith – as with the Malegaon blasts at a Muslim cemetery in September 2006, the fire-bombing of the Samjhauta Express near Delhi in February 2007, or the carnage at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid in May 2007 and Ajmer’s Dargah sharif in October 2007 – theories were easily deployed of sectarian divisions between various schools of Islam, to put the atrocities down to the holy warriors.

The volume that Mushrif has authored ranges widely, including in considering the fashion in which the multiple terrorist incidents in India over the last decade have been investigated, and the culture of absolute exemption from informed public scrutiny that has flourished among the police force because of the reflexive tendency to blame the country’s Muslim population for every outrage against innocent civilian life. Mushrif’s forensic abilities are evident in the manner that he sifts through mountains of information, gathered in the main from media reports, unravelling the truly important narrative details. The official narrative of events is placed in the spatial and temporal context of Mumbai as it was that fateful night of 26/11.

Mushrif raises a number of compelling questions, though the embellishments he adds on how the police force is organised and the ideological doctrines that inspire the country’s main intelligence agency, may detract from the factual narrative. Beyond all the mystifying details which Mushrif assembles, the inference he points towards is simple: Karkare may have been victim of a conspiracy intended to keep the lid on the Hindutva terror ring that India’s principal intelligence agency had extended its patronage to.

The proposition is simply that the Intelligence Bureau is a bastion of a particular variety of chauvinism, intent on little less than the transformation of the character of the Indian State. “Brahminism” as Mushrif characterises it, adopted the communal riot as the preferred stratagem in the first few decades of Indian independence, confident that dissent would be suppressed in the ambience of violence between religious communitiesThe “Bahujan” – or the disenfranchised majority – would in the process, be herded into compliance designs of the Brahminical majority. When this stratagem reached its limits, without really managing to quell all sources of dissent, the focus shifted to “Islamic terror”.

Mushrif prefaces his formal entry into the forensic analysis of 26/11 with an excursus into recent terrorist strikes. These seemed to point the finger of suspicion at Islamic extremist organisations. On closer examination though, they were seen to suggest quite a different religious and ideological inspiration. He lays out a trail of information that points towards hasty and ill-considered investigation into these attacks which led seemingly, to instant and decisive results, simply because they were seen to fit the master narrative of Islamic terror.

Information that Mushrif presents may not, in itself, seem entirely persuasive. But this is only because he is assembling facts from diverse sources, mostly from the media. These individual wisps of data suffer from the basic infirmity of media sources. Partly because of the short attention spans that are a feature of media sources – partly because of their acquiescence in the master narrative of Islamic terrorism -- these isolated bits of information are not integrated into a broader picture. Mushrif begins with the serial bombing of a number of suburban trains during evening rush hour in Mumbai in July 2006 – a crime that was reflexively put down to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and to various confederate bodies overseas, including the LeT. The narrative then looks at other key episodes in the chain of serial bombings that India witnessed between then and 26/11. Mushrif has no inside knowledge, but there is a scepticism arises from the picture he assembles that, in light of subsequent revelations, seems amply well-placed.

Though Karkare died on that night of carnage, the processes he had set in motion acquired a certain momentum. Investigations have now uncovered that the relatively minor terrorist incident of September 2008, which first led him to the Hindutva terror ring, was part of a sequence of provocative actions, all undertaken in the evident belief that the true perpetrators would enjoy impunity in an environment dominated by the belief that all terrorism was necessarily Islamic in origin. Diligent media investigations have also uncovered how the prosecution in all these cases, followed a set pattern, which did not seriously challenge the intelligence or the imagination, in assembling what purported to be the evidence against young men of the Muslim faith picked up at random. The same SIMI pamphlet and a well-thumbed copy of the Islamic scripture had a tendency to turn up in various locations. And all those who were taken in on terror charges showed very similar proclivities to declaim angrily in public about the grievances of the Muslim community and their intent to seek vengeance.[13]

The case case of a Muslim youth implicated in the Malegaon blast of 2006 who since turned approver, adds a further element of mystery. Now at liberty, this individual has testified that he had been pressured by the Maharashtra ATS to name a number of other innocent men from the community as a price of his freedom. As part of his work as an informer, he had in fact, been taken by officials of the Maharashtra ATS to a meeting with Lt-Col Shrikant Purohit, the military intelligence officer since identified by Karkare and arrested for his involvement in the Hindutva terror ring.[14]

Mushrif pulls together a number of details to establish that the story of Mumbai 26/11 remains incompletely told. These may seem like petty quibbles to those who have committed themselves to the official narrative, but they add up – especially when augmented with the information available from a number of other sources – to a substantive case. First, an eyewitness to the beaching of the inflatable dinghy that brought the terrorists ashore, Mushrif points out, is on record saying that she saw no more than eight individuals getting off the craft. This runs contrary to the official narrative that there were in fact, ten terrorists from Pakistan who came ashore.[15] Mushrif’s inference from here is simply that there were already two men in Mumbai at the time, who carried out a quite distinct agenda under the shroudThe Indian Navy’s intelligence wing, he claims, had spotted the craft bearing lethal gunmen to Mumbai and had alerted the IB to imminent danger. The IB though, chose not to act since it ostensibly, had other plans.[16]

Mushrif finds the circumstance that the gunmen at Bombay VT targeted a large number of Muslim persons, many of whom bore visible markers of their faith, to be especially suspicious.[17] This ran contrary to media reports emerging out of Kasab’s preliminary interrogation, where he is believed to have said that his mission was to kill without discrimination, but to avoid harming those who could be identified as Muslims. Further, Mushrif finds it far from convincing that the official story on the closed-circuit TV cameras installed at Bombay VT, should have gone through a rather unsubtle change in a rather limited  time. Early reports indicated that a good part of the carnage in the Bombay VT concourse through which long-distance passengers pass, had been captured in CCTV footage. About a fortnight afterwards, the narrative changed: the crucial security equipment, it was put out, were found to be malfunctioning that day and had not succeeded in recording much that would be of investigative value.[18]

Early reports that Mushrif diligently tracks down, point to the southern Maharashtra town of Satara as the source for the SIM cards used in mobile telephones that Kasab and Abu Ismail carried. This trail of investigation, like much else that called into question the master narrative, soon ran dry. And during the sixty hours of siege, the terrorists wreaking havoc in Mumbai and their handlers in Pakistan engaged in no fewer than 284 telephone calls through the “voice over internet protocol”. Not one of these, Mushrif points out, involved either Kasab or Abu Ismail. Other media reports quoting eyewitnesses, describe the two gunmen who inflicted the damage at Bombay VT running down the platform and disappearing into the night, rather than – as the official story suggests – walking over a foot-bridge to cross the road and continue the carnage at the Cama Hospital.[19] Kasab and Abu Ismail in other words, were already at the Cama Hospital at this time, executing a quite distinct part of the plan.

Aside from being sole survivor of the gang of marauders, Kasab also occupies another unique niche: of the ten terrorists who allegedly landed their craft on a small stretch of beach in the south of Mumbai, he is the only one to be captured in still images of remarkable clarity on the night of carnage. This was the accomplishment of two photojournalists from a newspaper with an office adjacent to Bombay VT. Mushrif finds this to be the a source of some mystery. The publishing of the photograph in a variety of news platforms without clear attribution, he suggests, is a circumstance inviting suspicion.[20] Indeed, mainly by virtue of these pictures, Kasab’s guilt was regarded so much of a theological certainty, that the Shiv Sena, a political party which believes that its writ should be the law in Mumbai, managed at several junctures to thwart any possibiity that he might have competent legal defence.[21]

Mushrif’s volume emerged in its first edition in 2009, well before Kasab’s trial was concluded. It has since gone into five editions, representing not just a certain degree of audience interest, but also a continuous effort at bringing inferences abreast of best available facts. Many of the new revelations in fact, emerged on account of the diligence of Vinita Kamte, widow of one of the police officers killed on the night of terror. A lawyer with specialisation in labour matters, Vinita Kamte was impelled into making her own inquiries about 26/11 by a sense of personal loss and by a lawyer’s reluctance to accept illogical and factually implausible scenarios.[22] Her account of that night focuses especially on the circumstances that claimed the life of her husband Ashok Kamte, Additional Commissioner of Police for Mumbai’s east zone. She had to invest a great deal of time and energy merely in uncovering the basic facts that should have been hers as a matter of right. But at every point in her effort she encountered a dogged refusal by the Mumbai police hierarchy to reveal facts about how it had lost a conscientious and highly regarded officer. Vinita Kamte’s book was published at around the one-year anniversary mark of the Mumbai attacks. It is an emotionally moving narrative, factually invaluable in its presentation of the wireless record of messages exchanged as some of Mumbai’s top police officials sought to deal with a challenge that dropped on them, with neither any warning nor any “how to” information being available from their training manuals.

As ATS chief, Karkare was among the first to engage the armed desperadoes as they began to cut a destructive swathe through Mumbai. He was killed in the near vicinity of Bombay VT, soon after the armed raiders had unleashed a lethal storm of bullets on the commuter crowd taking trains home after a day’s hard work and then run rampage through the long-distance train terminal. Karkare was killed in an ambush in which Kamte and Salaskar -- an inspector held in awe for his formidable weapons expertise and his record in summarily eliminating criminal suspects in so-called “encounters” – also perished, alongside a number of colleagues from the police force.

The three officers are today remembered for their sterling sense of duty in confronting terrorist attackers whose intent was shrouded in mystery. According to the prosecution case which led to Kasab’s conviction, the terrorists began their mass murder at various spots in Mumbai – Bombay VT and the Leopold Cafe in Colaba – between 21:15 and 21:30 hours that night. Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar converged at Bombay VT at different times, but after the two (or more) desperadoes had fled the venue. The three policemen then followed the trail to the premises of the nearby Cama Hospital.

At one point, a police vehicle, described in prosecution documents as a “Qualis belonging to ACP Pydhonie” – or, in plain language, a vehicle of Toyota make assigned to the Assistant Commissioner of Police in the Pydhonie division of Mumbai city -- drove up to the venue of the mayhem. As the prosecution case then states, the three officers took over the vehicle – Salaskar at the wheel, Kamte beside him and Karkare in the row behind. In the rear of the vehicle, normally configured with three rows of seats, were Jaywant Patil, Yogesh Patil and Balasaheb Bhosale. A fourth constable, Arun Jadhav, Salaskar’s subordinate in the Anti-Extortion Wing of the Mumbai police, who had arrived at the site responding to superior orders, also took his place in the rear row. The idea ostensibly was to drive through the Rangbhavan Lane (officially known as the Badruddin Tyabji Marg), which connected two major thoroughfares in the area and enter the hospital that was then in the grip of terror, through the front gate. The police team was fired upon and returned fire as it drove through Rangbhavan Lane. One among the eyewitness accounts speaks of a “hefty man in a police uniform” stepping out of the front left seat of the Qualis and firing at the attackers, before a deathly silence fell.[23] Everybody in the vehicle had been hit though perhaps not immediately killed. Only Jadhav lived to tell the tale.

What Jadhav has said in the courtroom tallies with the account rendered by one other eyewitness.[24] The bare details also match Kasab’s account, which of course was rendered from a rather different perspective. Incapacitated by the gunfire and cramped for space by the three injured policemen who had collapsed around him, Jadhav was unable to reach for his rifle to engage the terrorists any further. Playing dead was his only recourse. As he lay in what was undoubtedly a state of deep trauma in the rear seat, in close proximity with three inert bodies, he sensed the two terrorists trying to open the rear door of the vehicle. Failing in that effort since the doors had jammed after absorbing a severe volley of bullets, they opened the front door and pulled out the bodies of the three senior policemen. The taller among the two then took the wheel, while the other, of markedly shorter stature, took the seat beside. The two then drove towards Nariman Point, but their vehicle had been damaged and indeed, one of the tyres had been punctured in the exchange of gunfire. Realising they could not get far, the terrorists stopped in the vicinity of Nariman Point, and waved down a passing car that was on its way to pick up somebody who had providentially escaped the massacre in the Oberoi Trident hotel. Jadhav registered the make of the car in his mind’s eye as a Honda Accord, but subsequent police action, which led to the seizure of the car, established that it was a Skoda.

Kasab has then recounted that his companion who again took the wheel , drove towards Marine Drive with the intention of finally arriving at Malabar Hill. This is one of Mumbai’s most storied neighbourhoods, where much of its wealth resides, but Kasab at this point was unclear about the deeper intent. The precise location they were driving towards, was to be revealed only after they arrived in the neighbourhood.

Alerted by now, police personnel from various locations had converged at a few key points and set up protective barricades. Among these points was Girgaon Chowpatty, just around the halfway point of the intended traverse of the two terrorists. Forced to stop by the formidable double barricade they faced, the two marauders emerged, one of them flopping down on the road in feigned helplessness, while the other, who came out of the driver’s seat, began firing at the assembled police contingent. Though only armed with service revolvers and weapons that were no match for the firepower of the AK 47 they faced, the police contingent managed to eliminate the more aggressive among the duo, later identified as Abu Ismail. As Assistant Sub-Inspector Tukaram Ombale began approaching the prone figure of the other terrorist, it suddenly sprang into action, spewing deadly gunfire at him. Though seriously – and as it turned out, fatally – injured, Ombale fell upon his assailant, allowing colleagues sufficient time to come into the action. Kasab, for that was the identity of the terrorist who had played dead at Chowpatty, was overpowered in quick time and thus did he end up on a hospital bed, from where he recounted over the next few days, the sordid conspiracy that led to Mumbai’s sixty hour ordeal of terror.

Arun Jadhav has been a key witness for the prosecution, as too have been the owner and other occupants of the car that Kasab and Ismail supposedly hijacked at Nariman Point. Jadhav may have at one point added an unseemly embellishment to his account, for which the trial court felt compelled to admonish him. Jadhav’s testimony indicated that during their drive from Cama Hospital to Nariman Point, the terrorists who had commandeered the police vehicle, had fired bursts of gunfire at random. This was an obvious untruth, the trial court observed, though one that did not invalidate the rest of Jadhav’s testimony. The policeman in the judgment of the court could be forgiven for this seeming effort to sensationalise his trauma that day for the benefit of news channels in search of sensation even at the cost of veracity.[25]

The court’s determination aside, it is a fact that there was a drive by shooting in the vicinity of Bombay VT the night of 26/11. That incident, captured in blurred images by a TV news crew as curious onlookers scattered in panic, has not been accurately placed within the day’s events.

Another key witness for the prosecution who played dead only to live to tell the tale, was Maruti Phad, driver for a senior civil servant, called to duty at the late hour after an urgent meeting was summoned at the Maharashtra state government secretariat. Phad, who lived in the vicinity of Bombay VT, started his car and took the Rangbhavan Lane to get to his superior official’s residence, but was confronted with a withering hail of gunfire. Injured in his hand and lower abdomen, he locked the car from within and played dead. The gunmen then made an effort to commandeer the car but gave up on finding it locked and retreated into the bushes fringing Rangbhavan Lane. Phad got a clear view of the two through his windshield and witnessed the exchange of fire that followed shortly afterwards with a police car, established by temporal correspondence to have been the vehicle carrying Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar.

Major newspapers on December 1, had pictures of Kasab in his hospital bed. Reports in the press at the time offered a reconstruction of the entire operation, from the point of embarkation in Karachi to the raiders’ landing on a small stretch of beach adjoining Badhwar Park near Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood. Kasab’s confession from his hospital bed provided valuable clues for the search operation already launched by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, which shortly afterwards brought to shore the M.V. Kuber, a fishing boat registered in Gujarat, in which the terrorists had completed a crucial stretch of their journey. Seized on the high seas, the Kuber still had on board the decapitated body of the hapless crew member designated to steer the terrorists to their destination and brutally disposed of, once he had served his purpose. A headless body was also recovered in the open sea and identified as the remains of another Kuber crew member, killed at the moment the boat was seized. Others among the five-member crew that embarked from Porbandar port on November 14 for what was a routine fishing expedition, have not been traced.

Court proceedings indicate that the Kuber was brought ashore and recorded as evidence in the criminal prosecution late on the night of 27 November. The panchanama -- or witness testimony that attests to the the accuracy of the official record on the event -- was signed by Chandrakant Jadhav, a Sub-Inspector in Mumbai Police, who was on duty at his post through the night of 26 November and beyond. At 10:30 on the morning of 27 November, he was summoned to Mumbai’s Nair Hospital to record the confessional statement of the lone terrorist seized alive. Late that evening, he was called to Mumbai’s Sassoon Docks to officially sign the panchanama on the seizure of the M.V. Kuber. Doubtless under the pressure of the workload he had been asked to undertake, Chandrakant Jadhav made the error of recording the date as 27 November, when the actual documentation of the evidence on board the Kuber, was only completed the following day.

These details emerged from Kasab’s trial in the Mumbai Sessions Court and have been reaffirmed as reliable findings of fact by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. While the trial process was underway, other developments, driven in particular by the media, seemed to cause a few dissonances in the theological narrative of guilt and punishment that had enveloped public perceptions of 26/11. On 29 June 2009, Channel 4 in Britain broadcast an hour-long documentary titled “Terror in Mumbai”, with extensive footage from the interrogation of Kasab in his hospital bed and recordings of phone conversations between the terrorist raiders at three other spots in Mumbai and their handlers. Close-circuit TV cameras at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels had recorded crucial stages of the unfolding tableau of destruction, revealing in some parts the cool deliberation of the armed intruders, their remorseless intent and occasional sense of awe at the opulence of the milieu they were wreaking havoc within.

India’s official investigation was thrown into deep confusion, but spared serious embarrassment by the seeming complicity of the media in keeping these vital bits of information outside the public dialogue. No clear explanation exists for this indifference towards a documentary that laid out in ruthless detail how those days of terror unfolded – other perhaps than the self-evident one, that the Indian news channels were in complete denial about the moral and material sustenance they had possibly rendered the terrorists, with their over-heated, breathless and factually challenged coverage.[26] A Mumbai-based tabloid, among the few newspapers to take note of the documentary, reported that it had left the police “red-faced”. An unnamed senior officer of the Mumbai police, “on condition of anonymity”, told the newspaper that Channel 4 was in breach of a “verbal understanding” that the “footage would be aired only after Qasab's (sic) trial was over”.

Producer Dan Reed denied any agreement “verbal or otherwise” over the use of the footage in his documentary: “This material was not released to us by the Mumbai police. My documentary has been screened in the UK only. Channel 4 websites carrying the material are not accessible from India”. In other words, the main worry of the Mumbai police – that the telecast of the documentary would prejudice trial proceedings against Kasab – was without substance.[27] The Mumbai police however, are yet to come up with a credible explanation of how the entire video documentation of 26/11 was made available to a British TV channel, when most of India had no clear understanding, aside from the theological rendition provided in the early hours of the atrocity.

Citizens in India would have another reason to worry at the denial of information, including the first confessional statement from the solitary survivor. There is a young boy, Afroz Ansari, not more than twelve years old, who appears in the Channel 4 documentary in its early minutes, asking what the gunmen could possibly gain from the slaying of both his parents, sister and three others among his immediate family. There is Bharat Navadia who was hit on the shoulder in that initial killing spree and saw his wife falling, while his young children, unable to understand their mother’s collapse in an inert heap, hugged her close with tears streaming down their faces. And then there is Vinita Kamte, who was not featured in the documentary but has emerged as a major spokesperson for the public right to know the full story, who fought a long battle to dispel the shroud of theological certainty over 26/11, and motivated Kavita Karkare, another person with a deep sense of loss, to ask the questions that would bring the official narrative to a crisis of credibility.[28]

By January 2009, Vinita Kamte had exhausted all hope of gaining credible answers to the questions that came crowding into her mind. On January 11, The Hindu carried an account of her disappointment that the Maharashtra police -- which she considered part of her own extended family -- was being completely inattentive to her need to know.[29] Vinita Kamte was especially offended that her partner’s death was being put down to impetuosity and a tendency to rush in to situations without an assessment of the risks involved. Her inquiries, including interviews with eyewitnesses to the Rangbhavan Lane encounter, had convinced her that Ashok Kamte had gone in with full knowledge of what he was getting into. His weapons expertise in fact, had been instrumental in incapacitating one of the terrorists then holding Cama hospital hostage. He had made a quick assessment following this first exchange of fire and spoken out aloud about the need to bring the army in. Vinita Kamte was convinced that the response of the police force then had been inadequate. She had reason to believe that “there were many calls made to the (police) control room by people near the Cama hospital who saw the two terrorists”. And yet, she discovered, there were no instructions relayed to Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar, that driving into Rangbhavan Lane could put them at risk of a vicious ambush.

Vinita Kamte was deeply troubled about the circumstances in which Ashok was summoned out of his distant jurisdiction towards a virtual battle zone, when the officers with direct responsibility were not very much in evidence. Her own telephone calls to Ashok as he set out from his distant Chembur residence, revealed that his destination was the Oberoi Trident in Nariman Point, where Mumbai’s Police Commissioner, Hasan Ghafoor had directed him. At some point, Ashok Kamte who had packed his AK 47 weapon as he set out, was ordered off that course and shifted – obviously by an officer in the higher chain of command -- towards Bombay VT. And then followed the events that Arun Jadhav narrated from the hospital bed where he was confined soon after the events.[30]

Vinita Kamte’s inquiries unravelled more mystifying details about the events of 26/11. Her request to be given Ashok’s autopsy report was thwarted and grudgingly granted after great effort on her part. And with all the connections she had within the IPS cadre, always portrayed as a family united in common endeavour, she never could find a satisfactory explanation of the sequence of decisions from higher in the chain of command, which brought Ashok to the Bombay VT area. An interview with commissioner Hasan Ghafoor revealed that Ashok’s arrival and the first bursts he had fired from his AK 47 had perhaps convinced the terrorists then holding Cama hospital, that they faced a serious challenge, forcing them to flee the scene. But beyond this concession that Ashok’s intervention was in some measure, crucial, police commissioner Ghafoor “appeared unwilling to go into the details”.

A meeting followed with Rakesh Maria, then joint commissioner of Mumbai police and a key figure in the response to the terrorist assault. Taking charge of the police control room soon after the shooting began, Maria had directed the deployment of men and material through various nodes of the city where the most serious threats were anticipated. Maria proved a reluctant speaker as Vinita Kamte interviewed him, asking right at the beginning what she expected. To a pointed question about how Ashok had ended up in the Bombay VT area when he was under orders from commissioner Ghafoor to drive towards Nariman Point, Maria pleaded ignorance.

Vinita Kamte proved a tenacious fighter, petitioning the Mumbai Police through the right to information (RTI) law to release its wireless log from those crucial hours. Ghafoor proved amenable to the request and referred it to Maria for further action. And then followed a complete silence. Vinita Kamte later obtained the wireless log records as a set of loose leaves. She was told that these were copies since the originals had been transferred to the R.D. Pradhan committee, mandated by the Maharashtra state government to identify the security lapses that opened Mumbai’s doors for the 26/11 rampage. A direct inquiry with V. Balachandran, a retired official from India’s espionage service who made up the other half of the Pradhan committee, revealed that he too had not been able to get the original wireless log from the Mumbai police.

What Vinita Kamte finally found, after all the arduous effort, is revealing. Setting off from Chembur, Ashok is revealed persistently asking police control for orders. These are referred to the commissioner of police to begin with, but at 23:17 hours, he is told explicitly by control room to report to the Special Branch office, which is at one extremity of Rangbhavan lane, not far from the back gate of Cama hospital. Vinita Kamte put through a call to her husband’s mobile phone at 23:58 hours and found his orderly Jaywant Patil at the other end, alive and able to advise her that the time was not quite right for a conversation. Maria as she narrates, kept a “straight face” when confronted with these findings of fact, but made no effort to explain why he had represented the moment of Ashok Kamte’s fatal encounter as 23:50, or disavowed any role in chain of command instructions that brought him to the Bombay VT area.

The wireless log also reveals Karkare to be lucid, in control and well aware of what the best response should be, to a situation that was rapidly spiralling out of control. At 23:28 hours he is recorded in the wireless log as saying that the “QRT” (presumably the quick response team) from the ATS and a Crime Branch team were at the site. That deployment of police personnel was not adequate in his judgment. “Therefore”, he continues, “we need a team from the front side. We need to encircle Cama and surround it. Also tell Mr Prasad to speak to the army authorities”. As Ashok Kamte had said just around then, probably thinking aloud rather than ordering any operational response, the situation at the time seemed to require an army deployment. And the Prasad that Karkare mentioned was obviously the Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Police for Law and Order, K.L. Prasad, designated authority within the police hierarchy to make an assessment of when the military should be called in to aid civil authority.

Minutes after this quite explicit request from Karkare, Inspector Bapurao Dhurgude approached the front gate of Cama hospital and apparently saw the two terrorist gunmen walking towards Rangbhavan lane. Phad witnessed how he challenged the duo though he lacked any kind of backup in terms of men, material or firepower, and was ruthlessly gunned down. The two marauders then supposedly ducked into the Rangbhavan lane where they took cover behind the bushes on one side. Vinita Kamte estimates that a number of calls were made from then on, to the police emergency number 100, indicating that the two killers were in Rangbhavan lane. At 23:52 hours, a message went out from the control room, asking personnel from the nearest police station to challenge a red vehicle in the vicinity of St George’s hospital, in a quite different quarter of the city. A minute after midnight, the instructions were amended to identify the location of the suspect vehicle as the Metro Cinema junction, down the road from the front gate of the Cama hospital. Shortly after midnight came the encounter in which Karkare, two fellow officers and three constables were killed – an event which Vinita Kamte estimates, was reported at the emergency number 100 to the police control room. Eyewitnesses then reported seeing a police vehicle with a flashing beacon drive past the Qualis in which the six police personnel and Arun Jadhav had been hit.

Arun Jadhav’s own account of the encounter was clocked in the control room at 25 minutes past midnight. He reports that the Qualis had been hijacked and that Karkare, Kamte and Salaskar had been shot. But there is no mention of the gunmen having driven off in a Skoda or a Honda Accord. Eight minutes after Jadhav has alerted control room of the hijack and the gunning down of the three officers, a patrol vehicle attached to the Azad Maidan police station reports that three persons were lying injured in the Rangbhavan lane and that a stretcher would be required to evacuate them. At forty minutes past midnight there is a specific request from the Inspector of the Lokmanya Tilak Marg police station, located less than a kilometre from the scene of the encounter, asking that assistance be rendered immediately to the “two, three people” lying injured, including possibly “Kamte sahib”. And at 47 minutes past midnight, Karkare’s own wireless crackles to life with an urgent message from a policeman who had gained access to it, confirming him being taken to hospital in severely injured state, along with Kamte and Salaskar.

At 56 minutes past midnight, control room records show the commissioner of police Hasan Ghafoor in conversation with joint commissioner Rakesh Maria. Kasab has by this time been nabbed at Chowpatty and Ghafoor is underlining the need for subjecting him to an immediate interrogation. But to a specific query about the whereabouts of Karkare and Kamte, Maria remained unresponsive. He mentions that Sadanand Date, an Additional Commissioner of Police for central Mumbai was at the Cama Hospital and Kamte in the Special Branch office area. Karkare was to the best of his knowledge in Bombay VT. To a specific inquiry about their physical state, Maria says that he was “trying” to find out.

Vinita Kamte is unable to make any sense of the police response and hardly able to hide her sense of betrayal. In her first media interview since the siege of Mumbai, she expressed her disappointment at the initial reluctance of the higher police command to recognise the contribution that Ashok had made towards capturing Kasab. It was his determined engagement with the armed marauders in the Rangbhavan lane that had incapacitated them both and neutralised their possible intent to create further havoc. But far from hearing words of commendation for this act of commitment, she only encountered condescension at the supposed folly that the three senior officers showed in walking into an ambush.[31]

There are sufficient questions posed here without numerous other complications being factored in. Eyewitness testimonies and the accounts rendered by participants in the armed encounter with the two terrorists who carried out the Bombay VT-Cama hospital-Chowpatty operation, concur on one important detail: that the only person captured alive that day had been seriously wounded. Yet, within days of 26/11, the dean of Nair hospital, where Kasab was reportedly taken from the spot of his capture, was disputing that entire account. A national newspaper on December 2 had Dr Ravi Ranade of Nair hospital saying: “He had some aberrations (sic, abrasions) and bruises on his upper and lower limbs. He did not have any bullet injury and did not require surgery. He was given treatment on the spot and there has been no active treatment on him after that”.[32]

Indeed, the evidence of the Channel 4 documentary telecast in June 2009, which included the recording of Kasab’s first interrogation on the morning of 27/11, indicates a person speaking without difficulty, delivering set-piece statements about his quest for martyrdom in righteous struggle for the faith. A lifetime in paradise awaited, once the mission was completed. And there was no measure of accomplishment, other than death in the cause. A police officer sits next to him, posing questions in a sober and level tone that denotes a high degree of professional training and integrity. Kasab’s photograph, as published in major newspapers on December 1, was tightly cropped, with just the face visible. The video recording of his interrogation utilises a wider frame, that shows him with a blanket drawn up to his chest and a surgical patch on the right side of his neck. There is a band-aid adhering to his lower left jaw (visible also in the still pictures) and as the Nair hospital dean indicated, some signs of abrasions on his left cheek. The voice though, is steady and the eyes focused. At certain points, he shows a didactic tendency, as when he explains to his inquisitor that his mission was to kill “people”. And when asked who these “people” could be, he explains with the patience that a teacher would normally reserve for a slow student, that he was there to just kill whoever came into his line of vision.

Incompetence and insensitivity – serious charges in themselves – seem eminently warranted by the facts uncovered by Vinita Kamte. Her narrative also paints an intimate portrait of factionalism within the police force and a collapse of command and coordination. A failure to stand together in an hour of dire threat was also exposed in the stocktaking, as when Hasan Ghafoor was relieved of charge as commissioner, for suggesting that certain among his subordinate officers lacked the commitment to directly take on the challenge of 26/11.

As a former policeman familiar from the inside with the machinations that drive the force, Mushrif dispenses with the proprieties that Vinita Kamte maintains in addressing the many mysteries of that night of terror. He narrates a tale of conspiracy perpetrated with a deep ideological agenda. Mumbai 26/11, he argues, was not about one single plot to strike at different nodes of civic life in the city: it was about two distinct plots. The visitation of terror at Bombay VT, which then ran its course through Cama hospital – and ostensibly Marine Drive – was distinct from the other three assaults launched that night. From Leopold Cafe in Colaba to the Taj Mahal hotel, there was one track of destruction that the armed intruders cut. And then there were two other tracks, leading to the Oberoi Trident in Nariman Point and a centre of Jewish proselytism supported by the Israeli government, within easy walking distance from Colaba.

Mushrif has found testimony in secondary sources, from individuals at the Cama hospital at the time of the terrorist ingress, who managed to evade the lethal attention of the intruders by proclaiming their Hindu faith. This adds some heft to his earlier suspicion, that the number of Muslim persons gunned down at Bombay VT showed that the raiders there harboured no sense of sympathy for their faith. These inferences also resonate with the experience of a Turkish couple in the Taj Mahal hotel, directly in the line of fire of the raiders, but reprieved because they pleaded their Islamic allegiance.[33]

Diligently scouring through the news reporting of 26/11, Mushrif finds that the Bombay VT attackers were not just two in number, but quite likely four. Two of the attackers, after sowing destruction through the railway station, were reported to have fled the scene. The duo who went on to greater acts of havoc in Cama hospital and elsewhere, were perhaps working on a different agenda.

Implausible is the judgment Mushrif delivers, about the official narrative on the Cama hospital shoot-out. He finds it difficult to believe, for instance, that a severely injured constable in the backseat of a police vehicle could have registered all details of events unfolding outside. That double police barricades could be set at Chowpatty, just an eight minute drive from the point at which the hijacked police vehicle was abandoned and another car seized by terrorists who intended to drive towards Malabar Hill, is another tall tale. Mushrif is convinced that few police stations have the ability to respond in such short time to security challenges of this magnitude. And with his knowledge of the culture of the police force, he is absolutely convinced that any criminal captured in the circumstances that prevailed in Mumbai that fateful day, would not have been left alive. The fate reserved for such a captive, rather, would have been summary execution, either under the weight of police lathis, or a bullet to the head that could be portrayed without serious public dissent, as legitimate self-defence.

Kasab has been for obvious reasons, the principal focus of both the prosecution and the media. But there is a great deal that is revealed from the case made against two co-defendants who went on trial with him. Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Sheikh, natives of a northern Mumbai suburb and Bihar’s Madhubani district respectively, were in custody at the time of 26/11, facing charges stemming from quite another terrorist incident. Yet they were implicated in 26/11 for having rendered material assistance to the plotters by, among other things, providing a hand-drawn map of all vital locations in the cross-hairs of the terror plot. The map in the prosecution narration, was crafted by Ansari and handed over to Sheikh at a meeting in Kathmandu.

Prime evidence in this regard was one such map, plotting the route to Bombay VT and from there to Malabar Hill, found in the pocket of Kasab’s confederate Abu Ismail, after he was killed in the encounter in Girgaon Chowpatty. Defence counsel for the two men argued that the map, ostensibly carried on Abu Ismail’s person from the time he set off from Pakistan, must have gone through some severely arduous events before its discovery by the police: an extended seaborne journey on three vessels, a lethal shoot-out and a final, fatal encounter in which its bearer was slain. For all that, the map as it was produced as evidence in court, was spotless and uncreased.

In dismissing this piece of evidence, the trial court judge termed it “highly doubtful”. He also wondered what purpose a hand-drawn map would serve when the internet allows the easy download of all maps necessary for an operation such as 26/11. The prosecution case that Ansari and Sheikh had met in Kathmandu to plan out certain elements of the terrorist strike on Mumbai was also discounted , as was the claim that Ansari had spent many weeks in keen but ultimately futile quest of a residential quarter in the south of Mumbai, near the beach where the terrorist gang planned to land.

Evidently, despite the experience of severely botched up investigations since the July 2006 serial bombings in Mumbai’s suburban railway system and the high degree of public scrutiny likely over the 26/11 prosecution, the Maharashtra police were not quite willing to go back on old proclivities. Where evidence could not be found, it could be manufactured to serve a predetermined case. This was the organisational culture, drawing on wider social prejudices, that Karkare pushed back against.

Mushrif makes out a case that Karkare paid with his life for this sin of non-conformity. On 10 February 2010, as hearings in the 26/11 trial were nearing conclusion, Shahid Azmi, defence counsel for Fahim Ansari, was shot dead in his Mumbai office. Police put the crime down to a dispute between rival underworld gangs and arrested three persons shortly afterwards. Investigations have since been paralysed.

In many ways, Shahid Azmi’s life story is an illustration of the culture of lawlessness that has flourished under the fog of the war on terror. Radicalised by his experience as a sixteen-year old, of Mumbai’s horrific communal violence in 1992 and 1993, Azmi travelled to Kashmir to volunteer for the jihad there. He found little to engage him and soon returned to Mumbai to resume a life interrupted by the trauma of communal hatred seen from up close. In 1999, he was picked up on charges of involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate the leader of the Marathi-Hindu chauvinist organisation, the Shiv Sena. Held without charge – for most of the time in Delhi’s Tihar Jail -- he was set at liberty in 2004. While in Tihar, Azmi managed to complete his school and graduate courses. Since securing his freedom, he completed a course in law and went onto become a redoubtable practitioner, ever willing to take up the defence of youth accused of terrorist offences for no reason other than communal prejudice. As the judgment of the trial court makes clear, his forceful and compelling cross-examination of key prosecution witnesses was key in securing Ansari’s acquittal in the 26/11 case. Whether that was a professional sin that cost him his life, is a matter that perhaps, needs further inquiry.[34]

On 21 November 2008, just a few days before he was killed, Karkare had uncovered terrorism in a quarter where it was least suspected to exist. The reigning orthodoxy at the time was articulated by Narendra Modi, well before he earned worldwide notoriety as the architect of the Gujarat 2002 bloodbath. The context was the September 2001 terror attack in the U.S., when Modi pronounced his authoritative verdict in a TV studio, that “all Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists certainly are Muslims”. It was a justly famous formulation, later reiterated by none less than the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.[35] Karkare proved oblivious to this wisdom which obviously was among the unstated premises of the global war on terror, most actively pursued since 2001 by the U.S.-Israeli axis.

Karkare’s principal sin may have been that he actually followed evidence and logic, rather than theology. And his inquiries led him to a terror ring involving a supposed sadhvi (a woman who had taken the vows of renunciation and a lifetime of religious piety), the self-proclaimed head of a religious foundation, a serving army officer and sundry others. They all drew their inspiration from Hindutva, the same ideological fount at which Narendra Modi was nurtured.

Just two days before he was killed, Karkare had met with a news team and confessed to a certain befuddlement over the outrage that had followed his pursuit of the Hindutva terrorism ring. “I don’t know why this case has become so political. The pressure is tremendous and I am wondering how to extricate it from all the politics”, he said in an interview with The Indian Express, published on November 28. These were remarks made off the record, which the newspaper thought could be published after the unexpected turn of events of 26/11. Karkare’s commitment indeed was, as he told the newspaper, to “pursue this case very objectively and not start with assumptions”.[36]

Karkare had earned the bitter ire of the principal national opposition party and its allies, which accused him of leading a politically motivated investigation and inflicting thoroughly unconscionable indignities on persons of the true faith. Ironically, on the very day that the terror attack in Mumbai began, the Shiv Sena had announced plans to observe a state-wide bandh to protest the supposed torture of the sadhvi that Karkare had arrested on suspicions of involvement in a number of bomb attacks.[37] There was grim irony then, in seeing the same political dignitaries jostling to offer tribute to the fallen officer, in a cynical effort to leverage his death for maximum advantage.

In March 2012, a story tucked away in the more obscure corners of the Indian press told of a petition filed under public interest jurisdiction, seeking official clarity on the status of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB). The petition filed before the High Court of Karnataka by a former officer of the IB, mentioned that the agency formed in 1887, by the then British secretary of state as a sub-sect of the Central Special Branch, had since “remained like a ghost, without a statute”.[38] India meanwhile moved through long years of strife and struggle towards independent nationhood, adopting a republican constitution as a gesture of faith in the people. But the IB remained resolutely beyond the pale of public scrutiny.

Mumbai 26/11 showed one possible pathway that a democratic polity could take to purge itself of residual vestiges of power without accountability inherited from colonialism. India though, seems intent on taking the opposite path. In April 2012, the U.S. government in a relapse of infantilism reminiscent of the George W. Bush presidency, announced a ten million dollar bounty on the head of the Pakistani cleric Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, believed through the rapidly mutating organisations that he spawned with active support from military intelligence agencies and sponsors in the oil exporting Arab world, to be the central ideological inspiration for the Mumbai attacks. India cheered the invocation in international relations of the “wild-west” notion of frontier justice. India’s insistence on Saeed’s villainy and the need to punish him by all means, lawful or otherwise, had earned vindication at the ultimate fount of international legitimacy. Increasingly unmindful of basic verities as its courtship of U.S. patronage has proceeded, India forgot yet again that the rule of law is among the few assurances of security that those of lesser power in the global pecking order can count on.

An alternative way of seeing – indeed of engaging with the rule of law -- is illustrated in the life and death of Hemant Karkare. More than all the serial bombings that India has seen, the siege of Mumbai posed, in terms of its ramifications, a clear danger to every value on which the country rests: openness, diversity and tolerance. Discretion and secrecy are the particular attributes of intelligence services. To be otherwise would be to deny the very identity and purpose of the intelligence activity. And there is enormous power that comes with the territory since these agencies are the eyes and ears of the highest executive authorities, whose every consequential action is shaped by their advice. This is in short, a recipe for power without accountability. And it is not a luxury that a complex and diverse democracy such as India can afford any more.

[1] Through this article “State” in upper case will refer to the apparatus of governance of a nation, while “state” in lower case will refer to the provincial jurisdictions in which the Indian union is organised for purposes of administration.
[2] The Indian Express, a multi-edition newspaper, published this story as its lead in Delhi on November 21. It may have appeared in other editions too, though there is no particular purpose served by further investigation of this matter.
[3] The Times of India had this story in its Delhi edition on November 21, though without firm attribution and a fairly straightforward confession that it was not sure of its sources. The mere stratagem of placing an interrogation mark after the suggestion that Kasab had been shifted to Pune, served the purpose of distancing the newspaper from any responsibility for its reporting.
[4] Saeed Shah,”Chasing a name in jihadi heartland”, The Hindu, (Delhi edition), 22 November 2012, page 11.
[5] See the live online commentary posted on the website on the day of Kasab’s execution at: Extracted at this writing, on 26 December 2012.
[6] “Jail tale: Biryani myth and the quiet inmate”, The Hindustan Times, November 22, 2012, p 1.
[7] The report from PTI was headlined, “Now, Kasab chooses Marathi to answer questions” and was carried in the Times of India the following day. It is available as of 26 December 2012 at:
[8] S.M. Mushrif, Who Killed Karkare? The real face of terrorism in India, (Fifth Edition), Pharos Media and Publishing, Delhi, 2011, pp 196. Three media reports are cited in support of this contention: from the Maharashtra Times (a Marathi language daily), and the Mumbai editions of the Times of India and the Hindustan Times. The authenticity of the citation from the Times of India has been checked. It is available at page 15 in the Mumbai edition of November 29, 2008.
[9] See, “India’s ‘Grade 1’ Evidence Against Hafiz Saeed in the Mumbai Attacks”, The Hindu, March 27, 2011, (Delhi edition) page 1; extracted 26 December 2012 from:

[10] In the Court of Sessions for Greater Mumbai, Sessions Case Number 175 of 2009, The State of Maharashtra versus Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab and others, judgment dated 6th May 2010, paragraphs 803-4.
[11] In the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction, Confirmation Case Number 2 of 2010 in Sessions Case Number 175 of 2009, The State of Maharashtra versus Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab alias Abu Mujahid, 21st February 2011, paragraphs 322-4.
[12] In the Supreme Court of India, Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction, Criminal Appeal Numbers 1899 and 1900 of 2011, Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab alias Abu Mujahid versus State of Maharashtra, August 29, 2012, paragraph 264.
[13] See the very important series of six articles by Muzamil Jaleel under the strap headline “The SIMI Scare” which appeared in the Delhi edition of the Indian Express between September 25 and October 1 2012; available for download as of 16 December 2012 at: 
[14] The story originally appeared in the newsmagazine The Week, see: “Smoking Gun”, The Week, published November 19, 2012, extracted on 31 December 2012 from: bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/ Later, the ToI also carried a story with a similar thrust, see: “Malegaon Blast Witness now Blames ATS: NIA Baffled”, The Times of India, Delhi edition, December 3 2012, page 10; available on December 31 2012 at:
[15] Mushrif, page 207.
[16] Ibid, page 186.
[17] He records (page 198-9) that persons of the Muslim faith were 22 out of the 46 fatalities at Bombay VT. According to the chargesheet filed against Kasab and taken on board by the trial court, 18 out of a recorded 52 deaths at Bombay VT were of persons with identifiably Muslim names. Two of the casualties remained unidentified at the time of the trial.
[18] Ibid, page 191.
[19] Ibid, pages 193-6.
[20] Ibid, page 205-6. The circumstances in which the pictures of Kasab were taken and published have been narrated in the Supreme Court verdict dealing with Kasab’s appeal. Sebastian D’Souza and Sriram Vernekar, both of whom work at the Times of India building just opposite Bombay VT, have been identified as the photographers. D’Souza is widely credited with the best known picture of Kasab, “striding across the corridors of Bombay VT” (see the commentary on the media website, extracted 31 December 2012 from: According to the deposition made before the Supreme Court as it heard Kasab’s appeal, D’Souza “shot over one hundred photographs, but most of them were blurred”. This is because “he was not using the flash-gun and the light was not good for taking photographs”. The picture of Kasab that has been widely published was one among three that he shot from behind a pillar. (See In the Supreme Court of India, Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab versus State of Maharashtra, paragraphs 122 to 134).
[21] The Supreme Court in its judgment (paragraph 121) had words of high praise for the two photographers: “While dealing with the VT carnage, we must take note of two witnesses. Their evidence is extraordinary in that they not only witnessed the incident but also made a visual record of the event by taking pictures of the two killers in action and their victims… Both the witnesses, caring little for their own safety and displaying exemplary professionalism, followed the killers”. It was rare, considering the pre-determined character of Kasab’s guilt, to find any manner of media analysis of the numerous procedural infirmities in his trial. An exception is V. Venkatesan, “Gaps in Kasab case”, Frontline, November 16 2012, extracted on 31 December 2012 from:  
[22] Vinita Kamte with Vinita Deshmukh, To The Last Bullet, The Inspiring Story of Braveheart Ashok Kamte, Ameya Prakashan, Pune, November 2009.
[23] Vinita Kamte, page 50. “Hefty man in a police uniform” is a description that matches Ashok Kamte.
[24] The first media reports citing Arun Jadhav’s testimony from that night were also consistent with what later became the prosecution case. See “’They Threw Salaskar, Kamte and Karkare’s Bodies from the Vehicle’”, The Indian Express, Delhi, November 30, 2008, page 7.
[25] In the Court of Sessions for Greater Mumbai, The State of Maharashtra versus Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab and others, page 1189 (paragraph 992).
[26] The Supreme Court, in disposing of Kasab’s appeal, reserved a few choice words of censure for the media for precisely this. See In the Supreme Court of India, Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab versus State of Maharashtra, paragraphs 402-7.
[27] “Terror in Mumbai is Eye-Opener for Police”, MidDay, July 13, 2009, available as of 31 December 2012 under the byline Alisha Coelho, at:
[28] Karkare’s widow indeed found from her inquiries, that the bullet-proof jacket worn by the ATS chief as he went into his armed engagement with the terrorists, had been lost shortly afterwards. Suspicions were naturally aroused over a possible intent to hide some damaging information. An official inquiry by the Maharashtra police, concluded by mid-2010, established that this was sheer negligence, rather than intent. The news agencies reported this finding on June 11 2010. See a version of the story at this link, extracted on 31 December 2012 from:
[29] “My Husband Died a Hero’s Death: Vinita Kamte”, The Hindu, January 11, 2009, p 9: extracted on 31 December 2012 from:
[30] “They Threw Salaskar, Kamte and Karkare’s Bodies from the Vehicle: Sole Survivor of the gunbattle which claimed ATS chief and team remembers the encounter from his hospital bed”, The Indian Express, Delhi, November 30 2008, page 7; extracted on 31 December 2012 from:
[31] See “My husband died a hero’s death: Vinita Kamte”, The Hindu, January 11 2009, page 9. A point further underlined in Kamte and Deshmukh, To The Last Bullet, op cit.
[32] “No bullet hit Kasab, no active treatment on, says hospital’s dean”, The Indian Express, December 2 2009, page 1; extracted on 31 December 2012 from:
[33] Seyfi Muezzinoglu is the name of the Turkish hostage who appears at the beginning of the Channel 4 documentary and then at minute 17. And his narration is clear. He and a number of other hostages were herded up to an open area and lined up against a wall. Just as he prepared to face a volley of bullets, his wife loudly shouted out his Turkish nationality and Islamic faith. At that point, his terrorist captor signaled that he should lie flat on the ground. Fahadullah was who he identified the leader of the terrorist raiders as. And Fahadullah was kind to him, since everybody else in that gathering, except his wife and he, was shot with lethal intent. Seyfi Muezzinoglu in fact was traumatised by the effort he had to expend in digging himself and his wife out from under a mountain of corpses.
[34] Shahid Azmi’s life story has become a Bollywood film titled Shahid, which premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2012. But without any of the embellishments of fanciful film scripts, his life story is recounted by legal practitioners and activists Arvind Narrain and Saumya Uma in “Can the love of justice be assassinated?”, available as of 31 December 2012 at: Also see Mahtab Alam, “Remembering Shahid Azmi, the Shaheed”, written on the one-year anniversary of the murder and available as of 31 December 2012 at:
[35] The quotation from Narendra Modi can be found in the introduction to the invaluable volume edited by Siddharth Varadarajan, Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, Penguin Books, Delhi, 2003. The remarks by the Israeli ambassador were widely reported at the time and are available as of 31 December 2012 at this link:
[36] “His response to a death threat: a ‘smiley’”, The Indian Express (Delhi Edition), November 28, 2008, p 6; extracted on 31 December 2012 from:
[37] “Sena picks up anti-ATS baton from BJP”, The Economic Times, 27 November 2008, page 2; extracted on 31 December 2012 from:
[38] See the Times News Network story datelined Chennai, March 26 2012, extracted on 31 December 2012 from:

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