Investigators should determine conclusions

Watching the TV on the night of the Pune blasts, I was taken aback when I saw the Union Home Secretary G.K.Pillai addressing a press conference on the subject. It had merely been three hours or so since the explosions in the German Bakery had left a number of persons dead or seriously injured and the process of ferrying them to the hospitals in the area was still on.In real and practical terms for those who have covered similar incidents, the focus of the police at that time is more on the rescue operations and investigations are in a very early stage.

Pillai is a very suave and well-meaning bureaucrat and has brought in the era of transparency in the Home Ministry. He is not scared to face the cameras or give a byte and is amongst the favourite bureaucrats of the TV journalists. But I was taken aback when while briefing the media about the Pune blasts, he mentioned that this was the area which had been also surveyed by David Headley, the double agent in US custody at present and who had visited Mumbai, Pune and some other cities prior to the 26/11 incident.

I pondered over the issue for a while and started wondering why would someone as seasoned as Pillai make such an utterance unless he was sure of the Headley connection in the latest instance. And even if there were such a connection would it not have been appropriate for the investigating teams on the spot to reach such a conclusion. Was it the job of the Home Secretary to play a super sleuth at that stage?

The implication of the Headley byte was that TV channels started saying the same with even more conviction. I am sure that after all this came from the senior most bureaucrat dealing with law and order, even those investigating the crime must have been surely influenced. For them the line of investigations stood pre-determined. We have some very fine investigators in our police forces and if they do not concur with the Headley theory they may openly say so. But it will require a man of great courage to stand up and contradict a casual observation of the Home Secretary.

It could also well turn out that Headley is indeed involved in the case but my objection is that this should not come from the top civil servant but from a police investigator. Pakistanis can always turn around and say that the government of India was blaming them even before any evidence about their involvement had been found. This argument can also be used in other cases which are under scrutiny of the international community. I have a very high respect for the HS and do not want this to be understood as an attempt to undermine his image. It is just a point I thought I should make.

Having covered crime for a long time, I have grown up observing top cops following a strict rule most of the time. The rule is that the investigations should begin from the crime and lead to the criminal. It should not be the other way round. If that becomes the case, it is very difficult to link the murderers to the crime since the evidence looks concocted at times. But if the probe goes from the crime to the criminal everything is sewed up without any loopholes.

In the Jessica Lal murder case, the police named Manu Sharma as her killer even before any evidence against him had come to the fore. The result is that there were glaring loopholes in the case when it came up for trial. Sharma was acquitted but the High Court later turned over the sentence allegedly on dubious grounds.

In the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the investigators were forced to follow the only line left by the photographs of Hari Babu the photographer who also died in the blast. I am sure that there were many other leads, which could have led to startling disclosures but may have got overlooked.

In case of the Pune blast, I thought that the Maharashtra government should have not played second fiddle to the central government since law and order is a state subject. It is also nice to see cooperation between the state and the center, which may have happened since the Congress leads the government in both the places.

It is good that the Home Ministry has shown great initiative but it should not lead to undermining those who are responsible for law and order and investigations. The criticism should be taken in the right spirit since it is not out of any malice but an opinion formed over seeing such things over a period of time. I do wish both the Home Minister and the Home secretary a very successful innings and hope that more care is taken when such an incident takes place. Care in the form of speech.

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