In the wake of the secretive execution of India’s most high-profile convict Ajmal Qasab, Minister of State for Home Satej Patil revealed that the state, and in fact the entire nation, had been put on high alert to deal with any kind of backlash.
Just hours after the execution, however, Yerawada Jail was seen manned by only a handful of cops, who, more surprisingly, bore no firearms but were seen wielding only their rudimentary lathis.
The poor police presence and the absence of adequate reinforcement at the very site of Qasab’s execution and the site of his burial has raised serious doubts about the efficacy of the state’s security system.
This is in sharp contrast to the extensive security cover provided for several months in 2008 outside the JJ hospital mortuary, where the bodies of nine slain 26/11 terrorists had been kept.
In the immediate aftermath of the hanging, at 9.45 am, over 50-60 local Yerawada policemen were spotted manning the prison gates, very few of them armed.
Within a few hours, though, the scene had changed dramatically. By 3 pm, the entire deployment had been called off, and only a handful of about eight policemen were posted outside the jail. Moreover, none of the policemen on bandobast duty were equipped with guns or rifles.
A single constable, clutching only a lathi, manned the main entrance of the jail. All others, about six constables and a police sub-inspector, were on the opposite side of the road. Not a single one of them were armed with weapons other than their lathis.
The perfunctory police cover is in direct contradiction to Patil’s claims, who had told MiD DAY, “The entire state and country had to be put on high alert to avert any retaliation.”
A senior local policeman said that the police cover had only been provided to keep tabs on media personnel who were expected to flock to the spot once news of the execution was made public.
Local Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone IV) Manoj Patil said, “We were not informed about Qasab being brought to Yerawada jail. It was only in the morning after television channels broke the news about his execution that the bandobast was deployed as a precautionary measure, anticipating a heavy presence of media and public. The bandobast was purely on the basis of requirement, and I cannot get into the details.”
Lawyer and former IPS officer Y P Singh said, “It seems the local police didn’t have a proper post-execution contingency plan in place. There should have been an armed bandobast outside the jail, round-the-clock, for a few days following the execution. This was done back in 2008 in the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 terror attack.” He further opined that Qasab’s body should have been buried at sea, as in the case of Osama Bin Laden.
Retired Col Mahendra Pratap Choudhary, who trained the first lot of National Security Guard commandos in the country, offered a probable explanation for the scanty police cover. He said, “The entire operation was kept a secret and even the terrorists were caught off-guard. Now if the terrorist would want to strike back, it would be in order to take revenge. The target to my mind would not be Yerawada jail but a place where maximum people could be harmed and property destroyed — for instance, crowded places like bazaars and malls. When the nine terrorists were in the mortuary, the situation was known to everybody, and all terrorist organisations. If I am asked about the police perception, I can only say it is neither right nor wrong.”
Local cops respond
Senior Police Inspector Kishore Jadhav of Yerawada police station said, “All our mobile vehicles have arms and weapons. Nearly 50-60 personnel were deployed in the morning, as even undertrials were to be taken to court. By afternoon, the number of personnel was brought down, as we did not anticipate any untoward incident. Also, if the need for any additional force arose, we could have mobilised it. An SRPF platoon is stationed less than five minutes away from the jail.” Commissioner of Police Pune, Gulabrao Pol said, “We had adequate bandobast that was required, and I cannot comment any further.”