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'Karkare's team had no reinforcements, no briefing'

By Vicky Nanjappa
Last updated on: November 25, 2009 17:39 IST
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Vinita Kamte, slain Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte's wife, reveals her long struggle to unravel the truth about her husband's death on the night of November 26, 2008.

In a book titled To the Last Bullet, co-authored by journalist Vinita Deshmukh, Vinita Kamte details her efforts to piece together information about the sequence of events that preceded her husband's death at the hands of terrorists Abu Ismail and Ajmal Kasab.

Her inquiries uncovered the glaring lapses in coordination and action by top Mumbai police officers on the night terror struck Mumbai.

"There was a conflict in my mind on whether I should speak out against the police department which my husband loved so very much. Though I was informed about his death immediately, I never got answers about the circumstances leading up to it. The system created a stumbling block in my search for the truth," Vinita Kamte said at the book launch on Tuesday.

In the chapter titled Will someone tell me the truth, she seeks to know why her husband had gone to the Cama Hospital area in south Mumbai where he was killed by Ismail and Kasab, along with Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar.

She raises questions about whether Kamte's death was instantaneous as reported and why the investigating agencies have presented multiple versions of the events of that night.

'After visiting the spot where my husband was killed, I visited Additional Commissioner Sadanand Date who was injured that night in a grenade attack. After that, I visited Hasan Gafoor, the then commissioner of police. Gafoor was not aware why Ashok landed up at the Cama Hospital when he had summoned him to the Trident hotel that night. He also said it was Ashok who had shot at and injured Kasab with his AK-47,' she says in her book.

'At the rear gate of Cama Hospital, the terrorists had fired in the direction of Karkare and the others from the terrace. Ashok had responded with a burst of AK-47 gunfire in the direction of the terrorists.'

According to Gafoor, Kasab had admitted during interrogation that the terrorists thought that this type of gunfire was indicative of a trained hand, and presumed that a professional team had arrived. This had made them flee from Cama Hospital in a hurry, leaving behind one of their bags, containing a pistol and AK-47 magazines,' Vinita Kamte writes.

She claims that beyond a point, Gafoor appeared reluctant to delve into the details of the top policemen's deaths and she was disappointed by his attitude.

'I then met Constable Arun Jadhav, the lone survivor of the incident, who told me that they were all traveling in a Qualis when Ashok had spotted something. He aimed with his AK-47 and immediately fired and the terrorists, who were hiding, also returned fire. Minutes later, the terrorists tried to open the backdoor of the vehicle, but it was jammed. They opened the front doors, removed Salaskar, Kamte and Karkare, before occupying the front seat and started driving.'

Meeting with Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria:

'It was surprising that the Crime Branch officials had been dithering about giving a clear version of what happened, especially when things appeared so simple. We sought a meeting with Joint Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria,' Vinita Kamte writes.

'During the meeting, I asked him, "Since you have interrogated Kasab, could you please tell us what exactly transpired?"'

'He replied, "What do you want to know?" I asked him what time the incident took place and he said 11.50 pm. I countered him by saying that was not possible; since Ashok's last call on the mobile phone was at 11.58 pm. Maria kept a straight face. I then asked him who had shot Kasab. He changed his version thrice while replying to this question and finally said that only Ashok could have shot him. I asked him why Ashok went to the Cama Hospital when he was initially asked to go to Hotel Trident, and Maria said he didn't know.'

'The days and weeks that followed were not easy and I had a tough task ahead. Slowly, I built up the sequence of events leading up to Ashok's death. I requested the Mumbai police commissioner for the wireless logs (containing the transcript of the communication between the policemen and the main control room) from that night. This request was forwarded to Rakesh Maria for further action. I waited but no action was taken. I tried to get information through the Right to Information Act and the process was long and painful.'

'The commissioner of police had called Ashok to Hotel Trident after the mayhem in south Mumbai. Ashok had told me this at approximately 10.45 pm, when I called him on his way to Hotel Trident. The wireless logs which were obtained through RTI clearly indicate the following: During the conversation between Rakesh Maria from the control room and Ashok Kamte's operator, Maria told Ashok that firing was going on at Cama Hospital and he had to go there. To this, the operator responded by saying that East Regions sir (Ashok) has reached Cama Hospital five minutes ago.'

'It is so clear. Then why did Maria deny any knowledge of why Ashok went to Cama Hospital. He directed Ashok to go to Cama Hospital and yet he flatly denied the same. Why? Further, the wireless logs also show that Karkare, who was part of the same operation, was lucid and very clear about the situation. Karkare, in his conversation with the main control room, says that they were at Cama Hospital and they needed to encircle Cama, so a team should be sent from the front side of the hospital. This needs to be coordinated so that there is no cross firing.'

'Despite such specific instructions, they were ignored and the fact that reinforcements did not reach Cama Hospital is inexplicable. Had Karkare's instruction been complied with, the two terrorists could have been apprehended at the front gate itself. It is clear that even after the incident at Cama Hospital, there were no reinforcements at the front gate for almost an hour.'

'After sending out the message to the control room, the three officers were discussing their strategy; they did not know that their request for reinforcements had gone unheeded. The last response from the control room was at 11.33 pm and there was no further input for Karkare since there was a lull of over 15 minutes. So much had happened but curiously there was no word from the control room.'

Why did the officers venture out in one vehicle?

'Despite giving a call for reinforcement at 11.24 pm, sadly there was no response. It was not as though the control room was unaware of the developments; there was enough information from the police officers. The three officers then decided that they will enter the hospital from the front side. The officers were expecting reinforcements at the front gate as per Karkare's request. However, with scant inputs and meager resources, Karkare had to tackle the situation personally. He had to have his best team with him and it was natural that he took Ashok and Salaskar with him.'

'An eye-witness pointed out that the terrorists pulled out the people seated in the Qualis and threw them on the road. The bodies were lying there for nearly 40 minutes before another police vehicle came and took them away. The thought of our husbands lying bleeding for 40 minutes with no help haunts all our families.'

Vinita Kamte also questions why Maria feigned ignorance about Karkare's location when the call logs clearly indicated that the ATS chief was at the rear gate of the Cama Hospital and the fact that Kamte and Karkare were injured.

She also wants to know why the police forces were stopped at the Metro cinema and not allowed to venture near the Cama Hospital. 'Despite Karkare giving clear instructions, the control room did not send out reinforcements. The Mumbai police claim that 200 personnel were sent to tackle the situation. Then where were they?' she asked.

'If only Karkare's team had the benefit of a proper briefing from the control room on what was happening at the front gate of the Cama Hospital,' she writes, 'the story that night would have been different. Karkare's team manged to injure Kasab even when it had been ambushed. With prior information, which was available with the control room, they would have ambushed the terrorists. This is what stings my heart.'

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Vicky Nanjappa in Mumbai