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Memoir on 26/11 martyr Hemant Karkare attempts to reclaim his legacy

  • Daughter of the late anti-terrorism squad chief of Mumbai police says she wrote the book as an answer to those trying to discredit her father
  • MP Pragya Singh Thakur, who Karkare had arrested in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, had alleged in April that the officer was a 'traitor to the nation'

Jui Karkare (Photo: Anirudha Chowdhury/Mint)
Jui Karkare (Photo: Anirudha Chowdhury/Mint)

Jui Karkare doesn’t want to talk about the faulty bulletproof jacket that led to her father’s death. “Some questions will always remain unanswered," she says. “This is one of them."

Jui’s father Hemant Karkare was gunned down by Pakistani ISI-backed terrorists who’d stormed Mumbai on the night of 26 November 2008. At the time, Karkare was the chief of anti-terrorism squad of Mumbai Police. Footage shot by TV news crews show him wearing a helmet and bulletproof jacket before entering a police vehicle that night. But when his body was found, there were bullet wounds on his chest. The jacket he’d been wearing was missing.

Eleven years on, the mystery of the missing jacket remains unsolved. Now his daughter Jui Karkare says she’s ready to move past it. Her new mission, she adds, is to tell her father’s story through her book, ‘Hemant Karkare – A Daughter’s Memoir’, so it motivates a new generation of readers to be as professional, impartial and diligent as her father.

Jui, a computer engineer now based in Boston, is the eldest of the three Karkare siblings. “I always knew my father’s uniform, his devotion to his duty came before everything else," she told Mint during her recent visit to Mumbai on the eve of her book’s release. “Earlier, we’d feel he should be spending a lot more time with us as our father. But then we realized that for him, his profession is not just a job. He’d devoted himself completely to making changes at the grassroots."

A mechanical engineer from Nagpur, Karkare joined the Indian Police Services in 1982. In his 25-year career, he was posted in several districts in Maharashtra, including at the crime branch, economic offence wing (EOW) and anti-corruption bureau. He also did a separate six year-stint at the cabinet secretariat in the Prime Minister’s Office during which he worked with the United Nations among other assignments. His work in Naxal-affected areas in Chandrapur and investigations in the 1999 hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight in Kandahar got him bravery awards and recognition from the Centre.

Jui recalls the time she distinctly noticed Karkare’s commitment. “In 1989, he was posted in the anti-narcotics department in Thane. His official responsibility was nabbing the drug peddlers. But he knew that is not going to stop the problem. So he’d go to municipal schools, interact with students and tell them the importance of staying in school. He’d even coordinate with rehab centres. He was a very thorough man."

It was in the late 2000s, after Karkare took over the probe of the series of blasts in Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated town in Nashik district of Maharashtra, that he rose to nationwide prominence. An investigation by Karkare-led Maharashtra ATS had revealed the involvement of the Hindu extremist group, Abhinav Bharat. Its members Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Colonel (retd.) Purohit were arrested in late October and early November 2008 and subsequently chargesheeted with nine others.

Until then, most of the terror attacks had seen the handiwork of Islamic extremists. As the term ‘saffron terror’ gained currency in the following months, Karkare faced pressure from Hindutva ideologues from the BJP, RSS and the Shiv Sena. BJP leader LK Advani openly expressed support for Pragya Singh Thakur, then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi called Karkare as acting “against national interest", late Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray wrote in party mouthpiece Saamna, “We spit on the face of Karkare."

“My mom was very worried," recalls Jui. “As the ATS chief’s wife, she knew his life was in danger." But Karkare’s pluck in the face of political hostility earned him plaudits from across the police force. Julio Ribeiro, former commissioner of Mumbai police, told Mint that he found Karkare’s integrity is “unquestionable".

“A day before 26/11, Hemant came to me saying that Advani had said some things against him," Ribeiro recalled at the book release function held in Mumbai on 25 November. “I had once worked with Advani and had found him to be a reasonable man. I offered to speak to Advani and told Hemant, do your dharma. If this is your truth, stick to it. That is what he did."

A decade on, there seem to be efforts to erode Karkare’s integrity and professional legacy as an investigator of high-profile terror cases. In May 2019, Pragya Singh Thakur contested on a BJP ticket from Bhopal and was elected as an MP. In the run up to it, she alleged that Karkare had abused, threatened and tortured her in custody in spite of her innocence, that he had eventually succumbed to her curse and his karma. Although the BJP distanced itself from her comments, RSS leader Indresh Kumar backed her: “One can pay tributes to Hemant Karkare who died in a terrorist attack," he said, “but he cannot be respected."

Julio Ribeiro dismissed such attempts to tarnish Karkare’s legacy. “It is ridiculous," he told Mint. “Anyone’s who has ever met him will not believe this."

Jui Karkare Navare was unwilling to engage with the political fallout of Karkare’s death during her interaction with Mint. She, however, did seem to concede that there were attempts to discredit her father. “That is where this book comes in," she said. “I want the reader to answer that question... The only message [my father] had was, as a uniformed officer, he had to be impartial to things like religion or caste. He was the keeper of the law."

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