Wanted to show what we do and the toll it takes: Cop turned author Karnal Singh – books author interview
On September 13, 2008, five bomb blasts ripped through the Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Greater Kailash neighborhoods in Delhi. The explosions, which killed 20 and injured 90, felt eerily familiar. Similar explosions had been orchestrated in Jaipur in May and Ahmedabad in July. In the capital, a special cell of the Delhi police took action.
In less than a week, they had concentrated on a flat at Batla House in Delhi, where they believed five key members of the Indian mujahideen were hiding. This was the terrorist group that had claimed responsibility after the explosions.
It must have been a simple mission, a raid to capture the men alive. Instead, what followed was a gruesome shooting that killed an officer and two terrorists, wounded another officer and allowed an IM member to escape.
How did it get so messy? On what evidence was the police action initiated? Although the encounter nearly ended the MI, the operation was considered far from a success.
Karnal Singh, who headed the task force, would serve as Joint Police Commissioner and director of the Enforcement Directorate. After retiring, he wrote a book entitled Batla House: An Encounter That Shook the Nation (published September 2020), drawing on input from the Intelligence Office and the cell’s own investigations to describe the chain of events and eventual exoneration of the police by the National Human Rights Commission.
What do you remember most clearly about the immediate moments after the meeting ended?
I remember it was a difficult time. Two of my team had to be transferred to the hospital. Mohan [Chand Sharma] He was critical and I had to comfort his family and also the team. We had worked together for almost 10 years and we were all emotionally attached. You would think that we feel successful, breaking up the most powerful terrorist group. But it also came at a cost to us. And our work was not finished; we had to get over our pain to track down the rest of the mujahideen.
Was it difficult to separate the facts from the rumors, in the months that followed, to clear the name of your team?
Conviction drives what a person does. In my case, I believed that the truth would triumph. We had only worked with that, we knew for sure. There were reports that one of our own shot Mohan in the back. But the autopsy showed a frontal wound, from a bullet that came from a distance. Autopsies of the dead terrorists showed firearm residue on their hands, indicating that they had fired weapons. Some locals claimed that we removed the bodies, shot them, and returned them to the house, but there were no drag marks to prove it. We collect all the evidence, from SMS to bomb clips. I also kept talking to my team to keep them motivated.
Writing about it must have been difficult …
It was one of my most difficult cases, not because of the work involved, but because of the witch hunt and the media trial that followed. He wanted to present the facts as he observed them, but he also wanted to show the difficulties faced by any counterterrorism unit in India, and to highlight the work that officers do and the cost it costs them, which never make the news. reports.
Is Delhi a safer city in 2020 than in 2008?
We must see how the whole country responded, because IM was not limited to Delhi. The Batla House encounter and subsequent arrests wiped out the group entirely. More cameras have been installed in public places, interception techniques have been improved, our intelligence organizations share more information faster. The National Investigation Agency was created in 2008. Internal terrorist threats have decreased, which means that the agencies are doing their job. I sleep better at night.