Fri, Nov 28, 2008
Man who didn't fear death

By Patrick Jonas

CALM and cool. That's how people used to describe Maharashtra's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare.

He did not fear death. And he died a hero, fighting terror.

Those who knew him well say he was a man known for his discipline and fair investigation. And the final images of the 54-year-old Indian Police Service officer show him in a light blue shirt and dark trousers, surrounded by uniformed policemen armed with firearms and walkie-talkies.

He donned a helmet, spoke on his handphone and then put on a bullet- proof jacket before heading into the enemy's den on Wednesday night.

Mr Karkare did not believe in ordering his subordinates to deal with the terrorists while sitting in the comfort of his office or barking orders from a police vehicle.

He believed in leading from the front. That was him.

How he was killed is not clear but reports say he was gunned down as he confronted the terrorists who were holed up in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.

He had been in the news in recent days. Hardline Hindu extremists and Muslim militants hated him.

NDTV reported that during the ongoing Malegaon investigation, he had told his officers not to create false evidence, saying "we should do our job and it is for the court to decide".

Five people were killed in September in Malegaon after a bomb kept in a motorbike went off in a crowded market. In the investigations led by the ATS, an army officer and some Hindu religious figures were arrested.

The Islamic militants were not happy with Mr Karkare and his ATS.

The Indian Mujahideen sent a warning in September, expressing anger over the raids by the ATS.

An e-mail it sent in September read:

"You should know that your acts are not at all left unnoticed; rather we are closely keeping an eye on you and just waiting for the right time to execute your bloodshed.

We are aware of your recent raids at Ansarnagar, Mograpada in Andheri and the harassment and trouble you created there for the Muslims."

NDTV reported that on Wednesday, the Pune office of the ATS reportedly received phone calls threatening to blow up Mr Karkare's residence "within a couple of days".

Mr Karkare is a 1982 batch IPS officer.

He became the head of ATS in January this year following his return to the state cadre after serving seven years in the Research and Analysis Wing in Austria.

He served under Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan, who wrote in rediff.com:

"Though trained only as a police officer, Karkare took to diplomacy with ease and aplomb and he was at home in the conference halls of the Vienna International Centre as he was on the streets of Mumbai.

"When Karkare left Vienna after five years, he left behind a host of friends and admirers of all nationalities. He could have found a sinecure in one of the UN agencies, but he decided to return home to his chosen profession of protecting his fellow men."

Mr Karkare was considered to be one of the brightest police officers in Maharashtra.

He is credited with solving the June serial bomb blasts in Thane, Vashi and Panvel in which five were injured.

In 1991, he was posted near Nagpur to tackle Naxalites in the Chandrapur forests. During his routine visits to the forest he observed interesting shapes of driftwood.

Soon, he began to make decorative items out of them.

Within two years he had built a collection 150 driftwood creations.

"I would just pick up anything during my visits to the deep forests. My degree in mechanical engineering, where we were taught the basics of carpentry, helped me a lot," he told the Indian Express last year.

Before he joined the IPS, Mr Karkare had worked with the National Productivity Council and Hindustan Lever. Two of his three children are overseas. IANS reported that his elder daughter Jui is married and settled in the US, while the younger Sayali is studying in London. His son Akash is based in Mumbai.

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