IPS officer Hasan Gafoor was Mumbai commissioner during the 2008 attacks. He was pulled up by a probe panel for not overtly showing leadership at the time.
Mumbai: On 1 March 2008, when IPS officer Hasan Gafoor took charge as Mumbai’s commissioner of police, he told the media that his priority would be to ensure action against terrorism.
Just eight months into his tenure, however, the Mumbai Police would battle a terror strike unprecedented in its scale and severity, and one that would kill many of its celebrated officers.
Anti-terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare, additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte, police inspector and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble were among those shot dead on that night of 26 November 2008.
And when the dust settled on the attacks, the police faced severe flak for what appeared to be complete lack of preparedness and coordination and sheer panic. Gafoor, the man at the helm, bore the brunt of the criticism.
A two-member committee, headed by former chief secretary Ram Pradhan, constituted to probe the response to the 26/11 terror attacks found serious lapses on Gafoor’s part even as it praised several other officers for their actions.
Days before the report was to be tabled in the assembly in June 2009, the then Congress-NCP government transferred Gafoor, a 1974-batch IPS officer, as director general of the low-profile Maharashtra State Police Housing and Welfare Corporation, arguing that he was anyway due for a promotion.
It has been 10 years since, and Gafoor’s name has faded from public memory. But for the officer the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks were the only blemish in an otherwise indisputably clean and straightforward career.
“Gafoor was a very meticulous, sincere, quiet officer and was knowledgeable in his own way. He was a man of few words. Everybody had a good word for him,” a former IPS officer said. “This was the only controversy in an otherwise impeccable person and professional.”
Gafoor retired as director general of police (anti-corruption) in December 2010. He died on 12 March 2012, succumbing to a cardiac arrest at the age of 62. Today, in the force, he is remembered as one of the best officers who perhaps could have done better during the 26/11 crisis and an absolute expert on modern weapons and equipment in the Mumbai Police.
Strictures against Gafoor
The Ram Pradhan committee criticised Gafoor for a lack of visible command and control at the commissioner’s office and for not overtly showing leadership during the attacks.
As per the committee’s report, Gafoor first heard about the firing at Leopold Cafe on Colaba Causeway at 9.50 pm and asked the DCP Zone-1 to look into the matter. He subsequently heard about the attacks at the Hotel Taj Mahal Palace and Nariman House, and while rushing to the spot, he was alerted about the firing at Oberoi hotel.
Gafoor, the report says, decided to base himself at Oberoi. He spoke to the additional chief secretary (home) to get the National Security Guard involved and even asked his own officers to get extra forces and quick response teams.
The report also says that some retired commissioners of police observed that after an initial round of the action spots, Gafoor should have based himself at the command centre from where he may have been able to assess better the developing situation at various sites. They said he could have also visited different spots to motivate his forces.
Further, the committee’s report elaborated how Gafoor allegedly did not follow the standard operating practice for bomb blasts and terror strikes.
“It won’t be in good taste to comment on this because he is no more. But as far as the Ram Pradhan committee report is concerned, they have gone through the issue and made certain observations based on certain facts and certain evidence,” a retired IPS officer said. “We can’t even contradict that.”
“It was a war-like situation, and not as such a problem that a local police is expected to tackle. But definitely, people felt that the Mumbai Police fell short,” another senior officer said.
“Something better could have been done. Everybody has his own way of dealing with such a situation and different people have different perspectives, but at the end of the day more could have been done.”
Gafoor further courted controversy when he named four Mumbai Police officers in an interview to The Week magazine, saying they dithered from responding to the situation and being on the ground during the 26/11 attacks.
Not only did he attract severe criticism from the Mumbai Police cadre and the political class, but he also faced a defamation case filed by Hoshiar Singh, father of the then inspector general of police Param Bir Singh, one of the four officers Gafoor had named. Singh is currently the additional director general of police, law and order.
A mild-mannered officer, a ballistics expert
Gafoor, who was a former top Maharashtra bureaucrat’s son, studied mechanical engineering at Mumbai’s Veermata Jijabai Technical Institute. He lived in an apartment at Sagar Tarang, a society for police officers and bureaucrats on Mumbai’s landmark Worli sea face with his wife and daughter.
IPS officers remember the tall and lean Gafoor as being quiet and humble. He was the first police commissioner in Mumbai to give up his security cover, saying it was important to inspire people’s confidence and trust in law enforcement agencies.
Ujjwal Nikam, the special public prosecutor who fought the case against Ajmal Kasab, the only one of the 10 terrorists to be captured live, said, “The criticism that Gafoor faced post 26/11 was uncalled for. His style of functioning was very efficient. I interacted with him a lot during Kasab’s trial.”
Nikam added that some of the allegations against Gafoor were unnecessary. “On the contrary, he was very straightforward, forthcoming and accepting of advice and suggestions,” he said.
The mild-mannered former police commissioner also left a mark as an expert on modern weaponry and an ace marksman.
M.N. Singh, a retired IPS officer and a former commissioner of police, said, “He was very fond of weapons and had a good knowledge of the weapons system. He was famous in the force as an expert marksman. In fact, we had installed a weapons training system that was working under his control.”