Mumbai: On 22 June 2015, Saket Gokhale, son of retired senior police inspector Suhas Gokhale, wrote a heartfelt Father’s Day post.
“On this Father’s Day, I appeal to all you kids to give your fathers a tight hug and tell them how much you appreciate that they are there. Also if your dad is your hero, please tell him so. Because we never say it enough. I wish to tell my dad that I love him to bits. I can neither say this to him nor can I hug him,” Saket said as part of a long post that went viral on social media.
Gokhale could not read the post. At that time, he was behind bars. The senior police inspector with the Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC) was arrested on the eve of his retirement day for alleged connections with a mephedrone or ‘meow meow’ drug syndicate.
Four years later, Gokhale’s repeated claims of his innocence finally rang true when his name was dropped from the final chargesheet in the case last week.
A "clean chit" after BJP tortured a decorated officer for years
My father, Suhas Gokhale, was arrested by Modi govt on the eve of his retirement. He had finished his work on the last day of his 30-year-service and was looking forward to his retirement parade the next day (1/18) pic.twitter.com/FmZ0IXaRnY
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) July 26, 2019
In a series of tweets last week, his son poured out the family’s frustration over the last four years, squarely blaming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for his father’s plight. “Honestly, this ‘victory’ means nothing. It destroyed my father. It emptied and crushed his soul. After dutifully serving the nation for 3 decades, I saw my father (who had proudly ironed his crisp uniform for his retirement parade) finally break down and weep like a child,” Saket said.
Speaking to ThePrint, Saket said Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is also the home minister, would have had to be in the know for any police officer to be arrested this way on the eve of his retirement.
“We were told there were orders from the top. My father kept writing to the Crime Branch over four years asking them to file a chargesheet against him or drop his name, rather than keeping the case in limbo,” he said.
“Earlier this month, he had said he will go on a hunger strike if the chargesheet is not filed. The Crime Branch had then assured him that they will act soon, and then the chargesheet was filed last week and we found out that his name was dropped. As home minister, the CM would have definitely been aware of the case over four years,” Saket added.
The Shashikala ‘Baby’ Patankar case
Gokhale, partially paralysed after being hurt in the line of duty, is one of the five police officials whose names the Mumbai Crime Branch dropped from what became famously known in the city as the ‘Baby Patankar case.’
Shashikala alias Baby Patankar, who used to earn her living by selling milk, went on to become an infamous name in Mumbai’s drug trade, making a career in the business of mephedrone, a white synthetic powder, popularly known by many names — bath salts, white magic, meow meow.
On 9 March 2015, police arrested head constable Dharmaraj Kalokhe, who was allegedly in a relationship with Baby Patankar, and seized 112 kg of ‘mephedrone’ from his house in Maharashtra’s Satara district. Later, police also recovered 12 kg of the drug from his locker at Marine Drive police station.
Kalokhe, who is the only policeman among the arrested officials whose name still remains in the chargesheet, was dismissed from service after his arrest. Subsequently, in April 2015, police arrested Patankar and her son Satish in the case.
On 29 May 2015, police arrested Gokhale, who was always known to have an honest and upright image, as well as then inspector Gautam Gaikwad, then sub-inspector Sudhakar Sarang, then assistant sub-inspector Jyotiram Mane and then head constable Yeshwant Parate for allegedly helping Patankar to evade arrest.
According to the prosecution, Gokhale knew about the stock of contraband in Kalokhe’s possession and though he was obliged to take legal action, he turned a blind eye.
The prosecution alleged that he remained in contact with Patankar over phone, but neither did he arrest her nor did he inform his superiors, and also advised Patankar to switch off her mobile phone.
Findings of two forensic laboratories showed that the seized “drugs” was actually ajinomoto and not mephedrone, but the police stuck to its claim. In May this year, the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, too, confirmed that there was no presence of mephedrone in the seized drug stock.
Fight against drug abuse
Gokhale, who got bail nearly a month after his arrest, has spent most part of the past four years fighting against drug abuse.
Starting 26 June 2017, the day observed as the International Day Against Drug Abuse, Gokhale started posting a series of articles against narcotic substances. He wrote about what drugs are, medicinal and recreational, natural and psychotropic, the impact they have on the body, how the body reacts to them, the symptoms that show when a person is addicted to narcotics, and while drugs are usually most prominent in the demographic range of 18 to 30 years in India, but with some drugs like mephedrone, even 11-year-olds have been known to get addicted.
On 22 July this year, he wrote his final post sharing his series of article on narcotics, saying, “Two years ago when I started writing, the number of addicts in Mumbai was 2-2.5 lakh. Now that figure has reached 5.5 lakh across Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai…be alert, take care of yourself and your children. If you need me, I will be available 24 hours.”
On 19 July, Gokhale, who had served two stints in the ANC, declared on Facebook that from here on, he will write more about his second posting, the challenges that he faced and the details of the case he was implicated in.
Gokhale may have got his name cleared, but he has another challenge ahead. Unless the government acts of its own accord, Gokhale is preparing to file a petition in the Bombay High Court to seek his retirement benefits and his promotion that had come on the morning of his retirement day.
Saket said, “He is never going to get his retirement parade back. But the state government should at least call him and if not apologise, give him his due — his retirement benefits and promotion. But, I don’t have too many hopes.”
“We may be looking at another four years fighting in the high court now,” he added.