Asghar Ali Engineer


It seems quite a stale topic as we know how police behaves during communal disturbances or even before and after that. Recently Prime Minister of the country also expressed serious concern about increasing incidents of communal violence in the country during his inaugural address to one-day conference of Directors General and Inspectors General in Delhi along with intelligence officers. The Prime Minister of the country expresses concern and draws their attention to a problem it could be nothing but very serious indeed.


For first four months almost no communal disturbances took place and I was feeling happy that after all this year may turn out to be my dream year i.e. riot-free year. However, my dream was shattered when series of riots began to take place in U.P. and elsewhere, especially after Mulayamsingh’s S.P. was elected to power. It once again proved that riots are politically motivated and has nothing to do with religion. But for sure religious prejudices are spread for political purposes.


Police has to play very crucial role from intelligence gathering to arrest the culprits before they can do harm to quash the riots once they break out to take effective legal steps to punish them so that they do not dare do again. Apart from my experiences with handling of riots by the police in last several decades, the role of police in disturbances this year until now has been not a wee bit different.


What was surprising was that even U.P. police has not changed wee bit despite change of regime in U.P. One expected that under Mulayamsingh regime which came to power mainly because of Muslim support that he will make police behave. However, I was in for great disappointment. The police behaviour, if Mulayamsingh had done at all anything to change it, was quite defiant and it openly helped the rioters. It appeared as if it was a conspiracy to discredit Mulayamsingh immediately after his election to power.


I reached one more conclusion that whatever the regime the police behaves in the same manner. They have been too strongly indoctrinated to change their mind under comparatively more secular regime. But them one can point to Bihar and West Bengal as both the states under Lalu Prasad Yadav and Jyoti Basu and then Bhattacharjya managed to have only few minor riots in last 15 and 30 years respectively. Bihar and West Bengal are still continuing with the same tradition even now under Nitish Kumar and Mamta Banerjee respectively.


May be Mulayamsingh Yadav does not have strong and charismatic personality like chief ministers of Bihar and West Bengal. It requires very detailed study to reach any definite conclusion. What can be said tentatively is that the police submit to only strong Chief Minister who does not use them for his political purpose. And goes by certain principles and sends correct message to them.


It is also important to understand that whether entire police force from top to bottom has been communalized or at the bottom and middle rung only? Once, during a discussion in the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, I expressed an opinion that those at the top rung are less communal and casteist than those at the middle and bottom rung. A top IPS officer who had come to the Academy, like me to deliver a lecture, strongly disagreed with me and maintained that top officers are anytime worse than those sat the bottom or middle rung. I simply said you are an IPS officer so you know better.


But my experience shows it is a mixed bag. There are very secular officers at the top as there are rank communal ones. The Gujarat is the best example for both. There were IPS officers who bended their knees before Chief Minister and carried out all his orders and also those who took a stand and defied him and remained defiant despite tremendous pressures. I have shared platform with the later ones in certain places.


It is not that they were Dalit officers, they were both from high caste (even Brahmins) and those from lower castes. Also, I know of two brothers, both from top castes and of the rank of Director-General of Police, have been, I would say, exemplary secular in their attitudes and have remained consistent throughout their career and showed exemplary courage in handling riot situations.


Well, one may argue they may be an exception and I have nothing to counter this argument. But I have seen more officers of the kind. In one of the workshops at National Police Academy, Hyderabad wherein IPS trainees from all over India were taking part, three batches were required to present case study of riots and role of police. I and Prof.Ram Puniyani were on panel of judges. Their presentation was so excellent that I told Ram jokingly – let us now take retirement as these young officers are so secular already and don’t need any further training.


This is true but unfortunately is not the whole truth. Anytime it would remain a partial truth. For every secular officer, there are several communal officers at all the levels of the force. Their casteist and communal prejudices become quite raw. I have seen and experienced these raw prejudices especially during Bombay riots of 1992-93 and also in Meerut (1987) Gujarat (1985, 2002) and Bombay-Bhivandi riots (1984).


This, I must confess, was at lower levels but it was not very different at the top also, again with some honorable exceptions. This was more due to the fact that most of the policemen (especially at lower levels) as they all read Marathi Samna everyday and spoke that very language about Muslims. Who could dare take action against Samna for writing such provocative language?


What was the stuff of the Chief Minister Mr. Nayak? When a delegation of eminent citizens from Mumbai met him urging him to control riots he asked these citizens to meet Bal Thackeray as he was provoking riots. In other words Mr. Nayak had surrendered his functions to Shivsena Supremeo. How can such a weak Chief Minister ever control riots? And shamefully especially in Maharshtra (elsewhere too) those police officers who failed to control riots and were subsequently reprimanded by Commissions of Inquiry, were promoted, rather than punished.


For example, the then SP Police during Bhivandi-Jalgaon riots of 1970 was reprimanded by Madon Commission for false arrests and let go the real culprits was promoted instead of punished and ended up as Director General of Police of Maharashtra. Another example that comes to mind is that of Joint Commissioner of Police Mumbai who shot dead 8 madrasa students saying they were rioters and was severely reprimanded by Srikrishna Commission was promoted as Commissioner of Mumbai during Shiv Sena regime. An arrest warrant was issued against him after his retirement but got admitted into hospital on pretext of having heart attack and managed to obtain bail from the Court. Thus he never went to jail even for a day.


Many more examples could be multiplied. And recently one got the opposite example of a CP, Mumbai punished for handling riot situation in an exemplary manner. Mr. Patnaik deserved kudos for handling a rally of 50,000 people in most peaceful manner. Instead of rewarding him, under pressure from Raj Thakre of MNS who also took out rally of 45,000 people to demand action against Patnaik and R.R.Patil, Home Minister of Maharashtra, removed him (Mr.Patnaik) and posted him as Director General of Road Transport, a post where one can do nothing. R.R.Patil, however, saved his neck.


Mr. Raj Thakre who, so far consolidated his position by keeping quiet on Muslim question and even supporting them, has, in view of 2014 elections, have opted for Hindutva card and hence took out huge rally, investing a lot in it and has killed two birds with a stone – came closer to main Shiv Sena (may be with a view to form an alliance in 2014) and also increased his clout in Maharashtra politics (even if he goes with the Congress) But in this political game an exemplary officer like Patnaik who handles a very serious situation so well, has been sacrificed.


That is why I hear many police officers saying during my workshops that what can we do, we are a pawn on political chessboard. It is true in many cases, even in case of Gujarat where many good officers tried to resist pressure but did not succeed, but it is not always true. Police officers have inbuilt deeper prejudices. For that not only school syllabuses but also police training courses have to be drastically changed and policemen given high pressure secular indoctrination and much more.


Also, what is needed is the judgment of the type of Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad wherein a cabinet rank minister was given 28 years in prison for provoking communal riots violating secular Indian Constitution. This will discourage these politicians from cheap way of getting elected by playing with raw communal passions of their constituents. We must salute the courage of Justice Jyotsna Yagnik.

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