The recent communal violence in the national capital, during which more than 40 people lost their lives, has, beyond any shadow of doubt, necessitated that key functionaries in charge of maintaining peace and order in the city need to accept the responsibility for this mayhem. Although the extended tenure of Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik ended on Saturday, the Lieutenant Governor, Anil Baijal cannot, by any means, absolve himself of playing a silent spectator. He, too, as early as possible, should be asked to put in his papers.
Mercifully, the Prime Minister was able to realise that there had been a total failure on part of the Home Ministry, the intelligence agencies and the Delhi administration and therefore intervened to salvage the situation. He assigned his National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval to take charge, and issued instructions for repatriating S.N. Srivastava to Delhi as a Special Commissioner (Law and Order). In fact, the PM’s actions, in a manner, amounted to an admission by the Centre that the Home Minister, the Lt. Governor and the Delhi Police Commissioner had fallen totally short of expectations.
The NSA visited the riot affected areas, assuring the victims that their lives and property would be protected by the State. Srivastava led from the front, providing the much-required leadership to a beleaguered force that, over the past few months, has been a butt of ridicule, on account of inefficient and incompetent officials supervising the personnel as well as overriding political interference. The NSA performed the duties which ordinarily should have been executed by the Lt Governor, the Chief Minister and the Police Commissioner. However, after his interaction with the people, to some extent, there was a return to normalcy.
Several Opposition parties, including the Congress, have been demanding the ouster of Home Minister Amit Shah, who was accorded a back seat, probably to allow political attacks on him to die down. Surprisingly, Arvind Kejriwal did not ask for his removal, but instead chose to urge the Centre to send in the Army to control the situation, while alluding to the 1984 riots that broke out post Indira Gandhi’s brutal assassination by her Delhi Police bodyguards.
The Delhi High Court, while admonishing the police, also compared the current situation to that of 1984, though, what transpired at that point of time was most horrifying and occurred under alarmingly extraordinary circumstances. The PM had been gunned down and the Delhi Police found itself guilty of murdering the head of government. Vested interests and mobs, led by Congressmen, took to streets, randomly pulling out Sikhs and butchering them in the most savage manner. However, the massacre of innocent Sikhs was highly condemnable, to say the least, and constitutes the most reprehensible chapter in the history of Independent India.
The current violence, at the very outset, could have been curtailed had the administration taken elementary and adequate steps. It was clear that there was a possibility of trouble fomenting in pockets with a sizeable Muslim presence, in the wake of the Shaheen Bagh protests against the CAA, with the BJP motor-mouths making provocative speeches during the election campaign. Equally to blame were Muslim fundamentalists, who like their Hindu counterparts, should have been taken into preventive custody before the flare-up in the congested lanes of Trans-Yamuna colonies.
Having extensively covered riots in most parts of the city, as well as in Aligarh, Moradabad and Meerut, I can easily state that inaction by the police, and its reluctance to act at the appropriate time, led to this madness. The intriguing matter is, that even when the riots were at its peak, the security forces acted as mute and powerless spectators. The question that needs to be addressed is whether any political encroaching was obstructing their performance. And another perplexing matter is why the Lt Governor and the Police Commissioner kept themselves away from the scene of action.
Over the years, I covered the capital in various capacities, and the Delhi Police always stood out as a secular and structured force—the sole exception being the carnage of 1984. The current decline commenced during the period when Bhim Sain Bassi was the Commissioner, and no heed was paid to check the politicisation of the force towards a particular ideological dispensation. Bassi’s integrity was never in question, but it is another story that he allowed some juniors to rule the roost and money being collected for appointments became a way of life.
When Bassi retired, he was immediately appointed a member of the UPSC. The message that went down was that if you comply with the wishes of the government, the possibility of post-retirement rewards existed. Patnaik was not the natural choice for the position but was selected because of his upright reputation and also because some other officers, senior to him, did not receive the approval of the authorities. Subsequently, it became evident that he did not have the qualities that are required to lead a force as strong as the Delhi Police, which during the course of its duties, has to face multiple challenges.
However, Patnaik managed to survive, probably because of the backing of some key functionaries in the centre. Normally speaking, he should have been relieved after the force witnessed a mutiny, post lawyer-police clashes. The manner in which the Jamia Millia Islamia agitation and the JNU episode were handled, dented the image of the police. Hopefully, his successor would display the requisite professionalism. Between us.