MUMBAI ~ When a group of slogan shouting youth armed with hockey sticks walked the 500 metres from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) to Azad Maidan and attacked the OB vans of TV channels, Mumbai’s lathi-armed police were caught off guard. This mob also attacked policemen and left 52 of them injured and many others scurrying for cover.
The attack, which occurred during a protest morcha held by the Raza Academy, was premeditated, say the police. The timing was closely calculated, as it now emerges that the primary point of the attack was to foment trouble between Hindus and Muslims. The media was allowed to escape, but the policemen bore the brunt of it. Four women constables complained that the attackers ripped their shirts open, snapping off buttons, and molested them. Another policeman was reportedly made to sit at knifepoint on a motorcycle between two people and taken to some spot in Muslim-dominated Bhendi Bazaar and beaten up mercilessly.
If the police claim it was a pre-planned attack, then who exactly were the assailants? And why did their preemptive intelligence fail? Sources say failures of intelligence are now routine in Maharashtra’s law-and-order apparatus. Infighting at the top, political leanings, general lethargy and an overall reluctance to create a reliable network of informers has left the Maharashtra Police (all districts included) groping in the dark. Little wonder then that they could not preempt the Azad Maidan violence.
Much of the blame rests with the man who heads the state’s Home Department, RR Patil. Since Maharashtra’s current coalition government took office in 1995, its home ministers have made a spectacle of their incompetence. In that, RR Patil is no different from his predecessors, except that he is so hung up on his ‘clean’ image. Now with a new boss in the state cabinet, Deputy Chief Minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar, RR Patil has more woes than ideas. Caught in a political turf war, effective policing seems the last item on his agenda.
In any case, the Maharashtra Police is suffering from a distinct lack of morale, with no one to stand up for them when faced with double-barrel criticism. Now the Azad Maidan attack on the men in khaki has angered them so much, say sources, that they are raring to retaliate against those they hold responsible. Given how group identities work on the street, and how this renders all Muslims vulnerable, this anger could spell danger if not contained by the administration. The state’s police force has a dismal record on human rights, with violations (such as custodial deaths) among the three worst of all states in India.
Since 1995, successive coalition governments in Maharashtra have foisted a series of incompetent home ministers on the state. When the Shiv Sena-BJP government was in power from 1995 to 1999, the Home Department was held by the BJP. Ever since the Congress-NCP took over the reins, the Department has been under the NCP. Not a single home minister since 1995 has been able to gain the respect of the police force or enhance its efficacy.
Lines of authority have been short-circuited too often. During the Sena-BJP phase, Sena chief Bal Thackeray had made a habit of summoning the city police chief to his residence for a daily briefing. Ronnie Mendonca, who headed the Mumbai Police during this period, refused to pay obeisance to the leader. So attempts were made to embarrass Mendonca, some of which backfired.
After the murder of music baron Gulshan Kumar in 1997, Gopinath Munde, who was home minister at the time, declared at a press conference that the prime accused was music composer Nadeem (of Nadeem-Shravan fame). The police were shocked by this announcement. They had not even taken him into custody yet. As a result of this gaffe, Nadeem fled to London and has stayed there since (he claims to have been framed).
After the Congress-NCP came to power, its first home minister was Chhagan Bhujbal, a former Sainik. He brought in a ‘transfer raj’. Sources say that policemen were more interested in transfers to lucrative police stations than doing any police work. His successor was RR Patil, now infamous for his post-26/11 “Bade bade shehron mein chhote chhote haadse hote rehtein hain.” It cost him his job.
In fact, when Mumbai was attacked on that day by Ajmal Kasab and nine others, RR Patil was not in command. Sources say that it took plenty of pep talk from a senior NCP minister to get him to the South Mumbai headquarters of the Police, located close to the targets of attack.
Next, in came Jayant Patil, shifted from the state’s finance ministry. He was there for barely a year. In 2009, after the state’s Assembly polls, Jayant Patil was replaced by RR Patil, whose second tenure has been largely spent on closing down dance bars and suchlike. But with Sharad Pawar openly dismissive of how the Home Department is being run, RR Patil is likely to lose his job again.