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Riots, roses and Thackeray: Mumbai police heading for crisis?

Though the Mumbai Police did manage – happenstances and good luck helped – to quell the violence on 11 August at and around Azad Maidan, it does appear that there are serious problems with the law-enforcers. They could be heading towards a crisis which neither the force nor the city can afford.

Constable Pramod Tawde is a symptom of that impending crisis. So is the city’s police chief, Arup Patnaik. Or, more succinctly, the way they have conducted themselves in the past two weeks, starting from around the time of the Raza Academy-sponsored rally.

Tawde would not have marshalled the courage to walk up in uniform to the dais and show his gratitude to Raj Thackeray for the morale booster he provided in his 20-minute speech – ‘no one shall touch a policeman henceforth’, he said. Later, the constable spoke to TV cameras and spoke how here was none to protect the interests of the police force– not even a union.

Reuters

He did put his neck out too far to be chopped by a force which pretends to be professional, proficient in forensic investigations, and clean – three-point fiction really – but even before Tawde could be investigated, his chief, Patnaik told a live TV show that the constable was under “psychiatric treatment”.

If he was mentally disturbed, Mr Patnaik, why was he on duty in the Wireless wing, the centre of police communications? We have not been told that he was on medical leave. Was his psychiatric status a manufactured fiction to protect the force’s image? Or, more crucially, is it normal for the patently overworked force to tolerate such patients under the belief that they would not cause the force and the city they guard, any harm?

Patnaik also told the television on Wednesday night that media reports which claimed that women constables were molested during the 11 August violence, was “not an exaggeration but false”. If it was indeed a fallacy, it would have been more credible had he not taken nearly two weeks to clarify that.

When women of his force are subjected to such humiliation, delaying the all-important clarification was not kosher.

He has a role, which according to him, is that of a “head of a family” and therefore he “can even shout at an officer”, in this case a senior IPS official, and by reports, in the presence of miscreants detained after the 11 August riots. Then he was required to be more circumspect, whatever the aggravation.

This event, apparently in his own office, has been widely reported; even YouTube and Twitter went ballistic with it. The development has not added to the morale of the force. The containment of the 11 August madness at Azad Maidan, though successful with over-deployment of self-loading rifles, is no alibi. Nor do we have we any explanation for a report in the Indian Express, Mumbai Newsline on 15 August that the “Additional Commissioner of Police, South region, was on stage reciting a religious verse, unaware of the scuffle at the access.” Pray, what prayer when a religious organisation was the organiser of the Muslim congregation protesting against attacks on their community elsewhere?

By Patnaik’s own admission, that day “the fingers of some policemen were on their triggers” and he had to “ensure that they did not fire”. This speaks poorly of a force which can succumb to such exasperation when under attack. In this attack, women constables got their share of mortification which the police chief says was falsely made out. A self-respecting woman likes that if she was not molested, she does not want the world to think she was.

The manner in which the constabulary was avidly taking in what Raj Thackeray said in favour of the police, was a signal that the force is looking for someone to be paternalistic in action, not by claim. Thackeray was offering solace to a hurt force. No wonder, whatever his psychiatric profile, Tawde brought that hurt out.

Thackeray is now a man who would be able to overawe the policemen with ease, because he is now their friend who will stand for them. The reach that Raj Thackeray has developed within a span of 20 minutes won their hearts.

Tomorrow, faulting him for having worked his way into their minds, where he would be seen as an angelic person when the force was under stress, would be wrong. The force is vulnerable to such patronage, as has been seen in the past. At one time, police chiefs like Julio Ribeiro, his immediate predecessors and successors realised that each of Mumbai’s police station had become virtually a Shiv Sena shakha in addition to the ones the party ran officially.

Now, they could well be Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s. It would not behove well for a police force.