Did the police slip up in Owaisi case?

After the uproar in the social and mainstream media over the hate speech delivered by Akbaruddin Owaisi in Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh on 22 December, the district police have discovered that its sleuths were not sleeping. They had also apparently recorded the entire two-hour long speech by the MLA of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) legislature party. When asked why no one took note of the inflammatory content, each police source had a different version to offer.

One said none of the intelligence officers present at the meeting could follow Akbar's Urdu. Another said as the speech was delivered in chaste Urdu, it took time to get it translated into Telugu and English before it could be submitted to senior officers.

Akbaruddin Owaisi. Image courtesy ibnlive

Yet another said the intelligence cops had submitted a report to the higher-ups but had done a poor job in highlighting the more offensive portions. They had reportedly stressed on the fact that the crowd was very appreciative of Akbar's oratory and that Owaisi junior had touched upon the demolition of the Babri Masjid in his speech. No one therefore took a second look at a speech that was only talking about a 20-year-old issue.

A fourth version, that looks more closer to the truth is that it was only when the BJP lawyer went to court on 28 December and the issue hit the headlines that the Adilabad police woke up and realised that they had slipped up badly.

So late on the night of 2 January, the Nirmal police in Adilabad filed a case under Section 153A, charging Owaisi with promoting enmity between two religious communities. Neighbouring district Nizamabad, where Akbar had reportedly spoken in a similar vein on 8 December, also filed a case against him yesterday evening. Meanwhile, a city court in Hyderabad on Thursday asked the city police to file a case, based on a complaint by a local.

All this proved that Bollywood was always right. That the police reach only at the end.

Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has been on silent mode on the hate speech in which there were several barbs directed at him, except to say that law will take its own course. In this case, by taking a 10-day course, the Andhra Pradesh police's image has taken a beating.

That is a view shared by many senior IPS officers who have worked in communally sensitive hotspots like the Old city of Hyderabad. Privately, they admit that by taking a long time to ensure the law of the land prevails, the police looked as if it was totally unaware of what had happened under its nose. "The police should have taken suo motu action instead of waiting for someone to file a case," says an officer who has spent many years in the state intelligence department. "By keeping quiet, the police looked as if we were not keen on taking action."

This is a charge Andhra Pradesh police chief V Dinesh Reddy denies. He says seeking legal opinion on the sensitive speech took time, arguing that the police have to be careful when dealing with a case involving public representatives.

What he leaves unsaid is that the legal opinion was taken only after 28 December. But since a BJP person had gone to court, it meant the police had to be careful that it was not just another case of political tu tu mein mein. It also had to study thoroughly the legal provisions under which Owaisi could be booked, lest it fall between two stools.

"The interpretation is very important in such cases. Whether the speech's contents could lead to people getting instigated to indulge in violence," explains MV Bhaskara Rao, former Director General of Andhra Pradesh police. "The police has to check every controversial sentence and examine if it is not transgressing on the individual's freedom of speech. The malafide intention has to be established."

But to reduce this case to just another police FIR, would be to ignore the significance of the umbilical cord that stays intact between different political outfits. The MIM was a Congress ally until November, and even though the Owaisis snapped ties with the party, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi has several powerful friends in the ruling party in Delhi on speed dial. In recent months, Owaisi has emerged as a leading national Muslim leader and the Congress leadership would still want him on its side. And given his proximity to Jaganmohan Reddy, Owaisi could also help in forging political friendships before or after elections.

The YSR Congress understandably has kept mum on the controversy. The Telugu Desam has only made a feeble token condemnation indicating that with the election season approaching, the Owaisis will not be political untouchables.

On the record, the police denies any political interference. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and it will be seen if this controversial case too suffers the fate of several other cases registered against Akbaruddin Owaisi that are gathering dust in different police stations.