“The police did the right thing by arresting the girls. A large crowd had gathered at the hospital demanding an apology and the situation could have got out of hand. I told the IG that the police did a fine job … Residents are satisfied that Shaheen apolgized and want to move on now. The Dhadas and Shiv Sena want to close this chapter.’’ That is Palghar’s municipal commissioner, Nandkumar Patil, defending the Palghar police’s arrest of two girls on November 19. One of the girls, Shaheen Dhada, had questioned on Facebook the need for a bandh for Bal Thackeray’s funeral, while Renu Srinivas had ‘liked’ it. Both were hauled to the police station, at the behest of a Sena mob, which had already ransacked Shaheen’s uncle’s clinic after she initially refused to apologize for her post.
Whenever “large crowds gather’’ and threaten to “go out of hand’’, the police in India normally reach for their lathis and guns. But that has not been the case in Mumbai for years, if the large crowds consist of followers of Mumbai’s ruling family. When the followers of Thackeray gather, the Mumbai police, who can outdo their counterparts anywhere in the country in terms of brutality, become sensitive beings. “I think everyone will agree that the situation was sensitive in the light of Balasaheb Thackeray’s demise,’’ said the police officer, Ramdas Shinde, explaining why the police were “constrained to act’’ when Shiv Sainiks barged into his police station with their lawyer, who dictated the sections under which the girls should be arrested. Indeed, according to the Palghar Sena councillor, Uttam Pimpale, the police’s action had benefited the girls, for the mob would have barged into their homes and harmed them.
This kind of convoluted logic was in full display during the Srikrishna Commission hearings, as police officers explained their inaction against Shiv Sainiks or Sainik leaders during the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992-93. Faced with Muslim mobs, the police reached for their guns, even when the former were unarmed. Justice Srikrishna listed as one of the immediate causes of the riots, the insensitive handling by the police of the initial protests by Muslims reacting to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. But faced with armed Sena mobs, members of the same police force begged, cajoled, and appealed.
On the second day of rioting by Shiv Sainiks in a slum in Tardeo, Inspector Thakur appealed to the mob for 15 minutes to remain peaceful, as there was peace everywhere else. The mob heard him out, then went back to throwing fireballs. In the same area, 2,000 Shiv Sainiks led by a Congress leader gheraoed the police station, demanding to know why a Muslim inspector had shot at Hindus. Ban orders were in place, but no one from the gheraoing mob was arrested. The Muslim inspector explained to the mob that he had been given station-house duty and hence had not moved out of the police station. (This, at a time when every hand was needed to control the situation on the streets.) The local assistant commissioner of police told the commission: “We felt they had no intention of any offence. After the misconception was cleared, they dispersed. Police was constantly telling public not to believe in rumours, but to get facts verified by police. This was precisely what the morcha had done.’’
Even better was the explanation of the ACP, Vasant Ingle, for not arresting the Sena MLA, Madhukar Sarpotdar, who led a morcha in December, three weeks after the city had seen its worst riots, in spite of the police ordering him not to. Arresting Sarpotdar “would have led to further escalation in communal trouble...because that might have led to hurting the feelings of (his) followers”. No wonder then, in Jogeshwari, when Sena leaders wanted to take out a morcha to the police station in January 1993, to protest against police inaction on attacks on Hindus, the local deputy commissioner of police requested them not to do so. They could hand over their memorandum to him before starting out, he suggested. Of course, they refused, so the DCP tamely went ahead to the police station to receive them. On their way back, the morcha’s participants attacked Muslim homes.
In January, irritated at reports of a maha aarti blocking the main causeway that connects the island city to the suburbs, a senior officer asked the local inspector why he had allowed it. “Sorry,” he replied, “I had told them but they did not listen to me.’’ The city does not have to be in the grip of unprecedented communal violence for the police to act so sensitively. In 2001, when Sainiks ransacked the Singhania Hospital in Thane, where their leader, Anand Dighe, had died following two heart attacks, the police commissioner, S.M. Shangari, said, “This was a sudden madness. Their loved one had died. It was a spontaneous reaction.’’ This was the same man who had ordered firing against a Muslim morcha trying to break the police barricades while protesting against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in 1989, killing 11 Muslims on the spot.
Even ex-ministers are not deemed worthy of protection by the police, if their assailants are Shiv Sainiks. In 1997, when Chhagan Bhujbal was the leader of the Opposition and the Sena-BJP government was in power, his house was attacked by his erstwhile comrades. His bodyguards whisked him away to his bedroom. Bhujbal had come to know of the Sena’s plan, and security had been increased around his house. But the Shiv Sainiks, armed with crowbars and hammers,went about smashing everything, while the policemen present there begged the attackers with folded hands.
In 2008, Raj Thackeray’s speeches against north Indians led to murderous attacks on them. A DCP went to Thackeray’s home to request him to call off the violence — he did not. Two weeks after the violence, the government, forced by a national outcry, decided to arrest him. Front-page pictures showed two officers sitting respectfully at his house while he struck a pensive pose. A third photographed the scene. That was not the last time Bal Thackeray’s nephew instigated violence. Like his uncle, he has even threatened that the state would burn if he is arrested. He need not worry. The police would not want the situation “to go out of hand’’.