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Jammed guns & shaky cops

- Salute to Ratu maharaj turns an embarrassing show

As the guns failed to go off and the hands holding them trembled, the spectators were left wondering whether the men in front of them were capable of protecting them against Naxalites and criminals.

Ranchi police were left red in the face on Friday when jawans entrusted to give the gun salute to Ratu maharaj Lal Chintamani Sharan Nath Shahdeo, who breathed his last on Thursday, trembled and shook, ending up firing only five of the 30 stipulated rounds.

The show of embarrassment unravelled before the who’s who of the state machinery like acting chief secretary Sajal Chakraborty, Ranchi deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey and senior superintendent of police Prabhat Kumar.

Shahdeo (83), the last king of Chotanagpur princely state, died on his way to Apollo hospitals in Ranchi on Thursday evening. The body, which is to be cremated on the banks of Ganga in Varanasi, was kept at his palace on Ratu Road for last darshan while the government decided to accord him state honour. Accordingly, Chakraborty, Choubey and Kumar went to the palace on Friday morning.

Thirty gun shots were to be fired in the air. But policemen chosen to pay the guard of honour trembled while operating the guns. Many didn’t even know how to hold the guns, several of which were jammed. Only five rounds were fired.

“Ranchi police should have been more careful since commoners were also present at the tribute ceremony. A simple mistake during firing could have led to a major mishap,” said former Ranchi mayor and the maharaja’s relative Ajay Nath Shahdeo.

Asked whether Friday’s incident had exposed the chinks in the security establishment, Chakraborty said: “It is not the occasion to discuss such issues, but whatever has taken place is not good. I will talk to the officials concerned.”

Ranchi zonal inspector-general M.S. Bhatia refused to comment. SSP Kumar argued the firearms used on Friday were outdated 303 rifles. “The bullets used during these events are of different type and cannot cause casualties. The weapons are taken out of the armoury only for special occasions. This stray incident does not mean that our police are not fit to fight rebels and criminals,” he said.

But he did admit lapses in maintenance of the weapons.