The police in Ahmedabad appear to be almost sublimely inefficient. All that the murder of as important a leader as the state’s former home minister, Haren Pandya, seems to have done is to catapult them into a frenzy of midnight arrests. The number of people taken into custody so far would suggest that the police have made no headway yet. What is most unfortunate, however, is that this flurry of activity, at its peak after midnight till the early hours of the morning, is acquiring the appearance of a targeted campaign against the minority community. Young men are being picked up from areas where the dominant population is from the minority community. Sometimes all the men from a family may be arrested and detained. Worse, if one young man is missing, the police might pick up his brother and threaten not to release him unless his sibling surrenders. It seems as though any event is excuse enough to unleash mayhem on the minority community. There is no doubt that the first priority of the police is the discovery of Pandya’s murderer. But it is doubtful whether the force is helping its own cause by spreading panic and causing fresh insecurity among the minority community.
It may be a mark of the slightly improved sense of security among the Muslims that women have come out in the streets in vocal protest against the continuing arrests of their men. Equally, it may be the sign of desperation. It is inexplicable that the police have detained so many people for days without bothering to show any results so far. A murder investigation that turns into targeted harassment is in itself bad enough, what augurs really ill is the way the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is being perceived by the minority community. The protesting women have repeatedly asked why POTA was being used against their men while those guilty in the anti-minority carnage last year were not being held under it. If all that the police are afflicted with is inefficiency, they should ensure that their bumbling does not create a situation for another communal conflagration in Gujarat. But it is a pity that Gujarat’s recent history would leave most observers sceptical about the police’s innocence in the matter of the arrests. It would be tempting to discover the lineaments of a pattern that uses Pandya’s murder as an occasion to distress and distance Gujarat’s Muslims further. At the moment, perhaps, there is no need to go to that extent. But it is high time that restraint and accountability were displayed by the police, because alienating the minority community will hinder, not help, the investigation into Pandya’s murder.