Dharmendra Jore: Khaki under threat
Two disturbing incidents last week speak loudly of where we, as a society, are heading. In the first incident in Pangaon town in the Latur district, a Muslim policeman Yusuf Sheikh was assaulted by a mob of 200 and paraded along with a saffron flag after the police force stopped them from hoisting the flag at the spot because it was communally sensitive.
In the second incident in Thane, Shiv Sena worker Shashikant Kalgude, an ex-shakha pramukh, attacked a woman traffic constable who asked for his driving licence because he had violated traffic rules. The Sena has disowned Kalgude, a history-sheeter.
Both incidents have one thing in common. The attackers involved in Latur and Thane are all believers in the ideology of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, revered in Maharashtra for his all-inclusive brand of politics, secular ideology and immense respect for women.
The Latur mob attacked a Muslim cop and his Hindu colleague during Shivaji’s birth anniversary celebrations, and the Thane sainik must have raised ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’ slogans on innumerable occasions all his life. The irony!
A video that went viral shows Sheikh being forced to hold the saffron flag as he is pushed down a street with the mob shouting ‘Jai Bhavani’.
Sheikh can be heard saying, “Arrey, jari mi Musalman aslo tari Bharatiya aahe mi” (even if I am Muslim, I am an Indian).
Latur, a part of Marathwada that was controlled by the Nizams before Independence, has an undercurrent of Hindu-Muslim tussle, which is fanned further by political forces. However, interim investigations in the Latur incident reject the theory that it was communal in nature, since both Muslim and Hindu officers were assaulted. Was it then an attack on men in uniform? If so, then we must know the reasons behind it.
But the real reasons may not be known officially and immediately, as the mob was an all-party congregation. And this participation across parties appears to be the prime reason for the opposition and their counterpart in the government playing deaf and dumb even though the incident has impacted the morale of our police force.
If indifference from politicians wasn’t enough, the top leadership of the state police force too took the matter lightly. We reliably learnt that the police top brass, which sits in Mumbai’s swanky Colaba headquarters, opined before the government that the local in-charge officer, who had failed to send re-enforcements to rescue his policemen in trouble, should not be suspended immediately. Instead, the officer was transferred to a control room.
Attack on the force
We’re told that whatever disciplinary action took place against the officer, and the arrests of some culprits, happened only after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted that the government felt that it was not an attack on an individual but on the force itself, and the government wouldn’t tolerate it. Sheikh has since refused to join the Renapur police station under which he had been working.
The Latur incident may not take centre-stage in the forthcoming Budget Session of the State Legislature beginning next Monday, but at least one party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), is bound to take up the issue because of its increasing Muslim vote-bank in Marathwada (and also because their workers did not participate in the controversial procession).
Meantime, we have heard some excuses in defence of the Thane sainik who violated a brave woman police constable. Some people have questioned as to what the earlier governments or the police did when cops, including women, were attacked by unruly traffic violators in Mumbai’s Muslim-dominated Mohammad Ali Road.
Whatever political compulsions the police might face in dealing with such incidents, the force should remember that they alone can protect their honour. The law of the land empowers them more than enough to take the unruly to task. The police have shown unforeseen unity in the Thane case and have also evoked tremendous response from the general public. Henceforth, the police will be expected to act in the same strong manner, without any prejudice or preferential treatment, especially when victims are hapless citizens and their attackers are influential politicians.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org