The politics of beating a policeman

Ravikiran DeshmukhBefore analysing the incident of legislators beating a policeman and subsequent political turmoil, the role of state’s top leadership needs to be looked into seriously. Congressmen from the state say CM Prithviraj Chavan may emerge as a dark horse to take over the mantle from Dr Manmohan Singh if party vice-president Rahul Gandhi refuses to accept the prime minister’s post. Chavan’s critics may raise questions over his acumen in handling frontline battles of electoral politics. But his seven years in the PMO, unflinching loyalty towards the Gandhi family and his previous roles such as a key negotiator between the UPA and other political parties for evolving consensus on the nuclear deal with the US puts him ahead of others.

But it must be noted that the blue-eyed boy of 10, Janpath did not justify his role during the trial of his leadership as chief minister when a policeman was beaten up by some legislators in Vidhan Bhavan. Being the head the state administration, he should have handled the crisis from the front and avoided most poignant moments at the legislature.

As news came in that an assistant police inspector was beaten up by overzealous legislators, lawmakers and ministers were too shocked to react. The CM appeared unhappy, unwilling to come clean on the issue. If he was angry with his legislators he could have clearly said so, winning sympathies of the people and the police. 

But he did not, and instead antagonised his party MLAs who appeared divided. Most warned against taking action against their colleagues for the incident and instead demanded suspending the API, and the cops who entered Vidhan Bhavan to arrest accused MLAs. Such was their temerity that they were about to boycott the state’s budget presentations. Though most of them were convinced against doing that, a group abstained.

The CM is not just head of the government, he is also responsible for smooth running of business in the legislature. But Chavan let his parliamentary affairs minister Harshwardhan Patil handle the crisis, giving an opportunity to legislators who were not happy with his style of working and doggedness against personal favours. The state government had a tough time taking action against MLA Kshitij Thakur as his Bahujan Vikas Aghadi supports the Congress-led government not only in the state but also at the centre through its MP Baliram Jadhav.

Even when the proposal to suspend five MLAs over the incident was being moved, the CM was not present; he came later. Also, the punishment meted out to the MLAs is too soft, howsoever mild or serious the thrashing. A member of the legislature or Parliament has to be suave and poised.

Congress failed to persuade its legislators against their confrontationist approach. The situation worsened when the Opposition questioned why Congress MLAs were ignored for suspension, though a few were present during the episode. Meanwhile, its alliance partner NCP saved itself from disgrace as its leader Sharad Pawar, known for excellent rapport with the administration, quickly reacted. 

Following his orders, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar gave directions to his party legislators. The incident at Vidhan Bhavan is certain to create conflicts in future. As the bitterness gives way to chaos, local level politics will see tensions and unpleasant moments. The police force has taken the incident seriously and may retaliate at best available opportunities. This needs to be controlled as general public is in no way concerned with it but may suffer heavily, specially in rural parts. Even politicians can’t afford the fight as many of them may not venture out of their homes if police protection is withdrawn.

Both houses of the state legislature have not taken up business listed for the last few days. The deadlock is still on. Both the CM and Home Minister R R Patil are at the receiving end as the issue has snowballed from a fight between individuals to one of politicians vs police.

While moving the privilege motion, legislators were united only because of the alleged highhandedness of the police. They feel the police was taking undue advantage of the incident and trying to corner them. At this juncture they need to be convinced that there are far more serious issues dogging the state such as drought in 15 districts and the annual budget debate.

Surprisingly, in this hour of political one-upmanship, the MNS claimed the political benefit. First Raj Thackeray denounced the act and won sympathies of the policemen. Later he reacted against moving the privilege motion and won sympathies of the media. Although his party MLAs not only supported the motion but were highly critical of the media.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY 

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