ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unlearned Lessons, Costly Mistakes

The failure of Maharashtra's home ministry to anticipate violent protest has cost Mumbai dear.

Even to a city inured to periodic bomb blasts and one ­major terror attack, the arson and violence outside Azad Maidan in south Mumbai, where a rally protesting the killings of Muslims in Myanmar and Assam was in progress on 11 August, came as a shock. It tapped into the residual fears and uneasiness that remain nearly two decades after the January 1993 anti-Muslim pogrom and the March 1993 serial bomb blasts. Justice still awaits the victims of the pogrom and the time that has elapsed has only deepened the Muslim community’s feeling of being unfairly treated by the police, and depleted the ­ordinary Mumbaikar’s faith in the state’s successive home ministers and their inept handling of the law and order situation, a direct result of their equally ineffective handling of the police force. That the latter has been seen as doing more “moral ­policing” while the two ruling coalition partners – the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – engage in well-publicised, bitter wrangling has hardly helped matters. While it is true that the police and the police commissioner have been commended for showing unusual “restraint” in the face of the recent violence (directed primarily at the police and the ­media), the episode has raised a number of questions about the police’s ability to gather intelligence, and anticipate and plan for dealing with such episodes of violent protest. More ­importantly, notwithstanding the Muslim community’s very mature responses to the violence, will the rank and file of the police force forgive and forget easily that 53 policemen were injured (and a handful of police women harassed) in the ­systematic ­attack on them?

Whether the violent attack was pre-planned or a section of the crowd responded to the inflammatory anti-media speech at the meeting is being debated and probed. What is clear is that the 650-strong police force posted outside the venue of the protest should have been alerted about the violent group travelling by the local trains to the venue armed with rods and sticks who harassed other commuters en route. Post-violence quotes and interviews of senior police officers indicate that they were ­completely clueless about the flurry of text messages and Facebook postings with links to morphed and doctored photos of mutilated bodies of allegedly Muslim victims in Assam and ­Myanmar. This frenzied activity had been going on for well over a week before the meeting. Nor were they aware of the disquiet that such information had generated among a section of the community as also reports in some Urdu newspapers. The fact that the police failed to sense trouble when the first batch of armed hooligans got off the trains at Chhatrapati Shivaji ­Terminus (CST), that the miscreants went about destroying public property in the full glare of cameras without any policemen trying to take them on, and, more disturbingly, that police rifles were snatched away by the mob indicates that the police were taken by complete surprise.

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