Stoking the Fires

Teesta and Javed’s biased analysis of this month's Mumbai riots can make the most secular of us question our beliefs.

ByMadhu Trehan
Stoking the Fires
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Rarely has an article befuddled me as much as Teesta Setalwad and Javed Anand’s article, “Making History, Not Repeating It” (The Indian Express – August 17, 2012).

The first paragraph describes the violence in Azad Maidan – “….a Muslim mob behaved in despicable fashion — torching OB vans, attacking media persons and the police, molesting women constables, snatching arms from the police….” Then the authors laud the Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik for not acting against the violent mob. We have seen the footage of Patnaik rudely telling off and threatening the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dr Ravindra Shisve, for arresting one of the goons. The article continues, “But do allow for the possibility that responding in a most ‘un-police-like’ fashion to extreme provocation, the city’s police commissioner, Arup Patnaik, may have opened a happy chapter in the otherwise unhappy Muslim-police relationship in the metropolis.”

Let’s replace some of the words in the first paragraph with substitutes and see how it plays.

“A gang of men behaved in a despicable fashion. They picked up a 10-year-old girl, raped her, burnt her, attacked media persons who had come to cover the story, attacked the police and molested women constables, snatched arms from the police…” Then we can subsequently continue: “But do allow for the possibility that responding in a most ‘un-police-like’ fashion to extreme provocation, the city’s police commissioner, Arup Patnaik, may have opened a happy chapter in the otherwise unhappy rapists-police relationship in the metropolis”.

Okay, “rapists” is an extreme example. Replace “Muslim” with “Hindu”. Would the authors have written the first paragraph if the mobs were Hindus? Is the law to be adjusted according the religion of the miscreant? Does this mean we absolutely must expect and demand the same cotton-wool treatment if Hindus go on a rampage? Or Sikhs? Or Bodos? Is morality and legality based not on the principle but the identity of the person?

A simple question – why should police and the law of the land respond differently if violent mobs happen to belong to a particular religion? Why should they look benignly on as vans are burnt, media persons beaten up, women constables molested and their own arms snatched from them? Why? Why? Why?

There is shocking footage of Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik ordering DCP Ravindar Shisve to release a rioter who is being arrested. The video link was blocked on Youtube (but seems to be accessible now), but can be seen on Twitter links. This is how Twitter transforms from Social Media into Political-Info Media.

The footage shows the police commissioner, Arup Patnaik shouting at the deputy commissioner, Ravindra Shisve, who holds a (should I say “alleged”?) goon (pleading for mercy) by the collar – “Tumhala kon hyala pakdayala sangitla? (Who has told you to catch him?)”. Patnaik then threatens to have the DCP suspended.

“You take directions from the commissioner. You are not SP of Sangli. You are DCP here. You will not fall out of line or you will be suspended, stupid”, Patnaik bellows.

Am I missing something because I am not a Mumbaikar? No, because these are questions raised in Mumbai’s Midday newspaper in its article, “Azad Maidan riots: Five days later, some hard questions for Mumbai police” (August 16, 2012).

Some of the questions: “Why did Commissioner of Police Arup Patnaik force a DCP to release an apprehended rioter from the spot? If speakers incited the protesters with hate speeches, why are they still roaming free? Why have no lessons been learnt from the protest in 2006 that went violent?”

The Setalvad-Anand article then reads: “Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray is most unhappy that the police commissioner did not issue a blanket shoot-to-kill order. But the latter’s exemplary restraint is precisely what peace-loving Mumbaikars need to thank him for. Instead of repeating history, Patnaik has tried creating one”.

1. Why is Bal Thackeray’s emotional temperature relevant in this? I really don’t care much about Bal Thackeray. But, the authors seem to gloat over a victory at Thackeray’s state of mind. A fact checker would ask: How did they gauge his emotional state? It is a mystery.

2. The gloating over Bal Thackeray’s mental state stoops to the lowest denominator of one-upmanship.

3. The authors, then ostensibly speaking on behalf of peace-loving Mumbaikars, express gratitude to the police commissioner for his lack of action which they call “restraint”.

Would citizens of any city express gratitude to their police commissioner for NOT acting against a mob when their city and lives are in danger?

The authors continue: “Senior journalists and social activists from Mumbai are aware that, given the absence of justice, the wounds of 1989 and 1992 are still festering. Thankfully, Patnaik, who was a deputy commissioner of police when Bombay burned (1992-93), has not forgotten either. It’s his act of remembering, and reminding, that prevented yet another bloodbath and ensured that the situation did not spin entirely out of control last Saturday”.

Every community is scarred by wounds that must not be picked up selectively as a response justification. A fact-checker would ask, “How do the authors know that Patnaik’s mind “remembering and reminding” was his reason for asking his DCP to release a goon? A slight understanding of how India works would tell you that the order to do exactly that had come from political bosses.

Back to more of the article’s gyan: “Mercifully, the Mumbai police have denied such an opportunity to those, whoever they might be, who seem to be working overtime to incite Muslims”.

In this case, who was at the meeting in Azad Maidan? Why is there an unwillingness to accept that goons were in the rally? Will the police non-action actually lead to any decline in incitements? It seems to be vaguely implied that these are innocent people being incited by some voodoo evil forces.

More pearls: “As things stand today, the Mumbai police are the injured party, while the city’s Muslim leadership, such as it is, is compelled do all the explaining, apologizing, forgiveness-seeking, appreciating the role of the police”.

The authors seem to believe that there is a moral high ground in becoming the “injured party”, possibly from a habit perception of victim-self righteous-politics. No security force, of the State or Centre, should ever ever ever be reduced to an “injured party”. Their motive to protect our cities and nation could hardly be triggered by the satisfaction – let them beat us up, molest our women, snatch our weapons, but hey, now THEY will have to explain, apologise and seek forgiveness! The puerility of these statements shows a complete detachment from the minds, emotions and motivation of the security forces.  Is there any dot of understanding about how demoralising it was for the police force? To go to Azad Maidan ostensibly to do their job to keep the peace and find they are ORDERED NOT to do their job, get beaten and come home injured to lick their wounds! The presence of the police force in their uniforms should mean there will be no violence.

The authors conclude: “It must not be easy for Patnaik and the top rung of the Mumbai police to calm the nerves of those whom they lead. But the police commissioner’s remarkable restraint has opened up an opportunity to heal wounds, open a new chapter. It’s an opportunity Muslims must grab with both hands”.  

“Not easy”? Patnaik is seen threatening and abusing his confused DCP, who obviously cannot fathom why he is being stopped from doing what he is trained to do.

“Muslims must grab with both hands”? Are the authors talking about the same people? Do the authors expect the guy running around with a Kalashnikov to grab hands in peace and gratitude for not being arrested? The “men” who set fire to vans and smashed cars? The “man” shouting – Journalists ko jalao? (Burn the journalists)So you don’t follow the law of the land which calls for arresting such mobsters and then these same mobsters are so moved to soft emotion that they will grab hands and sing Hum Hongey Kamyaab some d-a-ay? A Bollywood screenwriter would say: Yeh realistic ending nahin hai! Badlo! 

We have all read about the controversy magnet Teesta Setalwad. I believed she worked hard in what she believed in; getting justice for victims of violence in Gujarat 2002. Any person who believes in a humane society would want that. She has won numerous awards. Then, all the various twists and turns in the cases, where witnesses appeared tutored, suddenly turned hostile and numerous other controversies unraveled. As a journalist, one accepts all kinds of characters particularly if they appear to be working for social and humanitarian causes. But, with Teesta it was difficult to keep up with the spiraling versions of each issue. Even then, I gave her the benefit of a busybody do-gooder. Now this article puts a complete end to that assessment.

What motivates social activists? Let’s play with Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Humanist theory of self-actualisation (Hierarchy of Needs).   First it starts with the need to help others and it is altruistic.  The second stage: The activist falls in love with the people he/she is helping and cannot face or see their faults and mistakes. With a little bit of success, publicity and acknowledgment of the good work he/she is doing, the activist becomes a hero.  He/she gains followers and is surrounded by sycophants. He/she gets shut off from any views or perspective different from his/her own. Any challenging views are dismissed. The final stage takes place – the activist falls in love with himself/herself. Now this activist, who started with altruistic reasons, has become a danger to society. The activist is so taken by his/her Jungian Hero Archetype bordering on the Martyr Archetype, that anyone else’s opinion or perspective is held in contempt. Because the Archetype is so enthralled by his/her own sacrifices to the cause, to make them worthwhile blind faith in one’s self is essential. If he/she admits he/she is wrong on any point, it means a lifetime of service has been wasted.

Gujarat 2002 upset and shook me up. Many tweeters have sincerely tried to convince me that Narendra Modi was not responsible. I, sincerely, have not been convinced so far, since I have seen stories with evidence and footage that show the opposite. But an article like this one by Setalvad-Anand is enough to turn me into what is called an Internet Hindu. India cannot afford to have different rules of engagement based on people’s religion, caste or gender. I believe that is enshrined in our Constitution. Destroying the Constitution for a vote bank is worse corruption than black money. An incendiary article by Setalvad-Anand can do as much damage as violence in Azad Maidan. To paraphrase Arun Shourie: This is bending over backwards.

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