Jyoti Punwani | Agency: DNA | Friday, August 24, 2012

The morale of Mumbai’s police force must be sky-high now that police commissioner Arup Patnaik has been shunted out. The morale of the Muslim community, however, is at rock-bottom. This inverse equation best illustrates the relationship between the state and its largest minority.

But it needn’t have been so.

From security expert B Raman to super cop Julio Ribeiro, everyone praised Patnaik’s handling of the explosive situation at Azad Maidan on August 11. What more endorsement did the Maharashtra government need? Those of us who have seen communal violence in the city since the 80s, have rarely seen a senior policeman actually restrain his men in the face of dire provocation from a group of hoodlums belonging to a community they aren’t exactly fond of.

Commissioners who take the trouble to walk through mobs, take the mike and defuse a restive and emotionally charged crowd, are like legendary figures from the early years after Independence.

The city was lucky enough to have a person like that in charge on August 11. Had Patnaik not acted the way he did, instead of just two men dead, we would have had maybe 20. Add to this the anger of an entire community. Unlike in the past 20 years, that anger may not have remained simmering. The brazenness with which cops were attacked on August 11 — without provocation — indicates that for a section of Muslim youth, violence, even against policemen, is fun. They are too young to have seen the brutalities faced by their community in 92-93 or earlier, in 1984. Imagine if this section had come out on the roads if indiscriminate police firing on the Azad Maidan crowd led to high casualties. Imagine what would have happened if that section of Hindu lumpens who, thanks to their powerful backers, have always got away with hooliganism, had taken them on.

“The insensitive and harsh approach of the police while handling the protesting (Muslim) mobs which initially were not violent’’ was listed by theSrikrishna Commission Report (Vol I), as one of the immediate causes of the violence that broke out the day the Babri Masjid was demolished. With his sensitivity, Patnaik saved the entire city from a repeat of 1992-93. A grateful community turned against its ulema and shamed them into apologising for calling a rally which they could not control. This is the first time leaders – Hindu or Muslim — have apologised for mob violence.

Not all the Eid milans and iftaars held every year by the police since 1992 have changed the basic relationship of mistrust between the city’s police and its largest minority. Patnaik’s one act, and his repeated explanations after that, did so. Perhaps for the first time, Muslims (not informers) co-operated with the police who went hunting for the culprits. When Patnaik said on TV, after Raj Thackeray’s rally, that he had been worried about a potential clash between MNS supporters and Muslims celebrating the second day of Eid on Chowpatty, Muslims couldn’t believe their ears.

Under Patnaik, this relationship would have gone far. Imagine the benefits for society as a whole when an embittered community is won over. But that was not to be. The mobs baying for blood had to be appeased. A police commissioner who doesn’t “teach Muslims a lesson” is persona non grata for the entire establishment, including the (non-Urdu) media. Only two Muslims dead when they attack cops? The man has to go. Home Ministers, however, can continue patronising the most rabid Muslims. 

(The writer is a commentator on political and social affairs)