Jyoti Punwani Date: 28 November 2012
Subject: DNA

For the first time in Mumbai, policemen — and a magistrate — have been punished for having acted according to the Shiv Sena’s diktats.

Until now, there never was any question of the men in khaki, who are supposed to uphold the law, ever disobeying the commands of the Shiv Sena. The reason was simple – the police held Bal Thackeray as their leader. “We are Shiv sainiks under our uniform,” was what some policemen proudly told Muslims appealing for help in May 1984, when Mumbai saw its first major Hindu-Muslim riot after Independence.

They weren’t the exception. As the commissioner of police (CP) during the ’84 riots discovered, his entire force was acting under the Sena’s command. In an internal circular that was leaked to the press, CP Julio Rebeiro asked: “I want to know who is ruling this city — the administration or the Shiv Sena? When orders were given clearly to use force and beat the Shiv sainiks who are going around ordering shops to close, the local police failed to do so.”

How could they? Just days before the riots, the police had been asked by Thackeray, at a rally held at Chowpatty, not to arrest people “who are fighting traitors”. To this day, the Mumbai police have followed his advice, which was repeated by him in an editorial in Saamna during the ’93 riots. Those riots were the most striking example of the police’s regard for the supremo. His followers were allowed to go berserk against those whom they considered “traitors”. The police considered them so too — many Muslims told the Justice BN Srikrishna Commission that probed the riots that when they turned to the police for help, they were told to “go to Pakistan”. Most complaints that actually identified Shiv sainiks as assailants were closed as “true, but undetected”.

In keeping with their force’s tradition, the Palghar police acted at the behest of a Sena mob, arresting two girls who had questioned the shutdown of Mumbai over Thackeray’s death, and charging them with having outraged religious sentiments. Their Facebook post, said police officer Ramdas Shinde, had “hurt the sentiments of a particular group, the Shiv sainiks”. And, as Sena Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut, defending the police action put it: “Balasaheb is our God.”

Until now, the police have never faced action for dancing to the Shiv Sena’s tune. Over the last 13 years that the Congress-NCP has wielded power in the state, no chief minister (CM) or home minister has taken effective action against  the 31 policemen indicted by Justice Srikrishna. No cop was punished for allowing Shiv sainiks to destroy the Singhania Hospital in Thane after Sena chief of Thane Anand Dighe’s death there, or to run riot over the desecration of Meenatai Thackeray’s statue at Shivaji Park. Raj Thackeray’s men, all ex-Shiv sainiks, assaulted helpless North Indians in full view of TV cameras. The media was as outraged then as it is now.

So how come this time, the police were punished?
Could it be the criticism of their actions by two central ministers? But the Union home minister, who waxed eloquent on TV about his relationship with Bal Thackeray, has said nothing. Could it be that this CM, unlike his home minister RR Patil, is a stickler for the law? But then he wouldn’t have given Raj Thackeray an audience immediately after the latter’s men went around vandalising octroi nakas, nor would he have shunted CP Arup Patnaik two days after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief made this demand at a rally held without police permission.

Perhaps the answer lies in the two girls’ courage to speak up, and the widespread support they received. Or in the fact that in the absence of  the ‘Tiger’, the Shiv Sena can actually be taken on.