Some years ago, after a particular spree of violence when Shiv Sainiks had rampaged a media house for criticising Bal Thackeray, I wrote in this column that the Sena tiger was laughter challenged and did not really have a sense of humour - which is an ability to laugh at oneself rather than just poke fun at others.
I was woken up early morning by a desperate cop who wanted my residential address. “We need to send across two constables to protect you. There are orders from the top.”
I flatly turned down the offer saying I and Thackeray understood each other and that he would soon be over it.
He sounded unhappy about that and soon enough I had a call from his senior officer and then that officer’s boss when I continued to turn down the offer of police protection.
This last top cop understood my concern – that policemen sitting on guard duty outside my door every day would get in the way of my freedom – but said they were just following orders.
I offered to call their bosses to say I would speak to them myself and we soon found a way out to keep both of us happy. They guarded my office instead of my home for a day or two before realising that it had been a futile exercise to expend so much manpower, time and money on such a useless pursuit.
But I was curious as to where the rather untenable orders had come from and eventually I was told that it was RR Patil, who was home minister even then, who had been concerned that Shiv Sainiks might now go on a rampage again and attack yet another media office, so he had thought a preemptive action would prevent things from getting out of hand.
Even then I thought Patil had got his formula all wrong. He should have ordered exemplary action against the Shiv Sainiks who had created trouble in the earlier instance.
If they had been rounded up and put behind bars, no one would have dared to even think of going on a similar adventure again and run out of steam sooner or later on various issues that might have irked them to violence.
But that has always been the problem of Maharashtra and Bombay in particular ever since the chief minister in 1995, under the Shiv Sena-BJP arrangement, ceased to be home minister of the state and handed the office to his ally, then the BJP, whose Gopinath Munde then became deputy chief minister as well.
The same arrangement has been continued by the Congress-NCP alliance and except for the first few years when the stern Chaggan Bhujbal held that office and tolerated no nonsense, has been occupied by comparative weaklings, most of the time Patil himself.
The arrangement suits Sharad Pawar for Patil is culturally challenged and can be trusted never to get above himself or pose a challenge to the Pawars.
The man in the driving seat is actually Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, who has the powers of the home minister without the responsibility of that office and so the buck now really stops nowhere.
That is why parties like the Shiv Sena and the MNS as well as other criminals get away with impunity. Patil clearly believes it is safer to provide police protection to people than take police action against criminals.
It was in that spirit that the man, an acute case of foot-in-mouth disease suggested, after the gang rape of the young photo journalist last week, that women journalists should take police men along with them for their protection when on dangerous assignments.
I don’t think many have gotten over his “bade bade shehron mein aise chote mote haadse hote rehte hain” comment after the 26/11 attacks. This is just more of the same.
I wonder if taking photographs in an abandoned mill was, indeed, a dangerous assignment – it should have been the safest of situations that most of us find ourselves in every day.
In my long career as a reporter on the beat, I have been to more dangerous places and on more dangerous assignments, sometimes post-sunset and I can say I came through those situations without a scratch and no fears.
But that was when the Bombay Police was second only to Scotland Yard and home ministers did not take the easy way out of difficult situations.
When will Sharad Pawar understand that the home minister office is no place for a softie and that keeping Bombay safe for women has more to do with than just shutting down its dance bars? Or will he continue to be concerned only about himself and let the state go to the dogs?