A week after the horrific gangrape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi and the spontaneous protests, the Union government is, at last, in damage control mode, though it may be too little, too late.
In a televised speech on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the “anger is justified but not the violence.”
While it is true that violence will not achieve the changes in governance, laws and policing that India is demanding today, much of what happened on Saturday and Sunday could have been avoided, or at least contained, if the government had reacted proactively from the first day of the stir.
Instead of waiting for seven days — that felt like a hundred years — and allowing the Opposition to exploit the issue, Mr Singh should have gauged the mood of the nation much earlier and reached out to the aam aadmi. By the time government representatives met some six “unknown” leaders, much damage was done.
Instead of any resolute action, this is what the nation saw, heard and noted for a week: the home secretary defending the Delhi Police, the Delhi chief minister asking for the Delhi Police chief’s resignation and the Lieutenant Governor, who should have been at the forefront handling the situation since the police reports to him and not the CM, missing in action.
And on Monday, Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar blamed the media for fuelling the violence. While the PM’s speech may calm nerves somewhat, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s comment on CNN-IBN has added fuel to the fire.
Justifying the police crackdown on the protesters, Mr Shinde said: “It’s very easy to say that the home minister should go meet protesters. Tomorrow if Maoists demonstrate with weapons, will I go and meet them too?”
It did not take much time for the social media, which the government is known to track assiduously, to remind the minister that as a public representative the least he could have done was to engage with the protesters and not equate them with Maoists.
The decisions to impose Section 144, an emergency law that bans groups of more than four people congregating in public areas, in certain parts of Delhi and to close down nine stations of the Delhi Metro have not gone down well with citizens.
The protests have moved to Jantar Mantar, another protest site in Delhi, but have not lost any of their bite or fervour.
As things stand now, it is clear piecemeal action and a few words of assurance and comfort will not do the trick.
A hindustantimes.com poll showed 87% of respondents answered in the negative when asked the question: Does the prime minister’s speech promising security for women comforted and assured them?
The message is clear: the people want to see some credible, strong action by the government and sooner the better.