What you think of assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Vasant Dhoble depends on who you are and what you do.
If you are a compulsive patron of the city’s pubs, bars, discotheques and restaurants that service high-end customers late into the night, you most likely see Dhoble as a party-pooper or a moral police inspector. Both nicknames were generously heaped on the man last year when he enforced rules about service hours on establishments that service the good life in Mumbai.
If you are a resident in the lane that houses any of these pubs, bars, discotheques and restaurants, you perhaps see a saviour in Dhoble. He is the cop who took on the rich and the powerful so that you would not have to suffer loud noise, brawls and traffic in your lane late into the night, each night, only because some people wanted to partake of the good life.
If you are a resident or a pedestrian in an area, like Santacruz, Vakola, Vile Parle, where non-licensed hawkers occupied pavements, street corners, entrance-exit of railway foot-over bridges and even roads, jeopardising pedestrians and traffic in high-density zones, you might thank Dhoble for clearing your street or pavement of the hawkers.
If you are a hawker or own/lease stalls and pavement spaces for hawking or belong to hawkers’ associations, you will see Dhoble as the vicious cop who took away your livelihood and identity. A view that is liberally shared by owners and staff of pubs, bars, discotheques and restaurants which suffered Dhoble’s hammer and hockey stick during his stint in the Social Service Branch last year.
The Shiv Sena was against Dhoble during that stint, even running an editorial against him in the party’s newspaper. Party leaders are running a campaign last two days to have him reinstated as ACP of the Vakola division.
A different set of politicians have taken on Dhoble this time. Congress MP Priya Dutt, who is rarely heard on city’s pressing issues, MLAs Kripashankar Singh and Krishna Hegde, are among those who approached the state government to “protest” Dhoble’s action against non-licensed hawkers.
Why, Mr Uddhav Thackeray, is it okay for Dhoble to go after hawkers who violate the law but not pursue action against the good-life places that violate the law? Why, Ms Dutt, is it all right, when citizens struggle to simply walk down a street, for you to take the side of hawkers who weren’t licensed to be on that street? What interest binds you and the MLAs to these hawkers?
I am neither a fan nor an apologist of Dhoble, his controversial methods, and his over-zealousness typified by arresting party-goers as prostitutes. However, his actions, and the reactions they evoke, have repeatedly thrown the spotlight on an ugly face of Mumbai: the insidious and persistent inter-connections between politicians and those who feel free to not live by the law, a matrix that fosters inter-dependent relationships between business interests and political exigencies.
Increasingly, Mumbai appears hostage to such a matrix. One Dhoble cannot set it right, especially without a mandate from his bosses, but we can ask Thackeray, Dutt and others of their ilk why they find themselves arguing, again and again, for those who deepen that unholy matrix.