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Home / Analysis / Delhi riots: Six lessons for the State and police | Opinion

Delhi riots: Six lessons for the State and police | Opinion

Nip communal violence in the bud; appoint better police chiefs; project State power; hold the guilty to account

analysis Updated: Mar 02, 2020, 19:44 IST
Yashovardhan Azad
Yashovardhan Azad
Forensics and police personnel investigate at communal violence-hit Khajuri Khas, northeast Delhi, February 28
Forensics and police personnel investigate at communal violence-hit Khajuri Khas, northeast Delhi, February 28(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

An edgy calm prevails over North-east Delhi with charred remains of broken houses, vandalised shops under a smoke-grey sky. A pall of gloom hangs heavy on the ghostly streets, littered with torched vehicles, rubble and broken glass. Families mourn for their loved ones who will never come back home. Delhi burnt for three days with sordid tales of arson, looting and butchery down the lanes where all the communities have always lived together for long, united in peace and happiness.

Coming in the wake of United States President Donald Trump’s visit, the mayhem in Delhi appears to be a part of a deep-rooted conspiracy, a wicked design to wreck peace and mar India’s image. Some have also attributed the clashes to intelligence failure of Delhi Police. However, it was fairly evident even to a common citizen that a confrontation between the pro- and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) groups was building up in the Capital. Voices had been raised for some time against the Shaheen Bagh protests for blocking an important road and causing immense inconvenience to the commuters and residents of nearby areas. Even the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors could not break the deadlock and pro-CAA elements were getting restive.

For decades, Delhi has not witnessed such an incident. Now held in the crossfire of the political blame game, this communal saga has important lessons for the future and it would be wise to pay heed to them.

First, the Capital could have been secured better on the eve of Trump’s visit. Given the prevailing atmosphere in the city, additional battalions from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) should have been requisitioned and deployed at the protest sites and sensitive areas. For any high-profile visit, the police is on the alert, but more boots on ground shore up the confidence and capability of the force.

Second, any sign of communal violence has to be nipped in the bud. This is the first lesson taught in all police training schools. The police should have moved in very strongly and decisively when the clash between the groups had just begun.

This would have called for tear-gassing, lathicharge or even firing if necessary to control the situation and dominate the area. A clear message of this kind would have had the desired effect on other areas where miscreants and goons were trying to take advantage of the tense situation.Why did the police hesitate to make the initial strong move? Was the restraint due to Trump’s visit to keep the action on a low-key or was it prevarication on the part of the leadership?

Third, a strong and decisive leadership is critical in such grave situations. Chiefs of police should be chosen more for their ability to lead and confront difficult situations rather than being just diligent pen pushers. Police chiefs are expected to have a strong connect with their own men and the public. They have to look good, brimming with confidence, and be articulate enough to speak forcefully to motivate their men and the public alike. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s visit did just that. He moved around in riot-affected areas instilling a sense of confidence in the forces and security among the public. This needed to be done earlier by the police chief. Also it is incumbent upon the chief in grave situations like this to interact with the Press for daily briefings, and address the public to boost their confidence.

Fourth, a display of the might of the State is the best deterrent in such situations. Delhi Police has at its command an impressive array of vehicles such as the vajra and others to ferry the forces safely through vulnerable areas. This was the time to showcase them to maximum effect, to parade them through the streets creating awe and fear to ward off any trouble makers.

It was sad to see the old, faded riot gear, bamboo shields and helmets carried by the men. Compare it with Hong Kong and we look so far behind. It is time Delhi Police gets the best riot gear equipment with polycarbonate shields and helmets and Kevlar vests so the men feel confident to tackle any situation bravely.

Fifth, now, with normalcy returning, the police has to turn its attention towards the post-communal violence drill. The Delhi High Court has already directed them to carefully analyse the hate speeches and see if First Information Reports need to be recorded.

Special teams constituted for investigating the riot cases should be expedited under the watchful eye of senior officers and the prosecutors. It is time we encouraged prosecution-guided investigation and bring about closer coordination between the investigation and prosecution wings. The police also must ensure that ghettoisation does not occur as it usually happens after a riot. Those displaced must be rehabilitated as quickly as possible.

And, finally, the ministry of home (MHA) affairs has to play a more facilitating role in providing the Capital police with the latest riot gear and other equipment. Men and material required should be provided at the earliest. Besides, it was the MHA’s responsibility to ensure that a new police commissioner was already in place a month ago before actually taking over formally. The incumbent officer with a clear tenure of at least two years would have certainly taken a more proactive approach to secure the city better.

Yashovardhan Azad is former IPS officer and Central Information Commissioner

The views expressed are personal

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