Inexperience, distrust in leadership: Why cops failed to control Delhi violence
Once touted as the model police for all states, Delhi Police, experts say, has lately failed to handle law and order situations due to several reasons.
Over past 72 hours, Delhi Police has watched even as hundreds clashed in the North-east Delhi neighbourhoods such as Jafrabad, Yamuna Vihar, Babarpur, Khajoori Khas, torching vehicles and shops and houses, in the worst communal riots in the capital in at least two decades. At least 13 people died in the clashes.
Once touted as the model police for all states, Delhi Police, experts say, has lately failed to handle law and order situations due to several reasons: inexperience of the top brass in dealing with violent clashes; lack of faith in the leadership; and department’s repeated failure in assessing situations.
HT spoke to several retired and serving officers who pointed out that the majority of Delhi Police DCPs (Deputy Commisioners of Police) currently serving in the districts have zero or little experience in handling riots as Delhi has not seen such large scale violent clashes since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, sporadic incidents during Mandal Commission, tension during LK Advani’s Rath Yatra, and the 1992 riots after demolition of Babri Masjid . Indeed, they add, most people directly handling the situation -- ACPs (Assistant Commisioners of Police), Inspectors -- have not handled any major riot in their lifetime.
Among the senior leadership of Delhi Police, outgoing Commissioner of Police Amulya Patnaik (his extension ends at the end of the month) himself has spent most of his policing tenure in special units such as Crime Branch, vigilance or administration. For several months, his leadership skills have been severely tested.
He has had to motivate his force after policemen were attacked by lawyers; defend it from charges that it overlooked attacks on Jawaharlal Nehru University students by masked goons; and had to explain why the police entered the library of Jamia University and attacked students during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. He now has to handle questions on how and why the force wrongly assessed the situation in North-east Delhi and, subsequently, struggled to restore peace.
“In all these incidents, it seems there was no planning, action, tactical deployment or understanding of the crowd and the area. Why hasn’t Delhi Police imposed curfew in affected areas of North-east Delhi yet? It will reduce the loss of lives and property,” said a retired IPS officer who handled multiple riot situations in Delhi including 1984 riots.
A few hours after the officer spoke to HT, there were reports that curfew had indeed been imposed in some of the areas.
“Seeing what’s happening today, I am ashamed I was part of this force. How can you (referring to police commissioner Amulya Patnaik) watch while students are being beaten up, your own men are being thrashed and not do anything? Delhi Police was the number 1 force in all of India but look where it has reached today,” said this officer who asked not to be identified.
Importantly, since the events of November 2019, when lawyers thrashed Delhi Police officers, there is a clear disconnect between the top brass and lower-level officers. The junior ranks are scared of taking impromptu decisions on the ground fearing their leader won’t stand up for them.
When the Delhi high court ordered the sacking of two senior officers after the clash with lawyers in November, Patnaik faced protests from his own men, the first time this has happened in the history of the department. However, a serving officer, who didn’t wish to be named, said “he (Commissioner) hasn’t done anything to rebuild the trust of his men”.
Patnaik did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Another reason for Delhi Police’s struggles is weak human intelligence about protests. Local area DCPs, SHOs (station house officers) , ACPs and the special branch of Delhi Police are supposed to gather human intelligence by networking with the local community and religious leaders -- particularly in areas where there could be communal clashes.
“The deployment of forces was earlier done on the basis of this assessment but it appears that there is no preparation on Delhi Police’s part (now),” said the serving officer cited above. Over the years, Delhi Police has also become increasingly dependent on technical intelligence instead of its men doing the legwork. The intelligence bureau (IB), which, like Delhi Police, comes under the ministry of home affairs, too has repeatedly failed to analyse the situation in Delhi.
Some of the retired officers also said it was surprising that the home ministry did not pull up Delhi Police after a series of lapses.
Ashok Chand, who was in Delhi Police for around 35 years, said: “It is the responsibility of Delhi Police to maintain law and order and it has failed. Delhi Police needs to introspect, analyse the reasons for its failure, and take remedial action so that it performs effectively in future. There seems to have been no planning on how to handle a riotous situation keeping in view the area’s topography, composition of the population and local areas of flashpoint”.