Bombay calling London



“Pull the cops off the streets of Bombay for just one day,” the late Pramod Navalkar, Shiv Sena leader, had once told me, “and see the mayhem that will overpower not just the city but Maharashtra and the entire country. Firm policing is why you and I can walk the streets fearlessly and sleep easy at night.”

What Navalakar said is as true of Bombay as it is of London, where the lack of firm policing allowed the riots that broke out last week to escalate. In a country that is small enough to fit into Maharashtra with lots of room left over edgeways, Navalkar’s words have eerily come true so many years later.

I am stunned by the London Met police’s wimpishness. Not that I have ever supported encounter killings back home, but London’s cops did not even know how to deal with a gun-toting gangster-drug dealer (Mark Duggan) and, if they really shot and killed him, they had no clue how to execute the event and prevent the consequences. Later, they stood by — not even using water canons, plastic bullets or tear gas. Wary as they were of violating human rights, perhaps firm handling at the beginning would have prevented things from spiralling out of control.

It was their call to take but they thought CCTV footage would be adequate to catch looters who came hooded and masked for the large part. And the arrests they have made, I am sure, add up to only a small percentage of those who actually took to the streets over the past week. That, of course, set the tongues wagging in Maharashtra’s Vidhan Bhavan where an Assembly session is underway. Faced with criticism of failing to install the CCTVs sanctioned for Bombay, Congressmen and those in the Nationalist Congress Party are now questioning: if western models do not work even for the west, can they not be as easily subverted in India?

When I had travelled to London last year, I had fallen in love with the city all over again, dreaming up ways to return and spend extended periods of time in the British capital. I guess I am not so keen any more. Of course, I will still travel to London but I am now very thankful that I live and make my home in Mumbai. Because though London might still be quite safe and welcoming, I believe I would be safer in the hands of the Bombay police who react more swiftly and are more adept at bringing situations under control in double quick time.

Of course, the 1992-93 riots did go on longer than they should have essentially because of the sympathy of a section of the cops towards the rioters: that is the other side of the coin to how London’s cops reacted with excessive caution towards causing any harm to the rioters. But while some of our own cops perhaps encouraged the looters then, I am glad that our rioters (unlike in the UK, where two girls clearly cocked a snook at the cops by saying they wanted to “show the police and the rich’’ what exactly they could do) were always afraid of getting on the wrong side of the law. Not that we are rich but those girls were not really that poor either. So I choose Bombay over London any day.

Whatever my reservations about them, at least our policemen know how to do their jobs. And, though they may now be quite discredited as a consequence of their partisan attitude during the riots of both Bombay and Gujarat, they operate in and have to police a far more complexed society than London’s.

Once upon a time, one of my friends in the force had boasted, “If a Naxal sneezes in Gadchiroli, we hear of it at the Police HQ in Colaba two minutes later.” Though that may not be strictly true today, at least they are still preventing the outbreak of riots (if not blasts), despite all the divisions and factions in the police force and the political pressures they are subjected to today.

But our cops have occasionally also been helped along by our political leadership – however weak and annoying at the present moment they may be. Clearly, the holidaying British leaders, who didn’t care to return sooner, and the complete irrelevance of the mayoral office in London (as it is in Bombay too), contributed to the escalation of the London riots. Perhaps they needed someone like former Maharashtra chief minister AR Antulay’s firm hand.

He was before my time as a journalist but one of my chief reporters told me this delightful story: riots had broken out in Nasik on Antulay’s watch and were swiftly brought under control. When Nasik’s police commissioner called the chief minister to say “Sir, you will be pleased to know that we have controlled the riots in one hour!” he was in for a shock. For a very displeased Antulay snapped back, “No I am not pleased at all! Why did they break out in the first place? If you had been doing your job, there would not have been a situation you would have had to control!”

He transferred the commissioner and when the bureaucrats resisted, he made his chief secretary sit at his own personal assistant’s typewriter after office hours and type out the order himself “in the time it takes me to reach from Mantralaya to Varsha (the CM’s official residence).” Unhappy as the chief secretary was, the order was ready much before Antulay’s car entered the gates of Varsha and there was never again a riot in Nasik.

But while British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be now belatedly getting tough on both the police and the rioters, sadly, Bombay’s cops today do not have the kind of leadership they need to bring closure to the July 13 blasts — I am told they have all the clues but no confidence to take the explosive results of the investigation forward. Cameron is as clueless about his riots (bad parenting and sick minds are too simplistic explanations for what happened in London) as are our own politicians generally seem about similar situations in India.

Nevertheless, I will never again describe Bombay’s cops as “second to Scotland Yard.” Like my boastful friend had pointed out to me, they operate with far inferior technology and equipment than the British cops and under legal systems and court processes that Britain has long left behind.

So, if not the best, they are clearly on par. And may God save the British Police should (god-forbid) such a situation happen again in London. Perhaps they could call on the Bombay police for a tip or two.

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  • Mukhbir

    The technology may be poor, but the human intelligence is far superior of the Mumbai police; as a matter of fact, our policing depends upon intelligence gathering that is done by the officers as well as their myriad informers. However, as the Nasik incidence during Anutulay’s time proves, if the police takes appropriate action upon the possibility of a riot breaking out, there would not ba any riots at all. For that the Indian police need to be non-partisan – and for this to happen, more muslims must be given employment in the security forces all over the country – if the politicians are really interested in prevention of riots, that is.

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  • Abu Ahmed

    People appreciate purposeful Yatras, whether on foot or vehicle. Self-serving Yatras don’t cut much ice with the Janta, however much attractive be the media build-up.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/avinash.sethi Avinash Sethi

    Rightly put that these politicians should reach the people every year. They should do pad-yatra rather than (five star) rath yatra, only then they may be able to understand the hardships of common man.

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  • Kushal

    Bittu Stores? I haven’t seen it, Sunila.

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  • Anamika

    Hi Kushal!

    You should write that book…even if it is a collection of your blog posts….you write so well. Series of essays, posts, ramblings, musings – they’ll make a wonderful, wondeful book!

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_URSXATBEMZ7HUAB3OH36PLYWDM Ashok

    Jayalalithaa may not be happy with prostrations alone, might like to have a stab at the premiership as well.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    That is what ‘empresses’ are for.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_URSXATBEMZ7HUAB3OH36PLYWDM Ashok

    Jayalalithaa may not be happy with prostrations alone, might like to have a stab at the premiership as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Sanghvi as usual is playing apologist for Congress. He is shifting all blame on DMK giving clean chit to Sonia and Rahul. What makes him think that Sonia and Rahul did not make money out of 2G scam?

    Congress is also involved in CWG scams..Now Sanghvi will hold only Kalmadi responsible for this.

    MMS may be an honest man but he has enabled corruption so that his bosses can make money.

    The journos like Sanghvi can not defend congress shamelessly anymore. We still remember Radia tapes.

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  • Anonymous

    @ Vir Sanghvi

    Dr Manmohan Singh would have continued to rule well… but the advent of CHotta baba and his guru, Digvinash singh, made to Congress insult MMS to make Chotta baba look good.

    In the end, the COngress looks like a third rate party willing to sell everything for votes. It makes fun of the policemen in the Batla house encounter, is willing to follow the Jinnah agenda to win elections in UP and calls Bin Laden “Osmaji.”

    It deserves a kcik in the rump — whihc we will all give.

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/R5S7U3VKZUK34HKY2NILPXRKRY Deep

    Excellent analysis, write and read. And the truth of the matter.

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  • Abu Ahmed

    The calculations of the UPA govt were quite simple: Let Raja make money for his bosses. Eventually he would be cuaght in the web and his crimes exposed. Judicial process would get rolling, licenses would be cancelled. This would lead to making auction of all natural resources to the the highest bidder a policy issue. Auctioning of 2G spectrum would recover all the losses and more for the UPA, thereby enriching the govt’s coffers. If not a moral, it will be legally clean and the finances of the country would improve. So, the UPA saved itself all these years, allowed Raja & DMK to be made the scape-goat (after all DMK got the lion’s share), and in the next elections it would be able to face the public with less tar and lesser fear of the voter. DMK alone is the Faustus which had paid the price already, UPA is setting the record and the budget straight after all and would come up trumps, despite Sangh Parivaar’s machinations

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  • Ravi

    Balwant

    I totally agree with you

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Please dont spread hatred and lies here as u do everywehre. Otherwise I will ask Rajeev and Shenoy to visit this blog/

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_URSXATBEMZ7HUAB3OH36PLYWDM Ashok

    The concept underlying NCTC is sound. It should be taken up for serious implementation when circumstances are more supportive. The state police forces have their limitations and are certainly not equipped to effectively counter a problem which has such a large external dimension.

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  • Girish Nayak

    Even now if citizens of all states do not want Modi as PM then atleast create any person like Modi in every state as a CM who can work what modi has done for Gujarat.

    There after Congress will never come to power like in Gujarat. There will no voting on base of cast or religion all are equals no one specials, no appeasment

    Select Modi of your state and enjoy real democracy with development.

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  • arun

    The dilution is because of ‘Bureaucratic Control’ a la “Yes Minister”. Bold decisions, require political will which is conspicuous by its absence due to “coalition dharma”.

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  • Mohit

    Mr Zia Haq is behaving media personal manager, just for some free bies from, Salman Khurshid, No doubt Mr Salman Khurshid is a good human being, no doubt about it, but as far as politician is concerned he has some shortcomings also one must accept that but writer here is blind follower of mr Salman Khurshid

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  • anil

    [The general view in the Congress, I am told, is that Khurshid’s utterances while wooing Muslim voters in UP led to a “ c o m m u n a l i z a t i o n ” of the party’s electioneering platform and this hurt the party.]

    Yes, he missed the under laying message that ” c o m m u n a l i z a t i o n of society is ok but not the “platform” that pays dividends and brings long term benefit.

    Salman’s decisions are indeed short sighted, although, there is not much difference between what he wants and his party man/women want. Poor Salman! He should have grown up a bit!

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    anil Reply:

    [In other words, my question is what stops a politician from selling a policy-decision taken by his government to the electorate? At the cost of repeating, let me rephrase that once again: in a parliamentary democracy, what prevents a politician from highlighting his party’s affirmative action agenda? The short answer is, nothing.]

    See above for answer where I said “communatization of society is OK” but not the “platform”.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/brazenecks007 pradeep kumar

    Good place to write a biased article, just show your loyalties.

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  • Abu Ahmed

    A leader committed to the all-round growth of India and all Indians is any day my leader, regardless of his/her name or religion.

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  • Abu Ahmed

    Salman Khurshid’s problem is that he is too much UP-centric to wear a pan-Indian Muslim leader tag. If he wishes to lay claim over leadership of Muslims, he will have to at least visit central India, like Hyderabad, once in a while and also go to bangaluru, chennai, mallapuram – apart from Guwahati and Ahmedabad (if he is daring enough) and make himself aware of the Muslim issues there. Unfortunately, all these so-called Muslim leaders, either of the Congress or of the SP, cannot see beyond UP and are hampered with their frog’s-view and yet want party, people and country to accept them as great Muslim leaders – that is why they fail. That is why the Congress too have failed in UP – u cannot allow Narender Modi to continue in Gujarat while claiming to be a secular party.

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  • Abu Ahmed

    Congress’s commitment to secularism leaves much to be desired – that is why they lost elections in UP. Instead of addressing this issue, they are searching for scape-goats. Narender Modi is a symbol of a politics where coming and staying in power is all that counts, mass murder or ethnic cleansing notwithstanding. Sorry – N Modi stands for the worst in politics. Gujarat was always an industrial & trading hub. N Modi tricked others in believing its success story to be his personal one – thats a slap on the age-old enterprising spirit & industry of all Gujaratis.

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    Sumit Bose Reply:

    @ Abu, Your emotional rant flies in the face of logic.
    Ethnic ( rather religious) cleansing has been aggressively persued by Islamic societes. Just look at the census figures of Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq Egypt, Iran, ndonesia, Malaysia etc etc. That brutal record should silence you, even if you are totally blank on the religious cleansing carried out so throughly in the Kashmir valley just 2 decades ago. But you rave and rant. The real reason, is that Hindus in Gujarat had collectively decided that they would not tolerate any more provocations from one paricularly nasty community.

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    RajX Reply:

    You rant against Modis massacre but you are quiet about a hundred times bigger massacre of nonmuslims in Kashmir. Shows that you are just another communal muslim. People have figured out now that Muslims are very different because the forces of arabization have successfully done their dirty deed on Muslims everywhere. So go on ranting for ummah but not for humanity. No secular person will believe that you are sincere.

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