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Hasan Gafoor is a scapegoat

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By S Faraz Hamid

Making a scapegoat of an officer to save political skins has become proverbial. What is worse and has become prevalent lately, bureaucrats, instead of doing their duty, sometimes hatch conspiracies to build up their career and create and seize opportunities. One can only shudder to think what would happen to a straightforward officer whom both politicians and unscrupulous bureaucrats target as in a pincer movement.

This is exactly what has happened to a very competent and upright Police Officer of Maharashtra Cadre, referred to hereafter as G. Incidentally, he was appointed as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, the first Muslim in 44 years; some of his colleagues had on ethnic grounds tended to count him out. It was on the strength of a spotless and distinguished career, however, that he was appointed to the post despite the opposition of some of his peers.  

As ill-luck would have it, on 26th November 2008 a very unusual, unpredictable and calamitous attack was carried out, apparently by Pakistani terrorists on Mumbai, resulting in terrible destruction and colossal loss of life and property. The Maharashtra government instituted an inquiry into the conduct of its Police in tackling the unprecedented and till then unimaginable calamity. The state government, apparently in order to save its skin, decided to make a scapegoat of the Commissioner of Police. It is clear that a calamity of this magnitude had never occurred before; no such incident had happened or was apprehended in the past. In its stunning suddenness and grim and devastating pattern any defence would have been ineffective.

The officers and their cronies who had felt robbed of their prize when about a year earlier G was appointed to the coveted post of the Police Commissioner, appear to have conspired to grab the next higher (in fact the highest police) post, that of the Director General of Police. From this situation seems to have stemmed the plan to injure his prospects by tarnishing his image. To them came as a Godsend the assistance of a retired senior officer. For the convenience of reference we will call him R. He shot out a letter highly critical of G’s statement allegedly made to a reporter about the laxity of four of his officers in dealing with the raiders. In his letter he claimed to have given certain corrective directions to Director General of Police, as if his fiat still ran in the state. When the controversy relating to the four impugned officers was raging he entered the arena as their defender.

Coming back to the attitude of the state government: it was against the principle of natural justice to convey to the impugned person only a fragment of the enquiry report and ask him to explain his conduct on the basis of that mutilated document, on the basis of excerpts from the inquiry officer’s report without communicating the entire report. Moreover, those who are loudly criticizing G’s performance have failed to point out how it should have been conducted. Isn’t it strange? How can one pick holes and find fault without suggesting what was the correct way of handling a calamity of such magnitude and complexity?

The only argument that the defender of the four negligent officers has made is that they are outstanding. One would like to know whether they ever served under the retired officer or alternatively, did he have access to confidential information contained in the departmental files?

Let us accept without reservation that this was a cataclysmic situation involving the defence of the country for dealing with which civil police is neither trained nor equipped nor mentally prepared. The raid came as a bolt from the blue. In a situation where the battleground was divided into compartments and the raiders and their targets were mixed, cleansing by bulldozer or steamrolling was just not possible.

At the end of the day the question remains unanswered: was this an assignment for the Police at all, or was it a situation demanding urgent Commando action? After all it was not a Law and Order problem. Nor was it a case of a riot or communal conflagration, murder or dacoity. This was a sudden and brutal carnage, more like a natural calamity. The police force was called upon to fight target-bound, desperate and ruthless sharpshooters carrying sophisticated automatic weapons, far more effective than the weaponry carried by the local police.

It is quite apparent that the veteran in question has heard only one side of the story, which has come not from a neutral person but somebody who considers G as his rival. He has joined the fray out-of-turn. During the present times, when corruption is rampant, an honest officer sticks out like a sore thumb, and is therefore often target of group rivalries and victimization. It is not difficult for a group to conspire and mar the reputation and prospects of any individual, howsoever efficient.

One feels that this murky chapter had better be closed now and we should call a day to the vendetta that disfigures the functioning of many a cop in Maharashtra, that it is not a clean slate, which is being written on. The unprecedented nature of the calamity, which occurred like a tsunami has to be taken into consideration while judging the performance of the police which is neither trained nor equipped for this kind of man-made tempest. Incidentally the performance of the police was lauded as the first impulse but as an after-thought the head of the Mumbai Police was selected for calumny. How can a force function effectively unless its head puts in a sterling performance? It will be recalled that in the initial stages the needle of suspicion hovered around the security establishment.

The first and the major lapse has occurred in respect of the Coast Guards. No one questioned why our western coastline had been left virtually unguarded and exposed to terrorist designs, which our extensive security establishment should have anticipated. What is worse, as subsequent probes have revealed, the arch saboteur Headley over the last three years had been surveying the tender and sensitive spots in India. It is curious that the intelligence agencies, which defaulted gravely on their duty have not been called to account and, in a glib and facile manner, the blame has been fastened on to the Police Commissioner who has been picked up because he had no godfather. Again, curiously the Pradhan Committee concluded the inquiry without asking for the explanation of the Police Commissioner on whom it appeared to be zeroing in. What can one think of an inquiry where a few excerpts replace the full text of the inquiry report and where the officer being placed under the scanner is not once asked to explain his situation or stance? The inquiry, whether fact-finding or otherwise, is thus riddled with procedural lacunae.

It should also be noted that ever since November 26, 2008 the Commissioner of Police was subjected by the media, electronic as well as print, to an unceasing plethora of baffling, bewildering and confusing publicity, which gave clues to the marauders and operated as handicaps for the defenders.

Benefiting by this experience, will the authorities take a decision that the police desperately requires protection from the prying eyes and the distorting interpretation of the inquisitive and sensation-mongering scribes?

Is it not a travesty of governance that a competent and straightforward officer has been pilloried in turn by the media and the authorities for saving their own face?

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2010 on page no. 1

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