Not many realize that encounter killings are the natural way of dispensing justice to hardened criminals who, if caught, invariably seek or jump bail. Most gangsters owe their allegiance to either Dawood Ibrahim or Arun Gawli, says Ketan Tanna
At the height of terrorism in Punjab Mr. Julio Riberio, as the State’s Director-General of Police, had advocated a “bullet for bullet” policy to get rid of the extremists. Almost a decade later, the Mumbai Police, which was once headed by Mr. Riberio, has decided to employ Mr. Riberio’s approach in Punjab to neutralize gangsters following the latest spurt in crime in the city.
Can the situation in Punjab, where the police were fighting a grim battle against Pakistan-sponsored terrorists, be compared with Mumbai’s an-encounter-a day scenario? Some could argue that the Mumbai Police too are fighting those who receive support from outside the country. Dawood Ibrahim resides in the posh Clifton area of Karachi where former Premier Benazir Bhutto has her family home, Bilawal. Over the years, Pakistan has given overt and covert help to Dawood and Co. Or the “D-Gang” as it is also known.
With “NRI dons” being in charge in India, the past month has been a brutal one for Maharashtra, especially Mumbai. It has “overstretched” the city’s 30,000 strong police force, according to none other than Mr. Subhash Malhotra who has just been relieved as Mumbai’s police Commissioner.
In a discussion on the law and order situation that Mr. Malhotra had with leading denizens of Mumbai on the very day that Gulshan Kumar was shot dead, he complained that his men were overstretched while performing their duties. During his discussion with the Indian merchants Chamber, which was not widely reported in the media, Mr. Malhotra, however, admitted that his “boys” had become the object of ridicule with people calling them “corrupt”.
But Mr. Malhotra’s pertinent questions about the poor working conditions of the police and the daily diversion of the police force for guarding politicians were disregarded.
In fact, the Mumbai Police are being increasingly called upon to protect film stars, builders and sundry others, many of whom have direct or indirect links with the underworld.
Mr. Malhotra was shown the door on Thursday by Home Minister Gopinath Munde and replaced by Mr. Ronald Mendonca. While handing over charge, Mr. Malhotra made one last observation: that mass transfers were not a long-term solution to stem the surge in crime in Mumbai.
Mr. Malhotra lasted eight months in office as police Commissioner during which there was more than 30 encounter killings. Yet, not many realize that encounters are the natural way of dispensing justice to hardened criminals who, if caught, invariably seek or jump bail.
Most of these gangsters owe their allegiance to either Dawood Ibrahim or Arun Gawli.
The sad part of the messy law and order situation in the State is that the police are caught in a political vortex. Political patronage is the biggest factor in the career swing of any don. A living witness to reality that a politician can make or mar a don’s life is Arun Gawli who has fallen fowl of the undisputed lord of Maharashtra, Mr. Bal Thackeray- the Shiv Sena supremo had once called him “our Hindu gangster”, or words to that effect. Within hours of the killing of builder Nawarlal Mohanlal Desai, the police arrested Gawli, killed three of his men and are now claiming that they have a diary that indicates Gawli’s hand in Desai’s murder.
The tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena over the postings of senior police officers and who should have a greater say in the law and order situation in the state has further contributed to the deteriorating law and order situation in Mumbai. For instance, Mr. Thackeray and Chief Minister Manohar Joshi stalled Mr. Malhotra’s transfer for well over a fortnight even though Mr. Gopinath Munde, who is from the BJP, had recommended it.
So, as politicians battle each other to protect the mafia, which gives the gangsters an open turf, can a force of 30,000-odd police officers with low morale control the situation.
As long as the politicians do not come clean and have a genuine plan action to work in tandem with the police, keeping them informed on what they know of underworld activities, it is unlikely that the law and order situation would return to normal in India’s commercial capital in the near future.
“The police force is not professional”
MR Julio Riberio is India’s original super cop. As Mumbai’s Police Commissioner, he was known for his tough approach in dealing with the underworld. The Centre requisitioned his services to fight terrorists at the height of militancy in Punjab. Now settled in Mumbai, Mr. Ribeiro spoke to The Hindustan times about what has gone wrong with the law and order situation in the State. Excerpts from the interview:
An encounter-a-day seems to be the rule in Mumbai. What is happening?
Julio Ribeiro: We are seeing changes in the values of society, of the police, bureaucracy and the Press. This is a natural process of change, which includes an increase in crime. There are two factors, population explosion and urbanization. The fact that the underworld has lost fear of the police is the key to the question of increasing crime in Mumbai.
Why have the Mumbai Police not been able to create an atmosphere of peace and security?
The police force in the city is not professional, it has become highly politicized. Therefore, the underworld has become bold.
What can be done about it?
Delink the police from politics. There are two aspects here: law, order, and investigations. As for law and order, the government of the day has a big say. But in the implementation of law and order, if the politicians interfere, the police should ignore it.
What about investigations?
As far as the investigations are concerned, the politicians do not interfere in day-to-day matters except in big cases where some politicians might try to save their party men or whoever is close to them. There should be a state security commission, which would select the police chief on merit and ensure that he is given tenure of three years.
Are daily encounters a solution to containing crime?
Hundred percent they are not. Do not ignore even smaller crimes. Take for example the extortions made during festivals when people from political parties try to extort money. This has to be tackled to send the message that the police mean business.
Subhash Malhotra spoke about the overstretched police force, low morale, pathetic working conditionsâ€¦
One must examine that, but let the policemen who are working on one shift do their duty properly. Let the work be productive.
Is delinking the police from politics possible?
Political parties sponsor bandhs and they expect their supporters to be let off for the crimes they do. Politicians are being allowed to settle land disputes. The police ignore it. Yet, I feel we can have a solution. If the police are perceived to be hardworking and efficient, that by itself would solve 35-40 percent of the problem.
By Ketan Narottam Tanna