VIJAY OBEROI | 27 AUGUST, 2017
LT GENERAL VIJAY OBEROI
PANCHKULA: The violent situation that prevailed at Panchkula is by now well known to everyone and need not be repeated here, as the TV Channels had been reporting developing events since morning.
This article however is about acute lack of governance and no clue by the administration of Haryana as to how to anticipate events in advance; make plans; and be prepared for all likely contingencies; instead of either being goaded by others or get in to a fire-fighting mode, which seems to be the way our so-called governance works!
I read four national level newspapers every morning. Friday morning papers arrived late. However, all had headlines about the impending situation that had been building up for the last at least four days, if not more. The headlines of all papers indicated that the media had grasped the essentials of the impending events. The headline of one stated: “Uneasy Calm, Tricity on the Edge”; the second called it a: Lockdown in Punjab, Haryana, Army called out, curfew in Sirsa”; and its supplement ominously stated: “D-Day Today: Tricity on the Edge”; the third said: “Dera Followers Fan Out before Verdict”; and the next one: “D-Day, Army Called Out”.
So the print media was fully aware of the likely situation, as was the aam aadmi (not the political party, but the common citizen). Yet, apparently the administration was ‘gung ho’ about it till the High Court of Punjab and Haryana admonished the state government about not controlling the spate of ‘premi’s’ (as the followers of the so-called God-man Ram Rahim are called), even though Section 144 had been imposed.
The Ground Zero where the police had placed elaborate barricades for preventing any non-authorised person to move towards the courts complex was just about 80 meters or so from my house. This enabled me to relate to the visuals being transmitted by the TV Channels. As events unfolded, three things were absolutely clear to me.
Firstly, the administration as well as the police of all types had only two major aims – to ensure that the court complex was sealed completely; and the accused was brought safely, without any hindrance and in time to the court. Little attention, if any was paid to how the Premis will react to an adverse verdict or the safety of the life and property of the aam aadmi. All this while, the influx of Premis continued unabated and no attempts were made to control them.
The administration and the police had unfortunately made no contingency plans relating to how the Premis, who had flooded Panchkula from a number of states, would react to an adverse verdict from their point of view. Resultantly, when the court’s verdict of ‘guilty’ became known, the Premis quickly reacted with violence. Initial attempts by the variety of police forces were repulsed by the massed ‘Premis’ and the police retreated (an euphemism for running back pell-mell).
Thereafter, the Premis, described more than once by Ministers of the state government as peaceful disciples, went on a rampage like ‘goondas’. They set fire to any vehicle in sight; assaulted the media persons, especially cameramen; and set fire to nearby government buildings, including the offices of the Income Tax Department and of the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC).
While all this violence was going on, the accused was whisked away by helicopter, to another city. This must have released a large number of police personnel for redeployment against the rioters. Whether this was done or not is not known, but there was no discernable increase in police force preventing the hooliganism that was going on.
Let me now turn to a different facet of the day’s events. If it had not been for the judiciary’s admonishment of August 23, we would have seen more violence, destruction of property and also potent danger to life and property of the aam aadmi. We need to compliment the Justices of the Punjab and Haryana High Court for their timely and firm admonishment; otherwise the political leaders would have continued to direct the police to go easy, so that there was minimum adverse impact on their vote bank. A great pity indeed when the lives and properties of the aam aadmi are sacrificed on account of the single-minded pursuit of more votes, more seats in Vidhan Sabhas and the Parliament; and prolonged sitting on thrones of power and pelf!
On the other hand, this week has undoubtedly been the week of the Higher Judiciary for the historic judgments it has delivered on two major issues, viz. the Triple Talaq Case and the Fundamental Right to Privacy. I do hope the present government, being peeved with the latter decision, does not queer the pitch by bringing in legislation to dilute this well-reasoned judgment passed unanimously by the full Bench of the Supreme Court.
Before I wrap up, let me ask a fundamental question. Why can nothing substantive be achieved in our country without calling in the army?
When will the police as well as the Central Armed Police Forces (wrongly referred to as para military forces by the media and others) be sufficiently trained and led to carry out tasks that fall fully and completely in their domain?
Are seven decades of independence and increasing salaries and allowances that have no relationship to their output, not enough?
When will the political leadership dig out the recommendations of Police Reforms from their musty cup boards and implement them?
Maybe they continue to be ‘Jumlas’ despite the innumerable ‘bhashans’ of the Prime Minister for ‘Change’ and the propaganda accompanying them!
As far as the laxity of the administration is concerned, excuses and passing the buck have already started and are likely to gather pace in the coming days.
The incompetence of the political leaders may again be papered over as was done in the aftermath of the infamous Jat Agitation, under the same leaders.
Some middle ranking and junior officers may be suspended for a while and reinstated again, while the ubiquitous bureaucrat will again get away with murder; in this case not literally but in actuality.
(Lt General Oberoi (Retd) is Former Vice Chief of Army Staff)