Sunday, July 07, 2013

When Chulbul Pandeys shoot first and whistle later

When Chulbul Pandeys shoot first and whistle later
M.J. Akbar

My one encounter, if that is the appropriate word, with a policeman who had washed his hands in cold blood, was in an empty Amritsar hotel at the height of the Punjab insurrection in the late 1980s. It is difficult to imagine now what Punjab was like then. The Golden Temple, wrecked by Operation Bluestar, had become a symbol of the broken Sikh heart. Terrorism, inspired by the dream of secession, acquired a raging justification . Amritsar was sullen by day and silent by night; fear haunted Punjab like a living ghost.

The IPS officer had come for a chat in the evening; only police vehicles moved after sunset. There was a look of almost unnatural calm on his face, and it was only in the middle of a largely onesided conversation that it occurred to me that this was the visage of narcotic serenity. Perhaps his nerves needed solace, or possibly his conscience. But when he spoke he did not quiver. He was on the front lines of a vicious war launched by elements who wanted to partition India again. It was his duty to destroy them first, he said with a thin smile that started on his lips but petered out midway. It would be gratuitous to mention his faith, but those locked in conventional wisdom would be surprised.

Much before Punjab this argument was heard in the North East; then repeated in Kashmir. As terrorism spread its footprint across India through the 1990s and first decade of the new century, reaching a horrific, televised climax in Mumbai when gunmen, armed and trained in Pakistani sanctuaries , a dilemma has ebbed and flowed through the tides of Indian public opinion. Can outlaws be contained through the binding laws of a liberal democracy ? Should right to life, a fundamental tenet of our Constitution, be extended to those who kill innocents , arbitrarily, bomb buildings, hijack aircraft, or target places of worship in order to inject poison into the demographic veins of India? Theory has the good fortune of living in a black-and-white textbook . Reality is grey. Terrorists thrive in shadow wars, protected by a paradox: since they are out of uniform, they can always claim innocence until the moment they pull a trigger. We forget the number of alibis that were floated even after something as self-evident as the 2008 Mumbai attack and some were repeated in Parliament by a Cabinet minister in the UPA government. Our security forces have to hunt in such treacherous fog. Their job is to succeed before the trigger is squeezed, to find Indira Gandhi’s and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins before they have succeeded, and to stop a thousand attacks on civilians during a festival or any other day. The Army has the umbrella of a special act to limit accountability in case of a mistake. The spirit of democracy argues against such privilege, but the visceral need for security against covert evil pulls in the other direction. The trouble with sanction for murder is that it brutalizes and breeds rogues, particularly in our police, where any moral code has been weakened by corruption and arrogance. Police have jailed and killed innocents, coerced money out of helpless victims, confident that politicians, themselves largely corrupt, will never find the courage to confront them. The worry is that public opinion often condones “Dirty Harry” methods, in which a bullet takes precedence over due process. When, in 1993, it became clear that criminals owing allegiance to Dawood Ibrahim were involved in the horrific Mumbai blasts, the city’s police were offered freedom of the trigger. Citizens approved, as did the Congress, Shiv Sena, BJP and voters. Films glorified ‘encounter specialists’ . The syndrome is no longer as gory, but Chulbul Pandey still shoots first and whistles later. In 2008 Delhi police killed young men at Batla House. This year, on May 18, a young man in custody, Khalid Mujahid, died in “mysterious circumstances” while being taken to Barabanki jail by the UP police; 42 of them, including senior officers , are under investigation. For years in Hyderabad and Malegaon, “suspects” have been jailed for years without proof of complicity in any terrorist act. Congress or Samajwadi Party were in power in these states. And of course BJP ruled Gujarat when 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan was killed by the police. There is no standard response. Let alone outrage, there is hardly any rage about Delhi, UP, Andhra or Maharashtra. Most people have probably chosen their sides over Ishrat Jahan. The CBI’s chargesheet is enough for those who believe she is guiltless. Others stress the IB version that David Headley, convicted of terrorism, mentioned her name; or wonder what she was doing in the company of three men recognized, even by the CBI, as terrorists.

Only one thing is clear in this dust storm of fierce argument. We are not interested in truth. A complex reality has been distilled into campaign fodder in election season. Politics is the petrol that can turn such a fire into conflagration.

1 comment:

zie zak said...

Once again - one among a handful of sane voices in the cacophony of ideologically induced verbal drones that attack our mental state day in and day out. A voice that speaks to power and people alike - without recourse to clich├ęs or confusion - with simple clarity. Reading it right after reading Mr. 3 idiot's diatribe in TOI against the archetypal bad guy – the villain politician, albeit with a beard - and the many hackneyed responses to it, there is only one conclusion. Craft is craft - be it fiction induced or reality required. In fact was giddily imagining a read of your chastisement of the said piece. Your one line about 'Black & White' is enough to trump many a grey gobbledegook op-ed cloaked in patriotic colour any day. Many of us feel the same, but as the eastern bard said:
“Dil se jo baat nikalti hai asar rakhtee hai :: Par nahi taqat-e-parwaz magar rakhti hai”
May that taqat–e-parwaz be always in your qalam.