A chief minister’s own goal

By brokering a face-saver for MNS, Devendra Fadnavis has shown himself as a CM afraid of a bully

Written by Julio Ribeiro | Published:October 27, 2016 1:38 am
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I am shocked by the decision of Maharashtra’s young chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, to broker a face-saver for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Unless the BJP in Maharashtra has decided to boost the dwindling clout of the MNS to counterbalance the threats doled out at regular intervals by its alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, I see no justification for letting Raj Thackeray off the hook. The police had taken the studied decision to clip Thackeray’s wings by detaining his main lieutenants.

If more of these shakha pramukhs had been put away till Karan Johar’s film was released by month’s end, Raj Thackeray’s ability to disrupt the release would have been effectively thwarted.

I remember the 1984 communal riots in Mumbai. The army had been called out but the killings and arson continued till a political decision was taken to detain the 51 shakha pramukhs on whom the then Sena chief relied for muscle power. One evening, I, as the then commissioner of police, summoned my senior inspectors and gave them a list of local Shiv Sena troublemakers who needed to be put away. The inspectors were told that if any laxity was noticed, the hammer would fall on the heads of the defaulters. Except for one shakha pramukh from Vikhroli, who belonged to Nepal and had a long criminal record, the 50 others were safely in police custody by early next morning. Bal Thackeray was on his knees pleading with the then chief minister, Vasantdada Patil, to release his henchmen.

We did not touch the sena pramukh. His cabal, led by Manohar Joshi, were also not touched. They were the white collar gentry who were not mentally conditioned to incite or lead the lumpen element that is essentially required to pillage and burn. If any of them, particularly Bal Thackeray, had been arrested, the shakha pramukhs with their ability to work the crowds would have gone on the rampage. The main persons employed to organise political violence were the ones we needed to put out of mischief. And that worked. Peace descended on the streets of the city.

Mumbai’s present police chief, Dattatray Padsalgikar, was obviously working on these lines. But it was suddenly announced that the chief minister himself had brokered peace for the producer with Raj Thackeray. I do not know why he had to do that because Karan Johar certainly knew what was required of him to come to an understanding with the MNS. The chief minister represents state power and it is his mandate to maintain the state’s authority. He should have backed the police chief as Vasantdada Patil backed me in 1984. He had an excellent chance to call Raj Thackeray’s bluff, but for reasons best known to him, he capitulated. I suspect political chicanery of the type that does his party no credit. Besides, it diminishes the authority of the state.

It is but natural for the common man to believe that he is living in a soft state where the rule of law is being routinely sent for a toss. Raj Thackeray has been indulging in criminal activities of the worst kind, like burning toll booths and threatening to stone the offices of those who do not comply with his diktats. Recently, the Supreme Court by an order limited the height of the Gokulashtami human pyramids to comply with safety standards but both the Thackeray cousins openly announced that they would not follow the Supreme Court orders and then proceeded to flout them. If they were aggrieved by what the Supreme Court decided, they could have gone back to the court in revision but to announce and then implement their resolve to defy the orders of the court is a clear affront to the rule of law.

If this trend continues, I am afraid that respect for law will evaporate even more rapidly in the days ahead. Business leaders will think twice before investing in a country that is unable to uphold the law. Our aspirations to become a lead player on the global scene would vanish in smoke. Our political leaders should seriously think about the consequences of permitting political adventurers like Raj Thackeray to gain mileage in this unbecoming manner.

In this entire episode, there are two individuals I feel for. One is the young chief minister himself. He had a bright political future ahead of him. He is personally honest and he takes decisions. But to take a decision that shows him in a poor light as a man who is afraid of a bully is, to my mind, suicidal.

The other person I am sorry for is Shaina N.C., the BJP’s spokesperson. To me, personally, she is part of the extended police family. Her grandfather was the longest serving police commissioner of Bombay (as it was then called), who raised the toast at my wedding. Poor Shaina! She was asked to state the party’s line about the chief minister’s deal with Raj Thackeray and she had to say that the deal was cut to uphold the rule of law when the truth was exactly the opposite. Left to herself, I know Shaina would not have endorsed such a preposterous stand.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab