The decision of the Mumbai Police to forcibly move protesters from the Gateway of India on Tuesday morning was necessitated allegedly due to the inability of the officers to identify people with whom they could negotiate and fears that right-wing organisations would seek similar leeway to hold protests at the spot.
Many senior officers told The Indian Express that their initial assumption was that the protesters, who had started gathering on Sunday midnight following the attack on students on JNU campus, would disperse after a couple of hours. But the protest continued on Monday, setting off alarm bells within the top echelons of the state. The police subsequently decided to crack down when they started receiving requests for holding similar protests from right-wing organisations.
“We gave them a lot of leeway initially. A court order has designated Azad Maidan as the protest site. Still, they wanted to protest at the Gateway, which was causing inconvenience to both local residents and tourists,” an officer said.
The police further claimed that the move by the protesters to divide themselves into sub-groups and spread across the Gateway created additional problems. “There were smaller groups… monitoring them was a problem. We had to ensure their safety. Moreover, every time we would request those leading the protest to shift, they would say that they were not in a position to take the decision and would have to consult others. Every person we spoke to gave us the same reply… at one point, we actually did not know whom we should talk to,” an officer said.
The tipping point, however, came when right-wing organisations, including ABVP, started planning similar protests. ABVP members, on Monday night, gathered at Hutatma Chowk to protest what they claimed was “left-wing violence” in JNU.
“On Monday evening, we started getting requests from organisations, including those associated with right-wing groups, to conduct similar protests. Allowing permission to some and denying others would not have sent the right signal. There was also a threat that there could be law and order problems if other protests were allowed,” the officer said, adding that the top police brass, in consultation with the state government, late Monday decided to move the protesters from the site.
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