Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, November 30, 2009

IT WAS an occasion when leaders, cutting across party barriers, should have stood shoulder to shoulder, heads bowed in dignified mourning. Instead what millions of TV viewers saw last Thursday on the first anniversary of the Mumbai attack was something that was totally at odds with the solemn occasion. Our politicians were busy trying to score brownie points. What else would explain the ugly, acrimonious scenes witnessed in the Lok Sabha that forced the seasoned Pranab Mukherjee to curtly tell the BJP’s Ananth Kumar, “ I did not come here to listen to you, I came to listen to your leader LK Advani”. What prompted the vicious response was Kumar’s allegation that even one year after 26/ 11, less than 1/ 4th of the victims or their families had been paid the promised compensation. Kumar’s charges were not without basis but by raking it up on the day when people across the country lit candles in remembrance of the dead and reached out to commiserate with one another, he only managed to prove that even on an issue that should have glued us all, our politicians stand divided. Sadly, this percolates down the line and it was appalling to see senior police officials indulging in a tu tu mein mein that would churn the stomach of most of us. What was most astounding was that it was Hassan Gafoor, then Mumbai Police Commissioner who has since won “ promotion” as DGP( Housing), who chose to launch the internecine war by levelling needless accusations against four senior Mumbai police officials of dereliction of duty.

I don’t know what the provocation was but Ghafoor has opened a can of worms and I won’t be surprised if even school children are now tempted to believe that the police establishment itself was responsible for the death of some of its finest officers.

Now the wives of some of those bravehearts have joined the battle and are openly alleging that their husbands died because of the effete top brass of the Mumbai police. Vinita Kamte, wife of Ashok Kamte, Additional Commissioner of Police who was killed along with anti- terrorism specialists Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar has held the Mumbai police top brass responsible for their deaths, accusing them of giving inadequate information from the police control room about the attacks. Hers is no empty boast. A lawyer by training, Vinita’s conclusions are based on the telephone call logs of the Mumbai police that she accessed using the Right to Information Act. Kavita Karkare, widow of the slain ATS chief, too filed an RTI seeking information on her hus- Vinita Kamte band’s bulletproof jacket, only to be told that it is missing.

We would have laughed at such sloppiness if it weren’t for the deaths of so many brave men. I was in Mumbai on 26/ 11 and was dining with my colleagues at the Taj Land’send in Bandra when I heard about the shootings. We persuaded a reluctant taxi driver to drop us near the Trident Hotel where we stayed put till the early hours. Based just on what I saw that night, I had in these columns exactly a year ago written about the casual manner in which Hassan and Jt Commissioner Rakesh Maria seemed to be going about their jobs when they should have been leading from the front. I am not surprised that Vinita Kamte’s painstaking work has unearthed what had been suspected all along: that Mumbai police goofed up. And having done so badly, were desperately seeking to cover up. Faced with Vinita’s allegations, now published in a book, Maria has threatened to quit. Ironically, Maria who stands accused of laxity, is also in charge of the 26/ 11 investigations. Judge, jury, prosecution and defence, rolled into one. So much for accountability.

The uncivil war has spared none. Like the police, politicians too are busy pointing fingers at each other. The Congress, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, seeks to wash its hands of, because the home portfolio is held, then as now, by the NCP. In Delhi, Advani and Ananth Kumar must have taken leave of their senses to launch such a low- level attack on the government.
If the politicians who are supposed to lead and the police who are tasked with securing our safety are so divided, it may not be long before 26/ 11 comes visiting again.

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