SHANTANU MUKHARJI

As I write, 27 confirmed deaths have been reported in the Muzaffarnagar riots. The UP government’s miserable failure to control the riots is a shameful reflection on the state’s machinery.
As a retired police officer of UP cadre (with a long tenure in a district neighbouring Muzaffarnagar), I have handled my fair share of communal tension. And I can tell that this loss of lives was avoidable. It happened because there was a failure at every level to prevent and then rein in the situation.
First of all, there was an intelligence failure that could have stopped the situation escalating as it was. Every district has a Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) as well as a state-level intelligence with zonal officers – all of whom back up the LIU in collecting intelligence. The state hierarchy has its Intelligence Headquarters with a top-heavy presence of IPS officers to garner information, analyse and disseminate it and advise the government on preventive action. One is not sure if that was done. Even if the government was advised, it did not act. There is a Principal Secretary Home, assisted by Home Secretary and aided by a number of officers – senior IAS officers, all. News inputs now indicate that problems with communal overtones were brewing since August 27. Yet none of these people picked up the signals and nipped the problem in the bud. The authorities ignored the writing on the wall. Were they fed with actionable intelligence?
Second, where was the district administration when Maha Panchayats were allowed to hold meetings that escalated the communal environment with provocative hate speeches? It could in fact have stepped in even earlier, when when one member of a particular community was murdered and as a retaliatory act, two members from the other community were lynched. Where was the DM and where was the SP? The DM has immense powers, which sadly lay unused as top officials remained inert and permitted these monstrous and unfortunate happenings.
Active policing has also failed. In his first stint as CM, Mulayam Singh Yadav had placed members of the minority community alongside the majority in the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). This was to ensure that in any communally sensitive or riotous situation, the PAC acted fairly and there was no discrimination. The Samajwadi Party was also thinking of posting members of the minority community in each police station. None of these measures seem to be helping. We cannot experiment when human lives and property hang in the balance. There has to be a firm policing policy, backed by intelligence.
TV channels are full of debates featuring party spokespersons who are clearing their throats by blaming their political adversaries. The buck doesn’t stop there. The state machinery, responsible for maintaining communal harmony and law and order, must be held to account. As India’s largest state UP has the highest number of IAS and IPS officers. These All-India service officers owe some responsibility to the state. They cannot remain glaringly inefficient and then conveniently hide behind the apron of politicians.
So what should be done? UP has dedicated officers who are decisive and courageous. The state government should place them in key positions with a free hand to deal with any riots. The Governor too needs to play a proactive role in the light of ongoing disturbances, especially because CM Akhilesh Yadav seems to be failing time and again to appreciate and act on communally sensitive situations. Another disturbing pattern which has emerged from the Muzaffarnagar riots is the killings in the rural areas. Ordinarily, riots are noticed in urban areas. Adequate intelligence collection, effective policing and renewed attention to the rural areas must be devised, and  immediately.
Azam Khan, Bhati and other ministers were very vocal when IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal was suspended on charges for inciting communalism. She remains suspended.  Judging by the same yardstick, whose head should roll now for these communal clashes? Mr. Akhilesh Yadav, as head of the government will you assume responsibility and resign? Or at least sack some senior IAS or IPS officer for dereliction of duty? Please spare the juniors and let some seniors draw the flak this time. The Muzaffarnagar riots are shameful and shocking. It’s high time the CM and his father come down heavily on the administration to quell the riots first and only then engage in a blame game. The Army should be able to go back to its barracks at the earliest and state police should take charge, thus instilling confidence amongst the people that they are in safe hands.
Mr. Chief Minister, are you listening? If you are not then upcoming general elections may see more disturbances and once out of control, even the army will find it hard to contain. As it is, Lucknow remains tense with the high-strung relations between Shias and Sunnis. Your time begins now. Assert your independence and authority to usher in peace and calm. Ignore the questionable advice of your party seniors, whose survival depends on fomenting riots. You will do a great service to the people of Uttar Pradesh and they in turn will trust you far more.

The writer is a retired ips officer of the UP cadre with experience of handling communally surcharged situations. The views are personal.