Groups of young men racing around on “souped-up” motorcycles late at night, some performing daredevil stunts, can be more than a nuisance. Downright scary in fact, since they flaunt their “macho” image and force other vehicles to pull over. Sure they are violating one law or another, but are they criminals upon whom the police are justified opening fire ~ even killing one of them? As disturbing as the incident in the heart of Lutyens’ graceful city a couple of nights back is that there has been not an iota of concern or remorse displayed by the Delhi Police at their terminating a young life. On the contrary, in an orchestrated campaign to defend an indiscretion ~ to put it mildly ~ the cops are announcing one crackdown after another; the worst sufferers will be folk who use two-wheelers as a normal means of transportation. Since no political figures or senior bureaucrats are likely to be at the receiving-end, the burra sahibs in North Block are least bothered. It is a sad reflection on the host of self-styled human rights votaries that they have not been “activated” since little mileage can accrue from protesting the killing of a middle-class man with neither “connections” nor clout. And since the convoluted administrative structure of the Capital keeps the cops beyond the purview of local political bodies, an AFSPA-like situation obtains. The cops retain the danda-raj mindset, the Dilliwallah ~ the chief minister included ~ are helpless.
There are far too many unanswered queries in the story the cops are trumpeting. Were the bikers pre-armed with stones etc to hurl at policemen who ordered them to halt? Would they not have to stop before unleashing their improvised missiles accurately? Yet the biker who was shot was doing a “wheelie” when struck by a bullet. Did the cop who opened fire really believe he was such a crack-shot as to try and puncture the wheel of a moving bike? Did the risk of collateral damage not enter his mind? No competent professional would have opened fire, as for the “danger” in which the police claim they were, could getting hit by stones prove so lethal as to retaliate with gunfire?
It is not just the firing that troubles. Bikers have been in action for a couple of years, an efficient force would have been able to track the ringleaders, take them into preventive custody, get the requisite message across. Even now the police have come up with nothing better than physically intercepting the bikers. Neither the outgoing Commissioner, nor his successor, have reason for pride in their men.
Settlement and crisis
With a decision on Telangana imminent, it was only to be expected that the spirited proponents of a separate state of Gorkhaland would up the ante at a critical juncture. And so it has been. There are two facets of the latest bout of tension in the Hills of Darjeeling. One is the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha&’s call for a three-day bandh this week to buttress its statehood demand. The other is the Centre&’s invitation to the GJMM leadership for talks in Delhi, indeed prior to taking a call on the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. The second has left the Chief Minister bamboozled. Indeed, the Centre&’s initiative has accorded short shrift to the state, the Opposition, Parliament and the Assembly.
There is little doubt that the Union home ministry&’s compulsion was to test the pulse of the likes of GJMM general secretary Roshan Giri. Though the Chief Minister&’s statement that “Delhi has directed the GTA to go in for a separatist movement and destabilise Bengal” might be a mite presumptuous, there is no denying that the Centre has clearly deviated from the terms of engagement that stipulate that a decision on a separate state must of necessity be a collective endeavour. Mamata Banerjee&’s sniper attack on the Congress high command is more than obvious ~ “The call for the meeting has come from the highest office of a political party”. Unwittingly or otherwise, the Centre has conveyed the impression that it might be playing footsie with the GJMM as it has with those shrilling for the state of Telangana.
Small wonder that the morcha has been emboldened to call a 72-hour bandh, the standard strategy at the peak of the Gorkhaland movement. In effect, it has precipitated the crisis in parallel with the ever so loud drumbeat for Telangana. Of course, the GJMM has certain cogent reasons, notably the drain of revenue from the Hills to the plains and generated by the lucrative industries of tea and tourism. Equally, it needs to try out the experiment of Gorkhaland Territorial Authority and with a measure of earnestness that has not been manifest.
Sad to reflect, this experiment in loose autonomy hasn’t been quite effective, in part because of the GJMM&’s determination to carve out a separate state and in part because the state government has been slow-footed in the devolution of powers. Education, for one, remains a thorny issue with several schools and colleges in Darjeeling still under state control. The GTA had appeared to signal a forward movement at the moment of its conception; over time, however, it has been reduced to a non-starter. And the deepening uncertainty must be contextualised with the GJMM&’s letter to the Prime Minister, trashing the GTA as a failure and iterating that statehood is the only option. The plot thickens in Darjeeling in parallel with the settlement of the Telangana tangle.