It was a scary projection of the law and order situation prevailing in the country that was pieced together on Tuesday by a couple of matters before the apex court, and a government order for the social media to enforce responsibility and restraint.

An explanatory footnote to that pathetic state of affairs came in the shape of the continuing slugfest between the BJP and the Opposition over a damning report on the safety of Indian women by a British agency.

Whatever else it may project as its successes in the run-up to the 2019 elections, the NDA government will have to concede to a near-collapse of the government’s duty (state and central) to protect the life and property of the citizen. This failure was amplified by the squabbling over which party headed which state government: that actually indicates poor leadership from the home ministry in New Delhi.

While a detailed pronouncement on a clutch of petitions on “vigilante violence” will be made subsequently, the observations of a Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, along with Justices M Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, left no one in doubt that the court would not permit “mob rule” to call the shots.

The court declined to opine on specific incidents as it reserved its verdict, but issued a stern reminder that “nobody can take the law into their hands. The issue is how it can be prevented? States are under obligation to prevent such incidents, and the courts also have to see that such incidents are prevented”, and highlighted its earlier directives on protecting cattle traders. Declining, for the present, to speak on religious angles, the court however did not blindly accept the argument that law and order was a state subject. The bench pointed to Article 257 of the Constitution and advised the Centre to formulate guidelines on containing mob violence.

The gravity of the situation was underscored by the ministry for electronics and information technology issuing orders to ‘WhatsApp’ to take measures to prevent its platform being abused to spread incendiary rumours. One calculation is that since May 10 social media has been misused to trigger 16 violent incidents based on false information, and 22 deaths/lynchings have resulted. Insight into poor policing came in another case in which the court came down on state governments for “hand-picking” their Directors-General of Police and directives that the approval of the Union Public Service Commission be obtained.

It also slammed ~ amongst other irregularities ~the appointment of “acting” police chiefs. Another disturbing element to the collapse of law and order came in the Rahul Gandhi-Meenakshi Lekhi spat over a Thomson Reuters Foundation study on sexual harassment of women in India. Rahul’s bid to score cheap political points was as despicable as Lekhi’s rubbishing the report. Both confirm that only lip-service is accorded to a woman’s dignity. The odds are stacked against her, as they are against other citizens.