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Current Affairs ( 21 Jul 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Violence in the Valley: How Sheikh Abdullah could calm a mob

By Radha Vinod Raju

 Jul 22, 2010

Stone-pelting at security forces is nothing new in the Kashmir Valley. In the past, the police, the CRPF and the Army would deal with street violence with greater tact. As would politicians. Sheikh Abdullah could calm a mob by just telling them why security forces are needed

Officers of the Jammu & Kashmir cadre, especially those who joined the cadre before the 1980s, would tell you that the most serious law and order problem in Srinagar was when unruly mobs would indulge in intense stone-pelting. If it were wintertime, an occasional fling of the ‘kangri’ (a small earthen pot containing burning charcoal) would add spice to the proceedings. The local executive police, aided by the Jammu & Kashmir Armed Police and the CRPF, would counter with lathicharge, and tear gas. Officers who manned the district police, and the district Special Branch and the CID Special Branch, were carefully chosen for their local knowledge, and would invariably give advance information about upcoming law and order problems.

And what were the issues? They could be anything that pulled an emotional chord with the people. This writer remembers one such issue, with which neither the Union nor the State Government had anything to do. I was promoted to the rank of Superintendent of Police in March 1980, and was posted as Commandant of the 3rd Battalion of the JKAP. While most of this unit was in the winter capital, Jammu, its headquarters were in Srinagar. In the last week of March, I was asked to be in Srinagar along with my men to be in place to tackle the expected law and order issue on the first anniversary of the hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Neither the Government of India nor the State Government had any role in the hanging of Bhutto, but there we were, ready to face a situation in the city. The State had serious law and order problems immediately after Bhutto’s hanging, with members of the Jamaat-e-Islami and their properties coming under heavy attacks in the Valley. That is how the Valley reacts. Invariably in all cases, everyone goes home in the evening, and peace reigns. On the occasion of the first anniversary of Bhutto’s hanging, detailed deployments of the police, JKAP and the CRPF had been made. The Inspector- General, the legendary Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah, was himself present in the Control Room, monitoring the situation. District SP and Commandants of the JKAP and CRPF were available on the spot to direct and guide their men.

As usual, the stone-pelting in Bohri Kadal and Maharaj Gunj areas was intense. We soon received information that the CRPF Commandant was seriously injured. He was brought to the Control Room and taken to the hospital for treatment. But there was no firing on the mob. By evening, the situation, as usual, was brought under control. The Commandant of the CRPF who was seriously injured was then on deputation with the CRPF and was commanding the 40 Battalion. He rose in time to become the DGP of the State.

The force, whether it is the Jammu & Kashmir Police or the CRPF, has to be personally led by the officer cadre. In those days, SPs and Commandants would be present in the Control Room during briefings, and be with their men in the field when facing situations. The men follow their leaders. Only when there is failure of leadership do men go out of control. Political leaders constantly kept in touch with the people, even during serious law and order situations.

In the last week of July 1980, there was a civilian-military clash, when some civilians allegedly roughed up some Army men late in the evening, which was followed by retaliation by the Army unit. The SSP of Srinagar was also seriously injured in the attack. The whole of the following day there was curfew, and attacks on the police by stone pelting mobs. This writer was in charge of the police deployed in the city.

Around 3.30 pm, when clashes were still going on, there was a message from the house of the Chief Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The message stated that the Chief Minister would like to visit Lal Chowk and address the people. This was a time when the battle between the stone-pelting mob and the police was still going on. When my view was sought, I said that the situation was not conducive for the Chief Minister to visit Lal Chowk, a typical police answer given the circumstances. But in the next half-an-hour, Sheikh sahib was on his way, and there was nothing that we could do except pray.

The Chief Minister arrived at Lal Chowk and somehow got on top of a bus, and then he addressed the mob for about an hour. He explained the reason the Army was in Kashmir, said that it is going to remain there, and that the people should learn to live with the forces. He explained to the people the ground realities, and the role of various actors, including the State Government. The people then dispersed peacefully.

That was the last time I saw a mass leader in communication with his people during a crisis. It may not be as easy to speak to people today, and may need much more security for a Chief Minister to go around. But the need for communication between the ruler and the ruled in a democracy cannot be overemphasised.

-- The writer, a former Director-General of the NIA, is associated with Institue of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Source: The Pioneer