Banished Basant

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by Khursheed Wani

Over the past few years, the civil secretariat must have set a record of maximum number of transfers and postings, often premature and unwarranted, to feature the fragility of the governance system. Apart from this sordid state of affairs, created and perpetuated by the amateur political class, the embattled Jammu and Kashmir witnessed sacking of four high-profile persons holding the public offices. Two major victims of the hegemonic system were Mehbooba Mufti and NN Vohra who were unceremoniously sacked in June and August from the posts of Chief Minister and Governor. The other two dismissals took place in the police department during the incumbent Governor Satya Pal Malik’s reign. Police chief Shesh Paul Vaid was sacked through an unprecedented order passed around midnight amid a controversy over an arrest spree of the relatives of militants and subsequent kidnapping of over a dozen relatives of police personnel.

The latest episode of the sacking saga came to fore after Inspector General of Police (traffic wing) Basant Kumar Rath was attached to insignificant Home Guards at the culmination of a bevy of controversies. Rath may have been junior in rank in comparison to other ousted persons, but his sacking evoked tremendous response from the public, both in favour and against him. Never has a traffic top cop been loved and loathed by the people as Rath, whose more than one attributes often caught eyeballs when he showed up among the common people.

Last fall 46-year-old Rath, a native of Odisha and officer of the Indian Police Service, was appointed to manage the messy traffic system in the state by the then BJPDP coalition led by Mehbooba Mufti. From the first day, he came out as a Maverick with an overzealous mission to bring about a change on state’s thoroughfares and streets. His initial days in Jammu were marked by his show off with several people closer to the corridors of power, who apparently violated traffic regulations and eventually faced Rath’s wrath.

After durbar move, Rath came to Kashmir to discipline the unmanageable traffic, especially in capital Srinagar. Sadly, he did not make any remarkable difference on his primary task. The city dwellers continued to suffer the chronic traffic mess and unruly drivers and bikers could not be reined in even to the day he received marching orders. Despite this ground reality, Rath’s conspicuousness and popularity grew with each passing day. Wherever he went, he was swarmed by youngsters, often clicking selfies with him. Clad in enigmatic black rather than trademark police khaki, Basant took pride in being eccentric. At times, his package included arrogance and highhandedness when he was seen slapping a biker, running after a vehicle or insulting erring driver. He got his share of brickbats for the omissions.

Basant Rath talking with media.

From Ashraf Bedar to Maqsood-uz-Zaman, the traffic management has been handled by honest and dynamic officers in the past. On that count, Basant was no exception and his sacking should not have been an event. His exclusivity came from a rebellious attitude that banged hard on the special status police have acquired in Kashmir over the years. Compared to a Station House Officer who travels in bulletproof vehicles and walks around under the umbrella of heavily armed bodyguards, this IPS officer roamed around unarmed, bicycled through streets and travelled in passenger vehicles. He challenged the interpretation of vulnerability and threat perception and created a dichotomy at a time when constabulary is going through a tough time. The policemen in south Kashmir have been strictly asked to avoid frequent visits to their families. The wedge between police and people is expanding to the extent that the government is now embarking on a maiden project to construct exclusive residential towers for police families. Ten thousand flats would be constructed each in Jammu and Srinagar under this plan. In an interesting twist, Rath’s unceremonious exit coincided with the emergence of a new class of ‘public representatives’ in urban areas and his spat with one of them snowballed into a controversy. On the face of it, a clash of perceptions emerged on the future handling of Srinagar city but it was much deeper than mere exchange of words and short sentences on twitter. Rath had fallen apart from the favours of powers that be much before his spat with Srinagar’s Mayor. A delegation of journalists had already lodged a complaint against him at Raj Bhawan in Jammu for manhandling a scribe. He had committed a blunder by targeting member of a fraternity that played a pivotal role in portraying his particular image.

Performing duty with honesty and commitment by any officer is no favour to people. On the contrary, people’s acknowledgement to these virtues is definitely a favour to the officer. Rath was showered with encomiums for his good deeds but he did not succeed fully in handling the responsibility with utmost care. A widely appreciated approach would have sustained him for more time to serve the management of traffic rather than transporting him to home guards to cool his heels. Nevertheless, for a writer, this cooling period can be highly beneficial. We can expect more intense poetry on Kashmir from him in coming days.

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