by Tasavur Mushtaq
“Saavdhaan bachay! Helmet pehan lay nahin tou Basant Rath pakad lega” (Beware child! Put on your helmet. Otherwise Basant Rath will catch you) are the new words of fear that parents in Jammu repeat again and again to their children, both boys and girls.
Sweeping the streets with the fresh wave of fear is the 45-year-old IPS officer, Basant Kumar Rath, the new IGP Traffic, J&K.
No stranger to the controversies, Basant within the first fortnight after his promotion to the rank of IGP and his posting as traffic chief of the state is all over the social networking sites. His messages are aimed at everyone, ranging from politicians, officers, and violators, in his words to all “politically well-connected individuals”.
His placement has evoked both, applauses and brickbats.
But as the complaints galore over the style of his functioning, state police chief Dr S P Vaid on February 22, shot a warning letter to Basant ‘against violation of the service conduct rules, operating without uniform, hurling abuses, and manhandling commuters.’
“A number of videos, posts, and pictures are being circulated on social media, in which you are seen moving in civvies on the roads, doing strange activities unwarranted of a police officer. Other videos uploaded by some commuters allege manhandling, using of abusive language and damage to their property like cell phones, helmets, spectacles and vehicles,” read letter.
As reported, it is said, ADG CID, Abdul Gani Mir, has reported that some of the posts floated by the officer seemed to attract criticism for being “obscene and derogatory”, according to a report published by a website. He has quoted Rath’s tweets like this:
‘Friends, some cops are immune to the threat of transfer. I’m one of them. My beautiful middle finger to the power-drunk middlemen. Yesh’
There is support for him as well. State’s principal secretary finance Navin Kumar Choudhary wrote on his Facebook, “I vehemently support what and how Basant is dealing with. I just caution him through he can do even better without giving an opportunity to detractors.”
“Cyclones often hit Orissa. J&K has been hit by an Oriyan cyclone called Basant Rath.
Jammu’s former IGP Danesh Rana praised him warmly on Facebook, “Cyclones often hit Orissa. J&K has been hit by an Oriyan cyclone called Basant Rath. Cyclones uproot trees, Basant is planting seeds of traffic management and discipline and fear of the law. I have handled traffic as SSP and DIG but could not bring a revolution. (Doff my hat to Basant Rath). Kudos. Love you tiger.”
With working of Basant, IAS officer and Managing Director J&K State Power Development Corporation Shah Faesal is equally impressed. He posted on Facebook on February 19, “It’s Monday morning but Amphala Chowk (Jammu) is traffic free. Basant Rath works!”
In response to DGP’s letter, Basant is quoted to have said by The Telegraph, “Forget about the letter. I won’t discuss the colour of my favourite brand of chocolate with the media at this time.”
Present in the virtual world for 21 hours a day, except from 8 am to 11 am, Basant, his colleagues say, “is not like us.”
Every message he posts on Facebook or Twitter, there is a huge response. While some say he is Farki (senseless), while others call him ‘a spoilt brat’ and ‘police wala goonda’ or ‘vardi waala goonda’. But ordinary commuters who face difficulties in moving around are happy to have him on the forefront.
Holding a position of IGP, Basant with his uncompromising attitude towards traffic violations is seen as unusual stuff in the department.
“I saw electricity for the first time when I was 11, touched a phone at 19 and started speaking English at 22. It has been a consistent struggle. We did not have enough to eat, but the hardship and sacrifice of MY mother made ME what I am today,”
A resident of Uttarsahi, a small hamlet in Pipili Tehsil in Puri District of Odisha, Basant comes from a poor family of farmer and priest, Hrushikesh. He credits is the mother of what he has achieved in life.
“I saw electricity for the first time when I was 11, touched a phone at 19 and started speaking English at 22. It has been a consistent struggle. We did not have enough to eat, but the hardship and sacrifice of MY mother made ME what I am today,” he is quoted to have said.
Post-graduate in Sociology from Bhubaneswar, he spent six years in pursuing Ph.D. in the same subject from JNU at New Delhi but left it mid-way to join IPS in the year 2000.
As given the J&K Cadre, Basant from day one had his own way. The major crisis of his career was in 2011 as SSP when Omar Abdullah led coalition government attached him for allegedly badmouthing politicians while questioning Nagar Singh alias Nago in connection with the murder of Amandeep Singh, the son of former National Conference legislator Depinder Kour. Amandeep was shot allegedly by Jitendra Singh, Nago’s son. The video which became evidence against him was shot in 2009 when he was SSP Jammu.
Tough on the street, Basant is a poet by heart and an environmentalist to the core. In December 2009, he as SSP along with his team of few cops dug up a drain to bring water to villagers in Jammu.
Please give me three months. Mere twelve weeks. Just ninety days. I’ll make things happen. We’ll make things happen. I want Jammu and Srinagar to be India’s two best cities in terms of traffic management,”
Basant had the option to join bureaucracy, he preferred police and also rejected options to go on central deputations.
Moved by the situation in the valley, he has written many poems. While fighting militancy in the valley, he has articulated the intrinsic tragedy of Kashmir in his verses, probably the only cop who has used poetry to cement the bond with the people.
Though his job puts him on one side of the divide, he has not only narrated the ordeal of his stay in the state since the inception of the armed struggle but many decades before that as for him the Line of Control (LoC) is a “Caesarian baby born six grenade decades ago”. In his poetry, the sociology expert has talked about issues ranging from massacres to the discovery of unmarked graves in 2011.
One can love him or hate him for his style, Basant is not scared of the controversies. Posting messages round the clock, he does not wear his uniform often.
Complaints and complainants don’t give me wrinkles. I do what I do.
His behaviour is evoking a mixed response. He has won many hearts, but there is strong criticism of his attitude, as well.
He shrugs away the criticism saying “complaints and complainants don’t give me wrinkles. I do what I do.”
Urging people to give him just ninety days, he seeks cooperation from the general masses. “Jammu, I’m not here to be popular. I have a reputation to protect and a lack of reputation to preserve. Please give me three months. Mere twelve weeks. Just ninety days. I’ll make things happen. We’ll make things happen. I want Jammu and Srinagar to be India’s two best cities in terms of traffic management,” he said.
Basanth is not favourite to most of his colleagues and members of political parties. “My Dear Senior who thinks I’m all gas on FaceBook and Twitter and no guts. Please ask your PSOs to drive their bikes without wearing helmets. I’ll ruin their day. And yours. I don’t think I love you.”
A sitting Congress Lawmaker Usman Majeed alleged that Basant was acting like a goon. He also raised questions about the IPS officer’s posts on Facebook that he termed as ‘indecent’ and ‘insensitive’ as he has compared “helmets with condoms.”
With naming anybody Basant responded, “ I’m human and I’m in a hurry. I expect myself to commit mistakes. And I expect myself to learn my lessons as well. I promise I’ll improve Jammu’s traffic situation. And myself.”
After having some verbal duel with political party members, Basant took on to twitter and wrote “Dear politically well-connected interest groups, my name is Basant. I do what I do,” he said,
Not coming under the influence, he recently seized a car of an army official, who happens to be the son and son-in-law of two senior IPS officers in J&K. Both Rath and army official filed FIRs against each other at the police station.
He registered the second FIR in less than fortnight against the house owner for blocking the road during a family function.
Passionate about Kashmir, he has already written a poem ‘Own Me Srinagar’, which captures his dilemma,
‘Own me, Srinagar.’
I pray every evening.
Do I own her?
She must be guessing.
He attributes a poet him to the beauty and pain of the valley. “Kashmir’s extreme beauty and the extreme pain moved me to poetry. Besides, it gave me a figurative freedom to express things that I cannot do in prose.”
He because of his some controversial articles and poems on Kashmir, has already been on the tracker and even the intelligence agencies wanted the government not to post him on important assignments.
This was revealed by Ministry of Home Affairs in a letter dated August 29, 2017, where they had called for action against him for alleged violation of the service conduct rules on account of his “objectionable columns and articles published in The Wire and The Indian Express.”
An ardent fan of Pakistani music, Basant listens to Nusrat Fateh Ali, Showkat Ali, Ghulam Ali, Farida Khanam, Tina Sani and Munni Begum and says his religion is “‘Do good to the people.”
Having his own stand on various issues like Taj Mahal, Irom Sharmila’s political decision, Valentine’s vandalism, his alma matter JNU, political affiliations of police, reforms in policing, flaws in contemporary bureaucracy, failure of justice system, criminal in justices of police, biryani policing, he in March 2016 wrote a letter to Arnob Goswami, a TV news anchor known for his bashing in the name of ‘nationalism’, where he said to him “Nationalism Is Not A Marketing Tool and trust me I am not anti-national.”
Asking Arnob a question, he writes, “Name a place where an Indian prime minister goes to address a public rally and says that his government will do everything possible “insaniyat ke days mein” to wipe people’s tears. Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that to the masses in Srinagar. This phrase has changed the political discourse of our times. People are suffering in Kashmir, Arnab. They are suffering in the Northeast. Does the very act of highlighting the issues of J&K and the Northeast make the students and their leaders’ anti-national?”
Not much into social circles, Basant, people who know him say what matters to him is an only duty. “For him, utmost integrity towards his duty is preferable to any other personal and social concerns,” said one of his colleague.
Writing about the issue of Ram Temple and role of a specific police officer, Basant writes in The Wire that “A Police Officer’s Allegiance Must Be to the Constitution and Not to a Temple.”
“Gill, as a police leader working under the checks and balances of India’s constitutional democracy, was a disaster.
For K.P.S Gill. One of the dreaded IPS officers who broke back of militancy in Punjab, Basant has his own perspective. “Gill, as a police leader working under the checks and balances of India’s constitutional democracy, was a disaster. He romanticised the ‘break the rules’ kind of freedom and broke down institutions and processes as if they were his enemy’s bones,” he writes.
A cop in uniform has a different version of why Kashmir is witnessing the killings.
In his poem, he writes that “Kashmir was a vast lake called Satisar inhabited by the demon Jalodbhav. The lake was drained off by Anantnag in order to capture and kill the demon. The Valley that emerged was named by Anantnag as Kashayap-mira after his father Kashyap, a great rishi.”
“But I think that Jalodbhav didn’t die. This is why Kashmir continues to suffer. We need to make a fresh effort to kill the demon for the Valley to be in peace,” he believes.
The valley is all set to receive the wave of Basant, but like Jammu, will it be same for him in Kashmir?