With the roads shrinking and the vehicular popular increasing with every passing day, movement within the cities of Srinagar and Jammu is a real tough task. The government elevated an IPS officer as the top decision maker in traffic management, who incidentally is a poet with peculiar management systems. As he is making waves in Jammu, will it be the same in Srinagar
When a police gypsy bearing no registration plate was recently cornered on a busy Jammu road by traffic cops, it instantly drew crowd and eyeballs.
The unusual scene, which played within days of Basant Rath, a 2000-batch IPS officer taking over as IGP traffic J&K, signaled the arrival of maverick cop. His out-of-box techniques to deal with the traffic violators soon became talk of the town, earning him both fans and foes. But that didn’t stop the cops from expressing himself. Instead, he became more vocal against possible traffic violators.
Then, within days of his taking over as IGP traffic, Rath made his intentions clear when he seized the car (Audi) of an army official, who happened to be the son and son-in-law of two senior serving IPS officers. Interestingly, both the officers had earlier served as IGP traffic in J&K. The matter ended with both parties filing an FIR against each other.
But Rath, who is known for his one-liners, had the last laugh as he took to Twitter to mock the Audi driver. “If you are rich enough to own a vehicle, you should be intelligent enough to know the traffic rules,” Rath wrote on his twitter.
Since his takeover as IGP traffic, Rath often issues mix of appeals and warnings to traffic violators through his facebook and twitter accounts. This unique style of managing traffic has made him talk of the town in Srinagar and Jammu.
Interestingly, his first salvo of warnings was for his seniors, whom he addressed via twitter and said: “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.”
His pro-active management has made him an instant hit with the media. The last long video on Facebook shows him literally begging the news cameramen to leave him and his team alone. “Is Say Aadmi Ka Dimag Kharan Houta Hai,” he is heard telling the media. Prior to that, he is seen interacting with cops and getting unconventional in communicating with them on why they should not let him down: Baal Tou Nahin Hain, Naak Mat Katvana. This followed a “senior” suggesting him against frequently getting on the social networking sites. But his signature response has remained unchanged: “I am Basant Rath. I do what I do.”
However, instead of earning praise for his “directness” in dealing with traffic violators, Rath found himself at the loggerheads with most of the politicians.
Recently, Congress MLA Usman Majeed, in a video statement alleged Rath of “acting like a goon”. Majeed also raised questions over Rath’s “indecent and insensitive posts” on social media sites.
Interestingly, days before Rath was elevated as IGP traffic J&K, a communication was sent to the state government by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), calling for “action” against him for alleged violation of the service conduct rules.
The reason for seeking “action” against Rath was based on a report of a ‘discreet inquiry’ conducted by Intelligence Bureau (IB) in 2016-17. The inquiry was ordered against Rath after his write-ups appeared in The Wire and the Indian Express. In its report, these articles have been labelled by the IB as “dangerously critical of the government policy” and “brazen violation of the IPS service conduct Rules”.
In August 2017, on the basis of IB’s report, MHA asked J&K government to take “disciplinary action” against Rath, for violating All India Service Rules.
Interestingly IB has mentioned Rath’s articles as “seditious” which could have “serious consequences” over the morale and discipline of the police and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
Rath has his perception and believes in making them public too. When JNU, his Alma matter was in debate and discussion, he wrote a letter to news anchor known for bashing in the name of ‘nationalism’, where he said to him where he said to him “Nationalism Is Not A Marketing Tool and trust me I am not anti-national. 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?”
No stranger to the controversies, Rath, termed K.P.S Gill, one of the dreaded IPS officers who broke back of militancy in Punjab as a “disaster”. Gill, he said romanticised the ‘break the rules’ kind of freedom and broke down institutions and processes as if they were his enemy’s bones.”
His first crisis in the state started when he was attached by Omar Abdullah led coalition government in 2011, when as SSP Jammu he was 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.
Own Me, Srinagar
For a native of Odhisa, who has studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), coming to Kashmir was like fulfilling a dream. Rath’s Kashmir connection goes beyond policing and managing the traffic, he has almost highlighted every facet of Kashmir in his poems. In 2012, Rath compiled his first collection of English poetry titled Own me, Srinagar.
Rath, who is highly influenced by the late Kashmiri-American poet Aga Shahid Ali, wrote his first poem titled Pindi, Pindi, Pindi. The poem sketches a picture of a maddening crowd of Kashmiri youth crossing the LoC to get arms training in Pakistan in 1989.
The next poem Rath wrote was about Gawkadal massacre of January 1990. This massacre is often described as one of the worst massacres in Kashmir’s history. Caught in the middle of the bridge, with BSF men firing from both ends, the massacre left fifty civilians dead and hundreds others injured.
But it was Rath’s poem about mass graves in Kashmir that sent social media users into a frenzy. Immediately a section of social media users started labeling him as “pro-Kashmiri”, “anti-national”, “pro-Azaadi”, “rebellious” and even “traitor”.
However, such tags didn’t stop Rath from being vocal about issues close to his heart, or his passion for poetry, or about Kashmir, his “second home”. Interestingly, his e-mail is named after his village as his twitter handle @KangriCarrier is about Kashmir. Interestingly he has given himself 90 days to “deliver” the results.
Before arriving in Kashmir for the first time in 2000, Rath was not a poet, but it was “Kashmir’s extreme beauty and the extreme pain” that moved him to write the poetry.
Rath’s journey to JNU and then finally to Jammu and Kashmir was full of struggle, both on personal and professional front.
A native of a small village Pippli in Odisha, Rath spent much of his childhood and teenage in extreme poverty.
Rath famously told a Delhi based news channel that, “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.”
A fan of Sadat Hassan Mantoo and polish poet Maria Wislawa, Rath is fond of reading and writing.
Help Me, Rath
After making his successful debut as the tough traffic cop in Jammu city, Rath is eagerly waiting to cross the Jawahar tunnel and try his magic wand in summer capital Srinagar. But unlike Jammu city, Srinagar is altogether a different universe, which has its own pace and style. Though Rath is currently using his Twitter account to warn possible traffic violators, mostly cops, in Srinagar about his upcoming visit, the larger question everyone asks is, can he really deliver?
Given the fact that Srinagar city is surrounded by major garrisons, including 15 Corps headquarters, an Air Force base, a CRPF headquarter, Police Control Room, civil secretariat, from where entire government functions, can Rath keep all these people with absolute power in check without becoming a causality himself!
In Jammu, Rath made a big statement by taking a police gypsy to the task. In Srinagar, ‘Can he challan an army vehicle, moving in the wrong direction, with a stick-wielding soldier on top, telling people to save their skins or face the music? Can he change the VVIP culture prevalent on Srinagar roads, which draws its strength by evoking ‘security concern’? Will it be possible for him to force hundreds of vehicles from the security grid off the roads which, by routine norms, should have been consigned to scarp-dealers for massive emission issues?
Besides, there are issues which nobody will have control over. Srinagar has not seen any addition in the roads for many decades because there is no space available for more roads. This is despite the fact that the numbers of vehicles have multiplied over the years.
In Srinagar, the people using the public transport believe that one-fifth of their working time goes into finding a bus and reaching their destinations because it is pathetically sluggish and hugely exploitative.
These questions remain for the maverick cop when he drives to Srinagar.