Remote Controlled Police
Recently from January 30th to February 1st, 2016, I along Justice (Retd) Markanday Katju of the Supreme Court of India, visited Behbal Kalan and Kot Kapura, both located in district Faridkot of Punjab to enquire into the incidents of police firing and lathi charge, on 14th October, 2015, in which two persons were killed and several others injured. Large number of eye witnesses deposed before the Commission and also submitted affidavits stating that police action on peaceful crowd which had gathered to express indignation over large scale incidents of desecration of Shri Guru Granth Sahib was sudden, excessive and without any provocation from the civilians.
Though the Chairman of the Commission, Justice (Retd) Katju is busy examining ‘evidence’ given to him, I can not help recalling some startling information which came up before us but to which no one was prepared to swear upon because of fear of retribution and reprisals from Punjab Police and their political masters.
During days of militancy, some police chiefs, at various levels, were excessively fond of getting their names written in ‘police log book’ in golden letters hoping to en-cash it at a later date; while getting their names sent for gallantry awards and hoping ‘better postings (in terms of monetary benefits)’and even ‘good post retirement benefits’, in certain other cases. Some such leaders of the force often participated in live police action on remote control; giving orders on wireless while sitting safely several kilometers away guzzling chilled beer or even hard drinks. Men on ground fought, often laying their lives but their names got only recorded in the ‘pall bearers book’ which is ritually taken out on October 21st every year on the occasion of Police Commemoration Day and then filed away to catch dust till the next year. These remotely controlled operations were both a source of sarcastic ridicule and indignation within police circles.
During our visit to Behbal Kalan, a number of eye witnesses stated, though off the record, that a certain senior police officer, immediately after reaching the spot was seen talking excitedly to someone on his mobile phone and then once the call was over, gave a ‘thumbs-up’ sign to police contingent present on the spot and then suddenly all hell was let loose. Police resorted to lathi charge duly accompanied with their blasting guns. Intermittent firing went on for quite some time culminating in two deaths and several injuries.
My journalist friends talked about a somewhat similar scenario in Kot Kapura where a larger civilian congregation had assembled peacefully under the leadership of very prominent Sikh Pracharaks and religious leaders. On account of a more serious situation here, very senior police officers were present informing their still higher-ups of the situation on ground. Two of my different journalist friend informed me of a telephonic conversation between one of the senior officer in charge and a top political leader, which, they claimed, was over heard by them. The political leader, after having been apprised of situation had allegedly just given only one line order, ‘Clear the place in ten minutes flat’. And then like in Behbal Kalan incident, all hell was said to have been let loose in the form of lathi charge, tear gas, and water spray along with police firing.
Who says that Punjab Police has changed? It is still remote controlled. During militancy senior cops held the remote control and now it is the turn of some of the alleged ‘Political Dons’.