‘Ill-provided Delhi Police, lacking leadership led to 1984 riots’ (October 31 is 36th anniversary Indira Gandhi’s assassination)

By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Oct 31 : “Inadequate leadership” of an “extremely ill-provided” Delhi Police resulted in the failures that led to the anti-Sikh riots in the national capital following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, a top police officer who was in the midst of the mayhem says.

The riots claimed at least 3,000 lives in the city and spread across the country like wildlife, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Sikhs.

Similarly, the assassination seven years later of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi “badly exposed the political and police handling of the LTTE” and shoddy investigation of the previous cases that led to the crime, Amod Kanth, who was the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) in 1984 and went on to become the police chief of Goa, told IANS in an interview, lamenting that there could be “no fixed formulae and hence, no final solutions”, to problems like crime and law and order.

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“The tumultuous events like 1984 riots or the Rajiv Gandhi assassination always give several lessons to the police which may result in systemic changes and better policing. An extremely ill-provided Delhi Police with limited manpower, poor transport and communication facilities led by an inadequate leadership had resulted in failures” that had led to the riots, Kanth, who has just completed the first volume of his memoirs, “Khaki In Dust Storm” (Bloomsbury), said.

“There was a big change in the Delhi Police under the leadership of the new Police Commissioner, Mr. Ved Marwah, with whom I served very closely getting an opportunity to become part of positive changes,” he added.

“Similarly, the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case badly exposed the political and police handling of the LTTE and also the poor investigation of the previous cases, which actually resulted in this crime. The failure of intelligence machinery and the security set-up was obviously understood for future corrections. In matters relating to crime and law & order there are no fixed formulae and hence, no final solutions,” Kanth said.

(Kanth was also among those named in the 1997 Uphaar fire tragedy that claimed 59 lives, being accused of bending the rules, when he was the DCP (Licensing), to permit extra seats in the theatre. He was, however, cleared by the CBI. The Delhi High Court rejected it. The Supreme Court stayed it but exempted Kanth from personal appearance. The trial dragged on for 23 years and finally ended only on February 20, 2020 with the Supreme Court rejecting a curative petition on the light sentence awarded to Sushil Ansal, one of the owners of the theatre.)

The book has been long in the writing.

“I was always in the habit of documenting everything and maintained daily dairies with regard to my police work and other important activities… This book is entirely the outcome of these documents; a truthful, authentic and exact account intermingled with my reflections & views,” Kanth said.

“I used to write whatever happened during the day. In this process, I continued writing from 31st October night until 5th November night, i.e. the entire period of the Delhi riots which was (sic) happening all over the city. As such, I wrote my first-hand account which became the first hand documentary account of the riots in my area.

“These documents came very handy in respect of the Central district since some other districts could not do it. They also became part of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission Report (by the former Chief Justice of India who headed the inquiry commission into the riots). These contemporaneous, comprehensive documents and reports became the basis for the Ranganath Misra and Nanavati Commissions along with the follow-up action,” Kanth explained.

To this end, Kanth describes the book as the “cathartic evolution” of a police officer.

“Part of the story, or part of the book, is about my own cathartic evolution as a police officer. It only means that the Indian Police by its very character, as it is being practiced and in operation in the country is not exactly in the mode of a service and doing good for the people. I had decided to take up a police career as a service and not as member of a force. During my service, however, I found the role as defined within the legal system and under the Indian Police Act 1861 something different,” he said.

Lamenting that the 1861 Act had not changed and neither do “the troika of criminal laws, the Cr.PC, the IPC and Evidence Act “support the police as a service which is meant for the poor & deprived people, children, women, disabled & elderly” Kanth said that in 1988, “14 years after an active police career, purely by chance and on call of duty I started Prayas, an organization connected to police and meant to serve the children in distress. I was looking for an institutional framework and a system which could become a medium for my police work in the community,” he added.

The deficiencies in the laws apart, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand the harm being caused by political meddling in police work – but there seems to be no solution to this.

“The Indian Police definitely needs to be insulated in some of its core functions concerning the law enforcement and investigations. But it cannot be completely insulated from the political/external pressures in a democratic system. In the democratic system, from Panchayat to the Parliament, there are people’s elected representatives who hold the reigns of the government.

“Similarly, there are political and social pressures besides the bureaucratic which all play their respective roles,” Kanth said, adding that despite the Supreme Court issuing seven directives on police reforms in 2006, these were yet to be implemented.

“The present situation is extremely disturbing which has been partly brought out in my book in a historical perspective,” Kanth concluded.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)


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