Pragmatic politicians in a democracy
would always want to reach out and touch people as and when they
get a chance because the real interaction with the people, the
real connect with the people, mostly happens during election
campaigns only. Because once they are elected, public access to
their corridors of power is immediately restricted by officials
who surround the leaders. So the political wisdom says that they
should seize upon any chance they get to interact with huge crowds
in order to reach out and touch them before their next election.
But top political leaders in India, unfortunately, missed that
chance, or may be deliberately avoided the chance.
They missed the opportunity when after a brutal gang rape of a
23-old trainee physiotherapist, concerned Indians poured on to the
streets of New Delhi and several other major cities to express
their outrage over the rape, the police indifference towards
security of women and the slowness of the justice system of the
country. This was a genuine and spontaneous outcry.
They were looking for some kind of assurance from the top leaders
of the government that the culprits will not be spared.
But instead of assurances what they got was a senseless effort by
the police to disperse the peaceful crowds, using archaic canes
and water cannons and blocking roads and closing metro stations
around India Gate, the venue of their protest rallies. Instead of
government leaders talking to them and assuring them about
bringing the culprits to justice, it was police beating up
innocent young girls and boys holding a peaceful rally with batons
and water cannons.
When the demonstrations continued every day and the scene got real
ugly on the seventh day after the rape, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh came on TV to tell the crowds to stay calm and that the
government plans to look into the issue of women's safety by
appointing a committee -- a well known tactic of buying time to
deal with the issue. Sometimes it seems the slow reflexes in India
in dealing with the issues stem from the old age of its leaders.
Most of them are above 70 years in age.
Whatever the reason may be, because of the episode it became very
clear that the Congress party leaders have no desire of any direct
interaction with the people, except during the election campaigns.
No one can say if it is indifference or a political miscalculation
or just a wrong advice by some novice advisers. When the prime
minister used TV to make a statement, it was the eighth day and
thousands of young people (future voters) had been pouring on to
the streets for seven days with the hope of some kind of an
There were several accounts of the meaningless police action to
disperse the peaceful demonstrations. It was meaningless because
India is a democracy, is not under any state of emergency, and
every Indian has a right to peaceful demonstration. Here is an
account of a concerned citizen who went to the India Gate rally
just to support the demonstrators and the rape victim. This is
what he (Sanjeev Sood) wrote on Facebook:
"......................................WE WERE SIMPLY TALKING. I
had just finished my packet of biscuits when the police, hundreds
of them from DELHI POLICE and RAF (Rapid Action Force), charged at
us from behind, WITHOUT ANY WARNING.
"They first attacked the men from behind. I stood up to see what
the commotion was about, and immediately fell as most girls didn't
get enough time to stand up. I hugged Smitaji as we fell on each
other and there was a stampede over us. Some of the men from the
circle ran for their lives, but most of them ran towards us and
hugged us and fell on us and took the initial blows of the LATHI
"I couldn't see anything. I just heard the two cracks of a SPLIT
BAMBOO STICK on my back, butt and thighs. Then I heard the police
screaming, HARAMZADIYO, RANDIYO, and then I saw a boot kicking my
knees and shin. They hit Smitaji on her lower-back and spine. The
boys of ASMITA, and some more men pulled us all up and all of them
formed protection girdles around the girls to push us out of the
range of the water cannons and charging men in KHAKI AND BLUE.
"Agreed that in such gatherings, some nasty elements do infiltrate
and create a raucous, but the police didn't seem to have the basic
sensibility to differentiate between hooligans and some young
girls, children, and elderly people. If Delhi Police and RAF lack
the basic cognizance to recognize the good from bad, what
protection can we expect from them?
Instead I thank the men of Delhi, the boys of Delhi, who helped
all the girls to escape from the wrath of THE
But the senseless actions by police did not end there. They
alleged that one of their colleagues died because of the injuries
he suffered while "managing" the crowds. The word should have been
"manhandling". But eyewitnesses said the policeman just fell down
while chasing the crowds and apparently had a heart attack. The
post mortem report confirmed the heart attack but also said he had
some broken ribs and abrasions on his chest, which some doctors
said could have happened when the untrained laymen were trying to
revive him by pumping his chest etc. The report also said he was
hurt by a blunt force, which could be, repeat, could be the impact
of his fall on the asphalt.
But the whole thing could have been dealt with some political
The prime minister should have come on television within one or
two days after the episode, (if not within hours like US President
Barack Obama did after the Connecticut school shooting) to promise
a full and rapid investigation and full punishment under the law.
But if that did not pacify the people, another leader could have
come on TV to make a soothing statement.
One just wonders why Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi didn't send
Rahul Gandhi, who is being groomed to be the country's prime
minister and who can easily attract the youth vote, to address the
young crowds on the second or the third day after the episode and
let him try to reach out to them, especially in view of the fact
that his main agenda in the Congress is to get India's youth to
enter politics. He could have addressed them at a rally, or on TV,
assuring them that he will use all his influence in the party and
the government to get the stiffest punishment possible under the
law for the alleged rapists. There was no risk because a stiff
punishment had become a surety already. This could have been a
much better training for Rahul, as compared to the election
campaign speeches he made in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.
Ravi M. Khanna is a
longtime observer of the South Asia scene and has covered the
region for Voice of America as the New Delhi Bureau Chief and also
as the South Asia Desk Editor in Washington from 1980 to 2011. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org