A GENERAL IN A STREET BRAWL AND THE CLARIFICATION ON FACEBOOK

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Inspector General of Police ( Traffic ) J&K, Basant Rath has chosen his favourite medium – social media, to present his side of the story on the ‘slap-gate’ that has taken the centre stage on various debating platforms, after an alleged video of him slapping a seemingly calm and non-agitating youth went vital on internet.

Referring to the viral video, which shows him slapping a youth four times and threatening the civilian to keep shut, Basant Rath took to Facebook and addressed the people of J&k in an attempt to put things into the right perspective and provide an insight into the background of the whole incident which has garnered huge negative publicity for the much celebrated cop.

Rath begins by thanking the people of J&K for the love and affection they have showered on him over the past few months because of his no-nonsense attitude towards handling traffic issues in the state,”Friends, there is no question of me doing something that would make me lose the kind of affection I’ve got in J and K. This is the biggest achievement of my life. Life, not career”.

Before the opening few words, “no question of me doing something ” wrong , would make one believe that he is going to deny the incident or challenge the veracity of the video itself, Rath rather denies his readers the possibility of any twist in the tale as he goes on to say, “That 40 seconds video was a part of a 25 odd minutes long conversation in that fateful afternoon. The guy posed to a be medical student from Delhi spending his vacation in Srinagar. He asked me a lot of questions that were political in nature. I trusted him as a friend. And my answers were honest and politically incorrect. Ten odd minutes into our conversation, I realised that a couple of his friends were recording our conversation. When I asked them to stop it and delete the videos, they created a scene. That triggered the scuffle”.

After this narration of the incident the paragraph ends to let another begin, indicating a momentary pause and shift in thought, Basant Rath in the concluding two lines reveals that the incident was two months old and expresses his regret by saying ,”The incident is more than two months old. I’ll regret my choice to engage with the guy that afternoon for a pretty long time”.

Now, what makes this incident, the original sin of manhandling a civilian and the act getting caught on camera plus the appendage which shapes up as a quasi-explanation cum clarification on Rath’s timeline, interesting and worth dedicating a dozen odd paragraphs to, is the fact that since the day Basant Rath was endowed with the responsibility of regulating traffic in the state, he had managed to ‘book’ a huge fan following on social media along with the violators of rules and regulations to be followed while driving. He had been able to create such an aura around his personality by intelligent use of press and social media that many youth saw him as an icon and even the cynical ones were hoping for a change in the system that lay astray due to corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and the usual ills of bureaucracy. However, all that is something we leave for another time, for another article and here we stick to this particular slap-gate controversy and the Facebook post that attempts to pass as a clarification of some sorts.

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Transfixing back to the the status update, Basant in the very beginning only makes the assertion that there was “no question of me doing something” wrong, and leaves one to wonder what he meant by saying that. Is he denying the incident or insinuating that the video is edited . Or is he in his usual arrogant tone condoning the use of force and violence by police in general against civilians or is he justifying solely his own act by giving an inkling that the crime of the young civilian fitted the punishment hence by slapping the youth he had done nothing wrong . Whatever he might be trying to imply, we at least know with certainty what he was not trying to imply – that he has done something wrong. Rath in his mind is absolutely clear as a crystal and does not think that he had done anything wrong by slapping the youth repeatedly and threatening him in full public view. He is sure that law, rules, regulations, courts etc. are all phony abstract concepts that do not hold any sway over him and he is free to act as the judge, jury and the executioner and can go around bashing up people in the streets and on the roads.

After issuing a clean chit to himself only, Basant Rather writes, “That 40 seconds video was a part of a 25 odd minutes long conversation in that fateful afternoon” and intentionally or unintentionally ends up issuing a certificate of authenticity to the video which hitherto was being referred to as alleged video. He does not deny the incident or the video, does not call it edited too, just adds that there was some conversation also that took place between the two parties before the super cop decided that he has had enough talk and it was time for some action and pounced on unsuspecting prey.

As we read further into the post updated, the IGP frantically tries to build a case against the youth that could somewhat justify his claim of not having done anything wrong, however, failing miserably in the attempt the best he could sum up was that the youth had asked him a few questions and he had replied honestly because the guy had posed to be a doctor. First things first, Basant Rath exposes his elitist mentality when he tells us that he replied honestly as a friend because the guy posed to be a doctor, leaving one to wonder how he would have reacted if the youth had chosen to pose as something that’s not as respectable or lucrative as being a doctor. He goes on to narrate that his replies to the youth were honest but politically incorrect and after 10 minutes into the discussion he realised that the conversation was being recorded promoting him to ask for it to be deleted. When the youth did not comply he was left with no option but to bash him up. So basically, my way or highway, seems to be the net crux of the narration.

This particular narration of the sequence of events by Basant Rath has the Midas touch of classical literature that had such intricate weaving of words that it possessed the capability of magically transporting the readers into another world. In this case the reader gets transported back to his school days as the stream of events conjured by Basant Rath in his defense is so childish that it seems to come straight from a primary school student’s mouth who is being grilled by his teacher for harassing a fellow classmate and in reply all that the student can muster is that the classmate had taken his pencil and was not returning it so he ended up in bashing the classmate to get his pencil back. It does not beg for rocket science to be applied to ascertain the number of teachers who can laugh at such a lame excuse or let such a ruffian behaviour slide without any punishment or repercussions.

Jokes aside, let us analyse the reply in a serious vein. What Rath is essentially saying is that he had a conversation which was politically incorrect, with a stranger whom he did not know, and the stranger posed to be a doctor from Delhi claiming to be on a vacation trip to Srinagar. What does it say about the narrator, assuming that he is telling the truth – that an IGP rank officer who has served all his life in the state of J&K is still so unaware about the culture of the state, so far removed from the common man on street , so disconnected from even his own men from Kashmir who are serving under him and working alongside him as well that he could not judge from the youth’s accent that he was not someone from Delhi but a local Kashmiri. A Kashmiri accent can be picked up from a mile which is why we should never hope of a Kashmiri actor ever playing James Bond 007, as he won’t be able to suppress his accent and will get caught in the very first scene of the movie making it the shortest Bond escapade.

Is our IGP actually so naive that it took him and his entire team of body guards and attendants around 10 minutes to realise that the conversation was being recorded and even after a 10 minute long dialogue delivery session it was the recording part that caught his imagination and not the language, accent, dress or complexion of the guy. Even the long beard supported by the youth or the questions asked by him like when was the IGP going to act tough against the security force bunkers which were equally guilty of encroachment in Srinagar, did not raise any suspicion in our celebrated super cop’s mind and he went on revealing one truth after another, pouring his heart out in front of this so called stranger.

This brings us to another important aspect of the incident – what was so sensitive in the conversation recorded that an officer of the rank of IGP got so desperate that he had to resort to fighting in the middle of the street in broad daylight like a road side hooligan to get it deleted. In the very first place, how does an officer of the rank of General meet a complete stranger on the road who is masquerading as a tourist and gets so cozy and comfy with this ‘just met’ best friend that he starts spilling the beans in front of this complete stranger as if this stranger was some priest in a church listening to his confessions. Strange, funny, suspicious, unbecoming of an officer, or sheer incompetence , you decide, because the adjectives can run short on this one. All we can do is pray and hope that ISI and other secret service agencies have not noticed how easy it could be to extract sensitively ‘honest’ information from such a high ranking official.

‌ Another thing in Basant Rath’s narration that tickles your funny bones is the ease and comfort with which Rath keeps a straight face and tells you how he met a complete stranger yet trusted him as a friend, gave him honest but politically incorrect answers, asks the cunning friend to delete the conversation on which the stranger turned friend turned villain creates a scene triggering the scuffle and the poor super cop was just a helpless bystander who got dragged into the issue without any fault of his. In short, the stranger friend and his gang of goons did everything, they are to be blamed for everything that transpired, they played the IGP around while our meek and innocent General had only asked humbly for the recording to be deleted.

‌ One also loves the General’s attempt to act smart by using the word ‘scuffle’, which means – a short, sudden, confused fight or struggle at close quarters especially one involving a small number of people, to describe his misadventure. The word scuffle indicates two parties fighting with each other and in no sense can be used to describe an event such as this one where a high ranking police official decides to take law into his own hands and dishes out punishment according to his own whims and fancies. The appropriate words instead of scuffle would be – misuse of official chair, abuse of power, oppression, persecution, despotism, repression etc. etc.,no point printing the entire thesaurus here.

Basant Rath further reveals that, “The incident is more than two months old. I’ll regret my choice to engage with the guy that afternoon for a pretty long time”. In this concluding part also, Rath is relentless and tries to deflect the heat by tagging the incident as two months old, probably in a hope that people will treat the incident as ‘stale news’ and let it pass.

In the end Rath expresses regret, not for his transgressions, but for choosing to “engage” with the stranger cum friend cum villain. He does not explain what he meant by “engage”, was it yet another fancy word like “scuffle” for the stunt he pulled on the civilian or did the word “engage” mean getting to know the stranger and befriending him. We too would end our in-depth analysis without explaining our stance on the issue and will leave it to the wisdom of the readers to draw their own conclusions and form an independent opinion on the controversy.

( The author can be reached on theowl@paigaam.in and news@paigaam.in )