Owaisi arrest: Eye on 2014, CM set to sleep with friendly foe?

Lesson from timidity over throwing hate speech-maker behind bars: if the police have a manual and political direction to act, or not to act, it should be made more consistent for different states


Shantanu Datta | January 9, 2013

Akbaruddin Owaisi

Exactly a month after Akbaruddin Owaisi delivered what is being termed a hate speech in Nizamabad on December 8, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh finally arrested the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) MLA on Tuesday evening after hemming and hawing for long.

Don't miss: Owaisi's hate speech: is Hyderabad the new Ahmedabad?

The arrest came on the heels of a daylong ‘sham’ in the name of medical examination at Hyderabad’s government-run Gandhi Hospital after he failed to appear before the police and sought more time citing ill-health.

In fact, the state government’s decision to finally wake up and smell the coffee came days after Owaisi, not known to hold back on the issue of communal speech-making, delivered a second “hate speech” at Nirmal in Adilabad district, about 20 km from Hyderabad, on December 24. The police finally lodged a case against the 42-year-old MLA on January 3.

Slammed for pussyfooting on the issue, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy came up with what could best be laughed of as laughable comments in his effort to stand up and be counted as a strict administrator. “The police, as per the law of the land and the state, acts (in such cases),” he told the media that day. “You can be rest assured that any statements which are derogatory, which are provoking or against sentiments of any other community... firm action will be taken.”

On Tuesday, not long after Owaisi returned from London, his lawyer appealed for more time for the MLA to be present in front of the police. He was, to quote the good MLA, “internally ill”. Now what that means is something only Owaisi and his lawyer are expected to know, though investigating officer A Raghu had reportedly found Akbaruddin “fit enough” to face police inquiry in connection with the case filed against him.

Besides showing chief minister Kiran Reddy in extremely poor light, what this shows is the difference in approach of the police in different states. In Kolkata, for instance, the cops can arrest anyone deemed to be “conspiring” — whether overtly, covertly, intelligibly or incomprehensibly — against chief minister Mamata Banerjee. In Maharashtra, the police can detain anyone who does something as harmless as question a bandh called by a certain political party after the death of its leader, held to be no less a hate-monger during his lifetime, while in neighbouring Mumbai, the cops might just stand mute spectators even when a mob attacks the cops themselves and go on a rampage, setting fire to police and media vehicles. If only to stop a throwback to the riotous 1992-93 days, that is.

In the national capital, the police of course would use water cannon, teargas and the good old baton against you if you dare to prolong a protest or lead a march to the doorsteps of the big guns on Raisina Hill. They can also throttle all attempts to protest at sites near the said no-go zone by clamping prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC for days on end.

So why were the police in Hyderabad, in fact all of Andhra Pradesh, treating Akbaruddin Owaisi with kid gloves for days before the courts asked them to get up and do what they are paid to do: policing, and restraining people from creating trouble or provoking others to create possible trouble?

Lack of political will? You bet, though political leaders like Andhra’s Reddy or his Maharashtra counterpart Prithviraj Chavan would use that very logic to say the police are independent of political interference. While that is eminently desirable, what is not is political fence-sitting or clueless political leadership, or even counting chickens to hatch in 2014 elections. Unfortunately, that is precisely what Kiran Reddy and Prithviraj Chavan seemed to be doing, as both states are due for polls next year and the ruling Congress party seems wary of being caught sleeping with the enemy. Or, perhaps, not sleeping with the friendly foe.



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