Questions Arise Over Police Inaction In Curbing ‘Agnipath’ Protests That Singed Bihar

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jun 19, 2022 09:29 PM +05:30 IST
Questions Arise Over Police Inaction In Curbing ‘Agnipath’ Protests That Singed BiharAnti-Agnipath protests in Bihar
  • Even as mobs attacked residences and vehicles of BJP leaders and party offices, the police remained mute spectators. Little was done to control and deter the mobs from getting violent.

Did Bihar police inaction in controlling protests against the new ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme trigger widespread violence that singed the state?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the dominant partner in the ruling alliance in the state, seems to think so. And the saffron party has made its displeasure over the role of the police, which comes under the Home Department that is under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s control, very clear.

While that has sparked another round of acrimony between the allies, there seems to be a lot of substance in the BJP’s allegations. Protests against the new recruitment scheme for the armed forces started in Bihar on 15 June, just a day after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced it.

Tens of thousands of angry young men targeted public property, primarily the railways, throughout the state. Passenger coaches, freight wagons, locomotives, train stations, and properties were attacked, ransacked, looted, and torched throughout the state. Riotous mobs attacked and set afire buses and cars, including police vehicles.

In addition, residences and cars of BJP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi and West Champaran Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Jaiswal (who is also the state BJP president) were attacked. BJP party offices were ransacked and torched in some parts of the state.

Even as mobs attacked residences and vehicles of BJP leaders and party offices, the police remained mute spectators. Little was done to control and deter the mobs from getting violent.

That is what led Jaiswal to question police inaction while speaking to the media on 18 June. Jaiswal was in his residence at Bettiah when it was attacked by an angry mob. “The attack on my residence was part of a deep-rooted conspiracy. Effective steps were not taken to control the mobs. Had police been strict, the mob could not have attacked my house,” he said.

Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi, whose residence was also attacked, said that the attackers were "goons of opposition parties and not those seeking recruitment in the armed forces."

Speaking to Swarajya, Jaiswal contended that Bihar witnessed the most violence. “What happened in Bihar over four days did not happen elsewhere in the country. In other states, the police were prompt in taking action against protestors and even sniffing out the instigators and arresting them. The strong police action in other states deterred protestors from indulging in the widespread violence that we have seen in Bihar over four days,” he said.

BJP leaders said that not only did the state police, which is directly under the control of Chief Minister Kumar, fail to act strongly against the protestors, but the fact that the riots continued for four days and the scale of violence in Bihar points to a complete failure of the police’s intelligence machinery.

“The violence could not have been spontaneous. Very few of the protestors were actually young men seeking to serve the armed forces. They (the mobs) were mainly lumpens and anti-socials. The violent protests were definitely well-planned and encouraged and instigated by some political parties. The police failed to expose the conspiracy and those behind it. That’s an abysmal failure and points to a complete collapse of the law and order machinery and the intelligence network,” Jaiswal said.

BJP legislator Sanjay Saraogi, one of the 10 BJP leaders in Bihar who were given Y-category security cover on 18 June by the Union government apprehending threat to their lives, described the failure of the state police under Nitish Kumar to foil violence or contain it as "colossal."

BJP leaders told Swarajya that the protestors seem to have received encouragement from the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U)’s opposition to the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme. On 15 June, even as violent protests broke out in many parts of Bihar, JD(U) president Rajiv Ranjan Singh voiced his party's opposition to the scheme and demanded its review.

“The JD(U)’s opposition (to ‘Agnipath’) acted as a direct encouragement to the protestors and was viewed as a licence to indulge in violence. The state administration, including the police, also took it as a hint to go soft on the riotous mobs and looked the other way as they attacked, looted, and torched public and private properties all over the state.

“There is no way such widespread violence could have taken place spontaneously without any planning and encouragement. The police failed to act and that’s shameful. The police acted as if they were told to remain mute spectators and take only extremely mild action against the rioters,” said Saraogi.

Retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Vikrant Singh agreed with this understanding. “The mobs were instigated and all that happened was part of a conspiracy. The police could have acted strongly against the protestors on the first day and that would have deterred further protests, or at least prevented protests from turning violent. But police inaction against the protestors on Day 1 encouraged the mobs to intensify their protests and violence,” he told Swarajya from Patna.

The Union government has also indicated its displeasure over the failure of the Bihar police and state administration to control the violence that raged for four days. Providing Y-category security cover and deputing central armed police forces (CAPF) guards for 10 state BJP leaders, including the Deputy Chief Minister, is a direct snub to the state administration and to the Bihar Chief Minister.

The Railways, which suffered extensive losses in Bihar, has also curtailed the movement of trains in the state between 8 pm and 4 am. That is also a snub to and censure of the state administration for its failure to protect railway properties in the state.

Perhaps stirred by the anger in the BJP camp, the state administration stirred into action Saturday evening and started making arrests. Senior state officials also said that they suspect the role of several coaching centres (who coach young men who want to join government services, including the armed forces) in the violence.

But this action — arrests and unearthing the role of instigators — should have come right after protests broke out on Wednesday. The delayed action lends credence to the BJP’s charges of deliberate inaction on the part of the state administration.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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