The Maratha agitation and the SC-ST protests have deep-rooted causes.
In recent times, violence by organised elements has caught national attention. No less striking has been the inability or the failure of the organs of the state — including the judiciary — to take any meaningful step that may act as deterrence even if complete prevention or stoppage may appear impractical.
It is this context that may excite public scepticism with the state apparatus, although a bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal last Friday expressed dismay over the state of affairs, exactly what we may expect any well-intentioned institution or individual to do.
They were concerned with public violence when we see mobs or organised individuals causing destruction of third party property — that is property of individuals or governmental assets. They were hearing a petition from earlier this year which concerned members of a particular caste group indulging in violence over the film Padmaavat.
In the first place, it is instructive that the troublemakers have long gone home. The PIL relating to that sorry episode is being taken up many months too late. In a country where a million mutinies are erupting all the time, violence related to that film is now stale news, and is unlikely to bring forth fruitful policy actions or help punish any of the key troublemakers.
A real infirmity of the A-G’s case, and a weakness of the bench hearing him, is the amorphous nature of the pleading and the failure of judges to note thus. Mr Venugopal in his wisdom mixed up the Padmaavat case with the SC-ST agitation, the ongoing Maratha agitation for reservation, and the recent violence by Kanwariya — the so-called Shiva devotees who were in reality armed hoodlums who appeared to enjoy patronage of the Uttar Pradesh government — violence that recently rocked UP and Delhi.
Each is a different malady. Mechanically looking only at the aspect of destruction of property, and thinking that making the top police officer of the area accountable will solve the issue, as the A-G suggested, appears to be a case of wishful thinking. This may even be muddled thinking which gives the wrongdoers a free pass.
The Maratha agitation and the SC-ST protests have deep-rooted causes. In such contexts, purposeful wielding of the police danda is unlikely to do the trick, and may even make such agitations intensify. On the other hand, meaningful police action in the case of the Padmaavat and Kanwariya violence could have proved effective.
But the police are unlikely to stick their neck out when those enjoying the benevolence of the ruling party and the state are the ones causing trouble. In the Friday hearing, the spate of cow-related violence in the country found no mention. That may have been the perfect situation for the A-G and their lordships to recommend police accountability.