Former DGP and adviser to the Governor of Uttarakhand ALOKE LAL, in an interview with SAURABH TANKHA, talks about the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya being a monumental failure of the security forces, those who deserve to be brought to justice are protected and losing some comrades to violence. All this and more has been talked about at length in his upcoming book, The Kanpur Inferno
Brief us about The Kanpur Inferno.
The Kanpur Inferno, my second book, co-authored by my son Maanas, has at its fulcrum my experiences as Deputy Inspector General of Police, Kanpur. I was posted to Kanpur soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The social fabric of the city was in shreds and communal chasms were deeper than ever. In this backdrop, a series of blasts rocked the city in the February of 1994 accounting for a right-wing politician named ‘Kala Bachcha’ nom de guerre of Munna Sonkar. He had risen like a phoenix from the ashes as a leader of the khatik community during the violence that followed the razing of Babri Masjid. My efforts in reinvigorating a demoralised police, developing reliable informers, fending off political interests and investigating the actual murder form the core of the book. I am thrilled to have a premier publisher like Bloomsbury on board. For this, I am grateful to the Book Bakers Literary Agency who also pitched my debut book, The Barabanki Narcos.
The Kanpur Inferno is said to be “a gripping true story of how a demoralised and broken police was thrust into a battle zone to control an inevitable bloodbath”. What makes you say the police force was broken and demoralised?
The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was a monumental failure of the security forces; and it was the result of a political climate deliberately created to widen communal fault lines for electoral gains. The force was struggling to overcome this unforgettable shock when massive riots gripped Kanpur city. Riots were commonplace even earlier, but in the post-demolition riots we lost many of our comrades to the violence. There were several criminal strongholds in the city over which the city’s police exercised only a tenuous control; consequently the reputation of the police was in tatters. The most unfortunate development was a lack of trust within the ranks of the force which proved very difficult to restore. Politicking was its absolute worst and the police had virtually zero functional autonomy. Building esprit de corps in these circumstances was one of the biggest challenges of my 37-seven year long career.
The most unfortunate development was a lack of trust within the ranks of the force which proved very difficult to restore. Politicking was its absolute worst and the police had virtually zero functional autonomy
Why was it an inevitable bloodbath? Couldn’t the situation be kept under control by police action?
The history of Kanpur city, especially post-1980s, has many instances of widespread rioting triggered by a communal incident. In this case, a saffron leader, seen as a champion of the Hindutva cause in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, was killed in a series of blasts by suspected Muslim assailants. A violent reaction of formidable dimensions was certainly on the cards. Traditional methods of policing rarely yield results in such dire circumstances. I can claim that we were able to beat the odds and deliver a city fairly under control when it was sitting on a short fuse.
How difficult is it to work in an atmosphere when you want to take action but are bound by orders from politicians and laws, some of which are archaic?
As the most visible arm of the government, the police remain under the scanner of the public at large. The political leadership knows the damage potential of any failure of police and is never comfortable to leave the force with even a semblance of functional autonomy. That’s why the expectation is compliance of orders which may at times not be strictly true to legal propriety. Such occasions are most unwelcome for the police. In communal violence, the politician assesses the potential for loss of support, and the action is therefore tailored to that need. The unfortunate outcome is that those who deserve to be brought to justice are protected, and these criminals survive to be out in the open to do more damage when such situations pop up again.
Kala Bachcha, a saffron icon, enjoyed the support of the political parties who believe in the Hindutva ideology. The so-called secular parties, on the other hand, considered him to be anything but a friend
Does it happen that you can take action in a certain situation, law-permitting, but are told to restrain and how frustrating can it be?
There’s no doubt that the political leadership restrains the hand of the police and that at times it is frustrating. Take the case of Kala Bachcha, a saffron icon. He enjoyed the support of the political parties who believe in the Hindutva ideology. The so-called secular parties, on the other hand, considered him to be anything but a friend. As if this is not irksome enough, should such a character switch his allegiance, then such equations assume yet another complexity.
How challenging is it to have a set of “right” people around you and with you?
The good thing is that there are always some dependable guys in the police setup and outside whom you can trust. Experience gives you the confidence that you can identify them. The success of leadership in the police is almost always the outcome of inspired team work.
Why did a situation of mutiny in the police lines arise?
Not many people understand that policemen are an emotional lot. Their team spirit is high, and the loss of any comrade brings forth strong emotions. In the case of Kanpur, the long spell of seemingly unending communal tension, and the exacting preparations for elections to the state assembly were the underlying factors. It was, however, the brutal killing of a constable in the Muslim-dominated area. The recovery of his much mutilated dead body from a municipal drain added to an already combustible situation. As if this was not enough, an insensitive comment was made by one of the officers which made all hell break loose.
Did you get threats back then?
The life of every policeman is implicitly under threat in communal situations. A phone call here, an incident there should never deter the work of an honest officer. Having said that, actual attempts were made on my life including an acid attack.
What role does your family play amid all this chaos happening around?
I am fortunate that my wife and son have both been very understanding in appreciating that time away from duty is a rare luxury for a police officer. They have been sources of much needed strength to shore up my morale whenever such a need has arisen. The fact that my son Maanas is a co-author of a volume containing my experiences as a police officer underlines the fact that he has been a close and interested observer of my triumphs and travails in that capacity.
It’s hard to describe how rewarding it is to bring a criminal to justice. In the end, the satisfaction that one sees on the faces of the victims of the crime is the reward that one aspires for most
What are your feelings when your untiring efforts result in a culprit getting booked?
It’s hard to describe how rewarding it is to bring a criminal to justice. The process for such successes is long, investigations are seldom a cake walk, and the process of trials is another demanding domain. In the end, the satisfaction that one sees on the faces of the victims of the crime is the reward that one aspires for most.
Your debut book, The Barabanki Narcos, is being made into a web series. Share some details.
The Barabanki Narcos is the narration of the story of the largest opium hauls ever made. I am naturally proud of that achievement. I am so glad that the story is poised to reach a huge number of viewers through the book’s visual adaptation. The book is in the hands of the script writers who have been in touch with me on and off to fill some gaps that they find in the details. I am hopeful that in a few months, the web series will be out for the viewers to see.