Will Bangalore Police please speak up?

By V.S. Karnic, IANS

Bangalore : Two high-profile bureaucratic postings in Bangalore are those of the police commissioner and the civic body commissioner. The two men – the posts have for a long time been a man only domain – belong respectively to the Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

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In India’s bureaucratic hierarchy, IAS is a notch higher than IPS. However in the case of Bangalore, the IPS man has invariably ended his tenure with fewer brickbats than the IAS man who heads the civic body.

But that may no longer be the case. The Bangalore link to the British terror plot now demands that the police chief of India’s IT capital be not only smart enough to outwit the would be plotters but also be highly media savvy too.

For the first two days after news broke out July 2 linking three highly educated Bangaloreans to the failed attacks in London and Glasgow, the city police machinery appeared to be clueless about what had happened.

In contrast, the media was in full flow, tracking down the residence of the three young men, including one who drove a jeep to the Galsgow airport, and talking to the family members, neighbours and teachers in the schools and colleges they had studied in.

Of course, except for the family members and teachers, all other reports in both the print and electronic media were attributed to unidentified sources. The impression was that the media was leading and feeding the police with information and not the other way round.

Police only strengthened such an impression by repeating: “Investigations are on, we have nothing more to add to what has already appeared in the media!”

It was only on July 5 that a police team went to the residence of Maqbool Ahmed and Zakhia Ahmed, the parents of the suspects Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed, in the middle class locality of Banashankari in Bangalore.

The police team led by Deputy Commissioner of Police S.R. Ravikante Gowda was in the Ahmed residence the next day too. But not a word on it came officially, though the media was full of reports on what the doctor couple had told the team.

Surprisingly nothing much came from either the British media or the British police on what they had gleaned from Sabeel.

Kafeel has not been questioned as he has suffered 90 percent burns, with police saying he drove the Jeep Cherokee into the Glasgow airport terminal building June 30.

Their doctor cousin, Mohammad Haneef, was the third to be detained on suspicion in Brisbane when he was leaving for India on a one-way ticket, ostensibly to see his newborn baby.

Only on Monday did the city police convene a formal press meet. It turned out to be a fiasco as the usually unruffled and affable Police Commissioner, N. Achuta Rao, and his senior colleagues had nothing much to say.

The commissioner read out a prepared statement, which only confirmed several points reported by the media already.

There was a volley of questions hurled at him and his colleagues. These did not elicit much of an answer as he kept saying that investigations were on and that he had nothing new to share with the media.

Joint Commissioner of Police Gopal Hosur intervened to say that “police sources” quoted in the media are “not police department sources”!

It turned out that the press conference was organised by the Crime Branch to give details of a crime in the city but the media thought it would be on the terror link and was present in full strength.

With news channels commanding more viewership than soap operas and news portals on the Internet updating news as it breaks out, the official machinery, civil or uniformed, may be better off sharing information with the media.

Granted that giving out information when the investigation is still on hampers the job and invites problems when the case goes to court, but you cannot shut the door on the media.

The near saturation coverage of the Bangalore-link has one link missing though.

One man and one aspect that have not figured at all in the reportage of the terror-link is that Karnataka does have an anti-terrorist squad (ATS) headed by an officer of the rank of inspector general of police (IGP). He does not seem to have figured even in a single frame of TV footage or been mentioned in the columns of newsprint devoted to detailing the terror link.

One can’t blame the media or the ATS for it. The squad is understaffed, ill-equipped and has been promised many things many times since the early 1990s when it was set up. And it has no great contribution to write home about.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at [email protected])