Mumbai has been reeling under 15% water cuts that were imposed at the end of monsoons. For a long time residents had been complaining about how they couldnt get water at the top floors of their apartments or how the pressure was low. Its an open secret that there exists a powerful water mafia that has links to most political parties in the city. But ironically it is these same guys who come up with protests to show their 'concern' for the common man's problems.
First the BMC's ruling Shiv Sena took up the issue, trying to distance itself from the bureaucracy and claiming that they did not support the administration's idea of increasing the water cut to 30% and the resolution was rejected. (The lake levels at the end of monsoons showed a deficiency of 25% which the administration cited as the reason for imposing further cuts). Then in classic Sena style activists went and ransacked the office of the hydraulic engineer. The BMC was renovated just a couple of years back at an enormous cost but public property is everyone's property anyway. The Sena just fresh from an assembly defeat had to do something radical to assert their existence in their only remaining bastion in Mumbai.
But if there is a ruling party action there has to be an opposite and probably more spectacular action from the opposition. So Congress leader Nitesh Rane organised a massive protest march at the BMC under the umbrella of his NGO Swabhiman. Around 1000 people gathered outside the BMC premises carrying buckets and shouting slogans. The police had already somewhat anticipated the extent of the protest and had put up barricades near the BMC. But the unruly crowd broke through some 2-3 barricades in the city. The crowd was very agitated about the fact that while they got less water the high rises and commercial establishments got more water. There were people who told us that they received water only once in two days and that too only for half an hour. There were allegations of tampering, pilferage and unattended leakages.
While the issue was genuine, if you were at the location covering the protest, you would only see a bunch of drunk men who were shouting at the top of their voices and very few with a genuine concern for the issue. Many of us female journalists had to keep away because we were getting molested by the crowd. The crowd kept pushing against the final barricade and gave the 50-60 odd policemen standing there a hard time. After about two hours of the ruckus, the police finally resorted to lathi charge. The scene changed completely. Suddenly people were seen running for their lives.
Later we were told that one person died after the lathi charge. The minute the news spilled out, I saw many channels condemning the police action. Is there no value for a life? Demand for water gets blood and many other headlines. Yes, there is a value for every life. But what do you expect the police to do after trying to control a mad mob for around 2 hours peacefully? Had the police not lathicharged these people they would have got into the BMC office and then we would have seen the headlines crying is there no law and order in this country. While no death is justified, there is no method in a mob and sometimes striking back is the only option the police have.
And its not just protest marches, the mob mentality is visible every time there is a festival. You see the same crowd of drunk men shouting recklessly and trying to molest women be it Ganpati or Shab-e-barat. And if its a festival there is an even better justification for breaking the law - religion.
So what is an ill equipped police force supposed to do when a crowd that believes itself invincible threatens the peace of the city? Just sit and worry about political retaliation and villification by certain section of the media or protecting public property? The devil or the deep sea?