The Uttar Pradesh police claims that the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in the state were engineered by the Kerala-based radical Islamist organisation, PFI (Popular Front of India). That claim, however, runs into several serious logical inconsistencies and difficulties, raising doubts on its veracity.
The violence left at least 19 people dead and nearly 300 policeman injured (the UP DGP has claimed many of them have firearm injuries). Over 1,000 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement and over 100 notices have been issued for recovery of damages to public property.
The police have arrested PFI’s state head Wasim, besides 25 workers, and sought a ban on the outfit from the Union home ministry. For all we know, the claim of their involvement might be true. However, if it is indeed so, the question is what the state intelligence department and the Intelligence Bureau were doing all these years. How is it that the PFI – which until last year was believed to have a strong presence only in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, with links in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, West Bengal and Jharkhand – has developed such an effective organisation and resources in UP, while the intelligence community remained blissfully unaware?
Let us face it, if the PFI has been able to mastermind, instigate and organise violent protests on such a large scale, both in terms of their geographical spread and intensity, this requires several prerequisites. First, they would need a huge organisation with considerable outreach. A few masterminds, however intelligent they be, would find it extremely difficult to pull off such a feat using, say, their mobile phones, and sitting in some office or in a university, as the police claim.
The intelligence agencies obviously had no idea of PFI’s organisational spread and capacity before the violence, or they had grossly underestimated it. If they claim that they knew about it, they would be guilty of an act of omission in not having taken action against them before they could strike.
Second, PFI must have had a very large number of workers, supporters or conscious sympathisers across the state. After all, during the violence, people came out on the streets in large numbers. If the claim of the riots having been ‘organised’ is true, it would follow that these were not spontaneous rioters. It is difficult to believe that the PFI could have had such a hypnotic mass appeal amongst the people that the mere mention of its name or views by word of mouth was enough to galvanise men disinterested until yesterday into rioting and arson.
Third, it requires considerable time to develop such an organisation and capacity to motivate people on a large scale. We cannot expect an organisation, however great, to be able to organise riots in several places on short notice. This means that PFI must have been preparing and conspiring for quite some time. Obviously, the intelligence agencies were blissfully unaware all along. If they say that they were aware, the question would be why did they not do anything to prevent it.
Fourth, the police claim that as many as 405 spent cartridge cases fired by the rioters have been recovered. This means that illegal firearms and other implements of rioting must have been hoarded across the state on a large scale for quite some time. Since no significant recoveries of firearms were made before the riots, it means that the police had no idea of the people hoarding such weapons as well as their locations.
Fifth, if we accept the claim that the police knew that the PFI was active for the past two years in Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bijnor, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich, Varanasi, Azamgarh and Sitapur etc., and yet they did not take any action against them, it would mean that the activities were not found to be serious enough. It would also mean that eventually, they were taken by complete surprise.
A nation does not create intelligence agencies and spend untold millions on them just to ‘enlighten’ the nation with the obvious after an intelligence failure. Would you like a doctor telling the relatives of a dead patient that she died of cancer but unfortunately, it was only after her death that they came to know what she was suffering from?
To sum up, if we accept the UP police’s claim that the PFI was the mastermind of the anti-CAA riots, it can mean only three things. First, the state intelligence department and the IB are so utterly incompetent that they had no inkling of the PFI and its nefarious designs until such time that the violence erupted. Second, that the police are just trying to divert people’s attention from the fundamental issues raised by the anti-CAA protests by raising the bogey of an anti-national/communal organisation being the source of all evil. Third, both the above.
N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala and a long-time ADG CRPF and BSF. Views are personal.