Delhi Violence
Delhi Violence
(Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

Mumbai: It is seldom that Home Minister Amit Shah takes a back seat, but he did just that on Wednesday, even as Delhi was counting the dead.

What was even more extraordinary is that a sprightly 75-year-old National Security Advisor Ajit Doval – who had enough on his plate during Donald Trump’s visit and likes to stay in the shadows -- made a subtle appearance, visiting the flashpoints at Seelampur, Jafrabad, Maujpur and Gokulpuri chowk.

True, after 24 deaths, the public perception needs to be managed and for that there has to be a semblance of control. But the NSA is the last person who should be conducting a road show, visiting ‘thanas’ and giving tutorials on how policing needs to be done.

Messaging is important but the NSA – despite his enviable status as the government’s primary trouble shooter -- could have restored the functional autonomy of the police by his backroom advisories and Shah could have sent home the message that this is a no-nonsense government which will not allow riots to blot its copybook.

“People were doubting the capabilities and intentions of Delhi Police. This needs to be addressed. People need to trust the men in uniform,” said Doval, while speaking with a television channel.

The NSA lost no time and held two meetings at the DCP Seelampur office and went into a huddle with the other top cops, including Special CP SN Shrivastava, who was repatriated from CRPF just the other day and has the requisite experience for managing riot-like situations.

But Doval's brief exceeded beyond taking stock of the situation. He met young students, including an eleven-year-old girl, and assured her that things will return to normal.

He also reiterated on every occasion that the Delhi police is capable of handling any eventuality. These are tasks that PM Modi ought to have entrusted to his lieutenant Shah; but, somewhere, it was felt politically imperative to push him in the shadows and allow Doval to take centre stage.

“People have a sense of unity, there is no enmity. A few criminals take advantage and people are trying to isolate them. There will be peace in the city,” asserted Doval, who mostly reserves his sermons for seminars organised by right-wing bodies.

Of course, PM Modi trusts Doval immensely. He has expertise in tackling challenges related to insurgency, conflict and terrorism. A man with an ear to the ground, even after the abrogation of Article 370, his services were requisitioned for putting the house in order.

His knowledge of Urdu, Punjabi, as well as his long experience of handling situations in Muslim areas, can always come handy.

Delhi CM Kejriwal had urged that the Army be requisitioned. However, the optics of the army entering the national capital would have officially validated the intelligence failure. Furthermore, the army would have got the credit for bringing the violence under control, not the political establishment.

This was one perception faux pas that neither PM Modi nor Home Minister Amit Shah can afford, especially in the wake of the election defeat in Delhi. But some internal security experts believe that the entry of the NSA is also an admission of the abject failure of the state police machinery and its intelligence system.

“Doval is a hands-on intelligence man. He is a taskmaster who responds with alacrity,’’ said an internal security expert based in the national capital. “There is some lacuna and the NSA is here to fill it,” he added.

Whatever the compulsions, Home Minister Amit Shah has been reduced to becoming a back room man. Shah's ‘divisive’ utterances during the recently concluded Delhi polls have also not helped matters.

It is believed that after the violence subsides SN Shrivastava may take over the reins of the Delhi police from Amulya Patnaik, the current top cop in the capital.

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