When Mr Ambarish did a better job than Mr Bidari

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: I love Karnataka.

I love Kannada, I love Kannadigas.

I love Bangalore, I love Mysore.

I loved Raj Kumar, I loved Vishnuvardhan.

But I have to say this on the morning after: I don’t love Bangalore Police.

Like the rest of the film-loving humanity, I sat glued watching Vishnuvardhan’s funeral procession and cremation on television yesterday. And, after seeing the clumsy, chaotic and disgraceful send-off to a graceful and gentle man, it gives me no joy to report that Karnataka Police advertised their incompetence, ineptitude and inefficiency to the world.

Yet again.

We had seen it before, of course, after Raj Kumar’s death: When the so-called top cops of Bangalore, the fat cats—Ajay Kumar Singh, Bipin Gopalakrishna et al—were captured on camera looking like circus buffoons who had been run over by a Reva.

Four years down the line, if you thought the new lot would have learnt their lesson from that experience, well, think again.

From what I could gather from the TV images, the scene at Abhiman Studio when Vishnuvardhan’s mortal remains arrived, was no better than what it is when the early-morning vegetable trucks arrive at Kalasipalya.

Only, this time, there was a different set of fat cats presiding over the sad spectacle: chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa and his flunkeys, and Bangalore police commissioner, Shankar Bidari.

Make no mistake, the police had to counter surging crowds and all the attendant troubles from early morning. And all through the funeral procession, they had to counter the stonethrowing, the vandalism, the arson, etc.

The inability of the police to counter the mobs in these circumstances, I could somehow understand. Because there was no way the police could have sanitised the entire route. Because excessive use of force can result in even worse damage.

As S.V. Rajendra Singh Babu’, the director of such fine films as Bandhana and Muttina Haara, said on TV: “Civilised behaviour somehow seems to be far beyond us on occasions like these,” and there was little the police could do to retrieve it.

What I could not and cannot understand for the life of me is how poorly prepared, how utterly unprepared the police and other authorities were at the cremation ground, where they had all the time in the world before the body arrived.

Especially after the Raj Kumar experience.

# There was no clearly demarcated area for the family to conduct the final rites or watch the proceedigs.

# There were no barricades to segregate different sections of the crowd—VIPs, Press, general spectators—from each other.

# There were clearly not enough policemen to keep nuisance makers and gatecrashers at bay.

# And there was absolutely no leadership at the very top as the situation developed.

Obviously, crowd management is not as easy as sitting in front of a computer and banging a few words in anger. But to see the CM and the top cops making a show of “personally inspecting” the funeral preparations and then to see such a mockery in the end was a shame.

“So what, no one died,” you might say.

Well, yes, no one died but that wasn’t because of the police.

No one died because Vishnuvardhan’s great friend, Ambarish, showed what a truly great friend he was by picking up the microphone and driving some sense into the skulls of frenzied fans.

As for our police, they were too busy sucking up to the VIPs to bother with Bharati Vishnuvardhan or her daughters, or Vishnuvardhan’s close friends and relatives.

Or, they were just content to watch the stars like awestruck spectators, like they do at one-day international matches at the KSCA.

Shame, I say.

If pictures of the widow and family having to fight their way through crowds doesn’t make you angry, if pictures of ‘Rockline’ Venkatesh and Shivaram having to shoulder bystanders to pour ghee on the funeral pyre doesn’t make you angry, I would say we deserve the kind of police we get.

Maybe, organising star funerals is not the raison d’etre of the police. Maybe they shouldn’t be judged by how smoothly a funeral procession goes. Then again, if Karnataka Police can’t handle a funeral procession properly, I can well understand why Veerappan was so far beyond their reach.

And for so long.

Photograph: ‘Rockline’ Venkatesh (second from left) staves off bystanders while the chief minister’s “parliamentary secretary”, A.Ramadas, stations himself strategically for the cameras, as Bharati Vishnuvardhan bids a final goodbye to her departed husband (Karnataka Photo News)