Talk of the Town: Basant Rath

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In Picture - Basant Rath, former IGP Traffic Kashmir

What happens to a cult in a conflict zone called Kashmir? Maybe, he ends up meeting the fate of the poet police.

By Hafsa Mir

Hardly any protest campaign in solidarity with police official was taken out in Kashmir in recent past. But Basant Rath who freely expresses his love for Srinagar through his perceptive poems became an exception when he lately drew both online and offline campaign, following his dramatic ouster over the cabbage comment.

Rath was confined to his polemic policing on the virtual media when he was given charge of the messy traffic scenario of the state early this year. His proclivity for calling spade a spade made him quite popular among netizens. His write-ups against government’s controversial policies, pseudo campaigns and jingoistic newsmen only cut an unconventional cop’s image of him.

But for the 2000-IPS batch officer from Odisha, the bigger playing field as cop came with his elevation as IGP Traffic (J&K).

Soon, as he started manning traffic on Jammu roads, the baldy top cop donning black gym suit became some kind of spectacle on streets. The average build officer drew crowds, as well as flak, for displeasing the status-quoists.

He didn’t think twice before ordering bulldozing of illegal traffic bottlenecks. Despite facing a lawsuit from Jehangir Hotel management for tearing down their sidewalk entrance, he stood unfazed and went on his business usual.

On the streets of Srinagar, Rath was a different cop. He would be jostled and crowded for Selfies, like a celebrity. At times, he would be seen hugging his traffic-regulating juniors and commoners. This behaviour was departure from the usual, which made Rath a people’s police.

But his growing popularity among masses did sour some of his contemporaries, who during private meetings would take a jibe at the “taklu for being overambitious”. Many would even dismiss Rath as the comical cop, who “was out there to amuse the glum commune with his street antics”.

Such loud talk, however, hardly hampered the cop in black — who would take a dig at Virat Kohli, only to face irate fringe protesters at Jammu. But then, that would hardly stop him from expressing his love for Pak legend, Javed Miandad.

He would even gladly distribute goodies among soccer spectators in Srinagar and break into shy smile, when the same crowd would laugh and jeer at the sportive “Than’ni Kala”—the bald—remark hurled on him. Even as his detractors would denounce him for “belittling” his position, what Rath was doing, many said, needed courage.

But then, it just took one ‘cabbage’ tweet—in reaction to Srinagar mayor Junaid Mattu’s wetland remark—which became an alibi for the controversial governor Satya Pal Malik to remove Rath as IGP Traffic, and send him indoors, where apparently, he’s again romancing with the virtual world.

The popular police officer’s unceremonious exit not only stalled the street spectacle, but also robbed state of a “goodwill brand ambassador”—who, sans investment on Sadbhavna style, had made inroads in the defiant population.

His ouster only vindicated the wide spread belief in Kashmir that Delhi is hell-bent on cutting the cults to size in Vale.

This story first appeared in December Print Issue of The Indus Post.

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