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With fresh evidence exposing the excessive tactics adopted by the local police in an incident earlier this month in the Maharashtrian town of Dhule, the state government needs to demonstrate its capacity to come to grips with the aftermath. On January 6, there occurred a spat over the settlement of a bill at a roadside eatery, which in no time took on the dimensions of a communal clash, leaving six persons, all of them Muslim, dead in police firing. That what appeared to be a rather unremarkable argument could claim such a toll is alarming enough and draws attention to the dangers of not addressing communal faultlines of the sort that appear to have defined Dhule, especially after riots in 2008. However, the stark picture that has now emerged — through video footage accessed by this paper — indicates much more than just incompetence in dealing with an altercation. It calls into question the police's conduct.
The footage shows police personnel going on a rampage to destroy private property and loot shops, and yet more chillingly, to defy the manual and shoot above the waist at persons in the crowd. With this sharpening picture of the police allegedly abdicating the basic rules of professional and impartial conduct, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan does not have the luxury of allowing the rhythms of routine inquiries to run their course before seizing the situation. He needs to urgently act on the emerging evidence of deliberate police aggression. In fact, the record suggests that a fair stock-taking will, of necessity, have to be anchored from outside the town. Reportedly, a chargesheet filed in the 2008 riots by the Dhule police had claimed as an established fact that Muslims were the masterminds behind all terrorist activities across India. It would be irresponsible to cast a communal colour on the police action without a thorough scrutiny — but when the identity of those felled in police action, in the street version of events, is not seen to be entirely incidental, there lie the makings of an administrative crisis that could spiral out of control.