SRINAGAR: The frequent traffic jams, high beam lights, foot path encroachment and noise pollution of motor bikes, vehicles, rash driving, road stunts, congestion, red light jumping and VIP culture or we can say chaotic traffic system is decades old identity of state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Not only is this but the corruption in traffic department an old label to describe a traffic cop or an official working in the department. People living in the state had no option other than to get used to it as there seems no hope for an end to this nuisance.
The ruling regimes since decades remained helpless to set the traffic system right in the state. Many dedicated top rung traffic cops tried their hands to curb the traffic violations in the state but finally ends up at transfers or failures.
The twin capitals of Jammu and Srinagar are the major victim of this ironical failure of governance. It is believed that when Darbar (Secretariat) moves from Srinagar to Jammu or vice versa, people feels a sign of relief for sixth months in both regions to some extent.
The practice of bribe and fake Challans has become a legitimate task for cops and offenders. The messy, corrupt and congested traffic system has become a system within the system besides a part and parcel of the life in the state. Hence the government machinery and people in general have accepted it as a reality that can hardly change.
But the entry of an ‘Action Cop’ Basant Rath, the new Inspector General (traffic) of Jammu and Kashmir has brought a hope for better commuting. Basant has earned films names like ‘Singham’ and ‘Dabangh’ in few days of his real life action. However Basant has proven himself a name in real life which is seen as inspirational by many youth and government officers.
Many believe he is a no-nonsense officer and has set himself on the task of reforming traffic in Jammu and Srinagar. “Only in 90 days you will see the change.” But Basant’s pace on streets of Jammu and practical work has already yielded great results besides earned applauds.
Basant’s action videos are viral on internet. The viral videos indicate that wherever Basant appears huge crowd of people assembles to follow him for miles. In some videos it is seen Basant tell people ‘Don’t make me joke. Let me work’.
“I still hate looking at my face. The only regret I have is that I am short, just 5.6 feet. I will always hold this against God. I will ask him why he did not give me a good height,” he laments as reported by news18.
While in some Basant who is mostly seen reviewing the encroached streets, roads and parking lots is found making jokes of his baldness and sharing drinking water, ice creams with cops. Basant always seen on run on Jammu’s streets with number of cops ruining after him to meet his pace is also seen quickly giving Study Tips and future advices to children’s and their parents.
Basant also offer chocolates to kids as a token of love. Basant seems a bit arrogant to few but to many he is a real life inspiration and hero. Basant’s focus on traffic management, curbing violations and developing civic sense amid criticism and appreciation is attracting more support day by day from across the state.
On the first day of his new posting, Rath seized an Audi car from the family members of two senior IPS officers, much to the annoyance of the owners. The matter escalated with Rath lodging an FIR and later tweeting a photograph of the police complaint saying he has taken action against his “friend”.
A few days ago, a police car was caught by him the middle of a busy road in Jammu and challaned for not having a number plate much to the surprise of the officers and bystanders.
For calling spade a spade, Basant is often described as crazy, arrogant, controversial or even ‘Singham’ and ‘Dabang’. But he says such remarks do not bother him. “I love my job and I do it with passion. I am not flustered by anyone. I follow the rulebook, I am answerable to the people and have respect for democracy and our judiciary,” he says as quoted by new18.
Twelve days into his new assignment as the traffic in-charge, Basant is often seen directing traffic on the Jammu streets by himself. A man of a small frame and unique style, Basant likes to keep his head shaved “so that people remember his unique appearance for a long time”.
In one of his recent tweet Basant had warned policemen against violating traffic rules. “My dear seniors who think I’m all gas on Facebook and Twitter and no guts on streets. Please ask your PSOs to drive their bikes without wearing helmets. I’ll ruin their day. And yours. I don’t think I love you,” he had said in a post on social media.
He hasn’t been shy about expressing himself either. “Using helmets while driving was like using condoms as both were meant for protection,” Rath had recently said, drawing a lot of criticism. Congress legislator Usman Majeed called this an “indecent and insensitive” post and accused Rath of acting like a goon, demanding his immediate attachment.
To this, Rath responded by saying that he is a human and is in a hurry. Rath added that he expects himself to commit mistakes but also to learn lessons from it. “I promise I’ll improve Jammu’s traffic situation. And myself,” he had said without mentioning Majeed.
Rath promises that in 90 days, Jammu and Srinagar will emerge as two of the best Indian cities in terms of traffic management. “I need your active cooperation. I’m asking for it. Because I know for a fact I deserve it. I deserve a chance. We deserve a chance,” he said.
Meanwhile, the common man on Srinagar roads, who are allergic to rash driving, road stunts, congestion, red light jumping and VIP culture are jubilant.
He tweets, “Good morning, Srinagar. I’ll come to you this week. I plan to target the cops who think traffic rules are not meant for them. If they don’t wear helmets, if they don’t respect traffic lights, if they think their bikes are aircrafts, I’ll make things unbearably difficult for them”.
The social media has been flooded with memes and jokes ever since Rath took over as IGP (traffic). “Ab na toh fogg chal raha hai na hi jio Abhi toh bas Basant Rath ka khouf chal raha hai,” a netizen said on his Facebook page, apparently referring to a popular advertisement of a perfume brand.
Yet, this isn’t the first time that Basant has found himself amid controversy. In 2016-17, he had written articles for The Wire and The Indian Express, which were labelled as ‘dangerously critical of the government policy’ and ‘brazen violation of the IPS service conduct Rules’ by the IB. The Ministry of Home Affairs had also asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to take strong ‘disciplinary action’ against Rath.
The IG Basant (traffic) who started his new job on February 9, is not affected by any of this. “Dear politically well-connected interest groups, my name is Basant. I do what I do,” he had recently said, adding that his work would speak for himself.
As reported by the Quint, while the state government slept over the communication from the MHA – which regulates the IPS – on 8 February 2018, it silently elevated Rath to the rank of IGP and appointed him chief of the Traffic Police.
Sources as per the Quint revealed that the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Basant Rath’s rank promotion, upon his entering 18th year of IPS, had been previously cleared by a Departmental Promotion Committee (DPC) and its recommendation needed Cabinet’s approval. In the evening, the government announced the rank promotion of some senior IPS officers and a reshuffle in the police.
According to these sources, senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister, Dr Nirmal Singh, and an IGP, met the Chief Minister separately and pushed for Rath’s appointment as IGP Traffic.
“Sources in the MHA maintained that the state government has neither responded to the communications from North Block, nor initiated any action against the IPS officer. Upon learning about Rath’s elevation, the MHA is understood to have sought an answer from the J&K government as to why action had not been taken against the IPS officer and how he had been conversely given a rank promotion” the quit reports.
Hailing from Odisha, Rath says he comes from an extremely poor background where his parents and siblings did not have enough to eat, but the hardship and sacrifice of his mother made him what he is today.
“I saw electricity for first time when I was 11, touched a phone at 19 and started speaking English at 22. It has been a consistent struggle,” the 2000-batch IPS officer told news18.
An alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Rath has also penned some controversial articles and poems on Kashmir, for which the intelligence agencies wanted the government not to post him on important assignments.
The IPS officer says he is not a very social person but is fond of reading and writing. His favourite writers are polish poet Maria Wislawa and Saadat Hassan Manto, who he keeps quoting in his viral tweets. He adds, he is a great fan of Pakistani cricketer Javeed Miandad.
“I love him for hitting sixes on the last ball of a match. He was a steely cricketer with a killer instinct and arrogance.”
Rath says he never felt like an outsider in Jammu and Kashmir and considers it his second home. He says he relates to the problems of Kashmiris just because he has been nurturing a similar pain and victimhood since his childhood. “I am aware of the history as well.”
Influenced by the late Kashmiri-American poet Aga Shahid Ali, Rath’s first poem, titled Pindi, Pindi, Pindi was based on the flood of Kashmiri youth crossing the LoC in 1989 to get arms and training from Pakistan.
Pindi, Pindi, Pindi, by Basant Kumar Rath
I’m 1989 and old enough
To trek all night
In an unknown forest
Among the known mountains
Under the moth-eaten moons.
No drinking water.
No candy wrapper.
No smoking. No coughing.
No humming of a wedding song.
Under the sleeping eyes
Of a night vision device
May the light machine gun sleep long.
Here’s another of Rath’s poems:
You are seven shocked policemen
Who came to collect fifty eight dead bodies.
Angry but helpless, helpful but unlucky,
They loaded the truck and drove
To the police control room.
Rath has regularly written on a number of contentious political issues of the Valley. He has written about the alleged mass graves in Kashmir, as well as the CRPF’s action in January 1990, that led to the deaths of over 50 Kashmiri demonstrators. Some commenters and social media users have labelled Rath as “anti-national”, “pro-Azaadi”, “pro-Kashmiri”, “rebellious” and even “traitor”. Rath remained unaffected and in one of his articles, published in The Indian Express, Rath mounted a scathing attack on TV anchor Arnab Goswami.
Even after the IB’s inquiry against him, Rath wrote over a dozen articles for The Wire without seeking the government’s permission. He continues to be a regular contributor to the online news portal.
In its report, the IB has mentioned that Rath’s “seditious” articles in The Indian Express and The Wire could have “serious consequences” over the morale and discipline of the police and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.