Delhi Police, tempo driver street fight turns political; BJP unhappy with Akali Dal MLA's outburst against Centre, cops

Pallavi Rebbapragada
Residents and eyewitnesses reject that the Delhi tempo driver was assaulted because he was Sikh, stating petty violence over transport is a local occurrence in Mukherjee Nagar where the incident took place on Monday

A day after video clips of a group of policemen thrashing a Gramin Sewa (passenger tempo carrier service) driver who had pulled out a kirpaan and attacked them went viral on social media, the Delhi Police registered cross FIRs against the driver and the policemen involved in the incident.

Till now, three policemen have been suspended in the case. A group of protesters who had gathered outside the Mukherjee Nagar Police Station on Sunday evening allegedly attacked Assistant Commissioner of Police KG Tyagi.

Jaspreet Matta, who is the co-convener of BJP Delhi's Sikh Cell and happens to be a resident of Mukherjee Nagar, says the situation was under control within an hour.

"I don't understand the need to politicise the incident in the name of religion. I, along with RP Singh (convener of the Sikh Cell) had gone and met MoS for Home Affairs G Krishna Reddy who gave clear orders to the ACP to take charge of the situation," said Matta, adding that DCP Vijayanta Goyal Arya conversed with them in Punjabi and repeatedly assured them that she will take immediate action.

Matta questioned Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh's close aide Baljit Singh Daduwal's involvement in protests against the police.

"When the Sikh Cell and local leaders are ensuring justice is delivered then why are leaders and representatives from other states jumping in to escalate the matter, which will only incite communal tensions?" said Matta.

Among those who criticised the police also include Manjinder Sirsa, Shiromani Akali Dal MLA from Rajouri Garden. Sources within Delhi BJP revealed that the party's Delhi unit isn't unhappy at the way Sirsa lashed out at the police and the central government without understanding the motive behind the violence.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the saffron party, out of its respect for Parkash Singh Badal has been tolerating junior Akali ministers who are quick to radicalise Sikh voters.

Locals blame congestion, influx of outstation students

However, locals claim that petty violence over transport is commonplace in the Mukherjee Nagar where the incident took place, lamenting that instead of seeing it as a civic and transport problem, the incident has been turned into a communal issue.

"The incident didn't happen because the motive was to attack a Sikh. Violence was the result of the municipal mess that is Mukherjee Nagar. The congested streets are unable to bear the brunt of autos and Gramin Sewa tempos," said Alok, a shop keeper and resident from this North Delhi neighbourhood.

Over the years, Mukherjee Nagar had evolved into a hub for civil service aspirants studying at Delhi University. The area is adjacent to the University's North Campus. Today, the area also has a large population of IIT-JEE and police forces aspirants.

The influx of students has added to not just population in the area but also increased pressure on local transport.

There are two stretches on which Gramin Sewas and autos run €" Burari to GTB Nagar and Gandhi Vihar to Haqeeqat Nagar Red Light. Typically, a Gramin Sewa is supposed to be a cheaper mode of transport (Rs 10) than an auto rickshaw (Rs 50) and can load up to six passengers. Given the heavy flow of passengers on these routes, the vehicles load up to 10 people, sometimes even more by bribing the traffic police on patrolling duty.

"The students prefer Gramin Sewa service because the fare is less but since these vehicles need a minimum number of passengers, they load up more passengers to be able to sustain themselves. Poor people drive Gramin Sewa tempos. This is a matter of survival for them," said Vijay, a civil service aspirant from Bihar.

Recently, the Delhi Government has announced its plan to hike the Gramin Sewa fares, which were last revised 10 years ago. A delegation of Gramin Sewa tempo drivers had met Arvind Kejriwal and apprised him of the situation wherein route constraints are put to restrict the movement of this relatively cheaper mode of transport.

"Petty violence over transport is commonplace here. It has been given a communal angle this time but which government is doing anything to address the everyday crisis that has led to the violence in the first place?" asked Ashok Dhawan, a local resident.

Pointing at a long queue of Gramin Sewa tempos and auto rickshaws parked outside the Mukherjee Nagar Metro Station Number 2, another resident Sanjay Talwar alleged that the police takes "hafta (a weekly bribe)" for these vehicles to be able to park along the tiny roads. Adding to the traffic woes, there are four bus depots in the area €" one DTC bus depot, one Haryana Roadways bus depot and two cluster bus depots. Owing to the congestion, the DTC bus route was diverted away from the area.

"Mukherjee Nagar is a municipal mess and it isn't able to bear the brunt of migration. Sadly, it is religion that is being highlighted and not the circumstances that led to the violence," rued Talwar.

Poor policing fuelled rage, claims resident

A local reisdent who claimed to be an eye-witness shared with Firstpost a picture of the cracked head of the police official who was beaten up by the Sikh man along with the video of the police station from that night.

Claiming to have been the one who dialed '100' at around 6.42 pm on 16 June, he shared that the police made a mistake by guarding their own personnel instead of quelling the rage.

"In this case, the victim wasn't unarmed and this case is far more complicated because the police can defend themselves by saying they attacked in self-defense," he said.

When an incident is lent a religious spin, it plays with the sentiments of a community. Some members of the Sikh community showed up in support of the victims from West Delhi's Rajouri Garden (from where Sirsa is the sitting MLA). Among them was Ranjit Singh, a shopkeeper from Bhogal in South Delhi who was reportedly brutally attacked by unidentified men in 2014 (in the same area).

He claims that though he complained, the police didn't offer him any relief and alleged that DCP South East Delhi Mandeep Randhawa even distorted the facts of the case. In the hope that the Sikh community would raise his cause aggressively, Singh had even shared proof of him being beaten up by the police. But, soon, the protesters moved on and he and his wife were left screaming on the road, alone.

With less than a year to go for the Delhi Assembly elections, Sikh leaders in Delhi are making an obvious attempt to gain political capital instead of committing themselves to resolve the issues leading up to such incidents.

When asked what these protesters are seeking at the police station after FIRs have been lodged and action has been taken, Manjeet Singh, a driver from Pitampura (North West Delhi), said all he wants is that Amit Shah "tweet about the incident".

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