New Delhi, Aug 27 : It is both an irony and reassuring when H T Sangliana, a Mizo-born, Karnataka-cadre former IPS officer, says “we Kannadigas” have always been accommodating and welcoming of outsiders, and the recent events that forced people from the Northeast to flee Bangalore are an exception. In fact, the panic could have been nipped in the bud if the Karnataka police had been more responsive, he said. He should know.
Arguably Karnataka’s most famous police officer, Sangliana is also the most well-known among people from the Northeast who made Karnataka their home. A tough officer who became a legend while in service, he has served as the Bangalore police commissioner and was tasked to nab forest brigand Veerappan. He was the theme of three Kannada hit movies — the second and third were sequels — named after him.
Stories about him and his exploits, real and apocryphal, abound. Among them is one that three non-Mizos in Karnataka legally changed their names to Sangliana, taking him as their role model. The 1967-batch IPS officer became known as a “giant killer” when he defeated Congress veteran C K Jaffer Sharief in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket from Sharief’s bastion, Bangalore North.
Based in Delhi since the end of 2009 after he was appointed vice-chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, Sangliana said he was in Bangalore on August 15 on a private visit when people from the Northeast began fleeing the city. “Some trouble had started on August 12 itself,” Sangliana told The Indian Express, citing calls he got from northeastern people in the city as well as information passed on by a daughter who lives in Bangalore.
“Besides the rumours about imminent attacks, there were complaints of some Muslim boys stopping Mizo students and asking where they came from. Some others were teased or verbally threatened. One man called me up and said that some boys on a bike had shouted expletives at his wife,” Sangliana said. “Many such incidents were reported from several localities. In some places, swords and clubs were brandished, I am told.”
Many complained to the police verbally or by phone but local officers did not take them seriously, Sangliana said. “Even entries were not made in the station house diary saying there is no evidence,” he claimed. “It seems the police could not gauge the seriousness of the situation. If they had verified these complaints and taken some proactive steps, thousands from the Northeast could have been saved all the hardship.”
While some of the blame should rest with the inexperience of Karnataka’s political leadership, much of it is due to the lack of alacrity of the police, Sangliana said, even though the acting chief of Karnataka police, Lalrokhuma Pachau, is a fellow Mizo, 10 years junior and a good friend.
The episode though, Sangliana adds, has not shaken his faith in what he says is the “friendly and easily accepting” nature of Kannadigas even as he joins the national discourse and admits ignorance about people from the Northeast is widespread and they continue to be branded variously.
“When I joined and came to Karnataka in 1968, people thought I was Chinese,” he said. “When I went to villages in South Canara as a probationary officer, children would make fun of me by calling me ‘chi chi’ or ‘chu chu’. But I was confident they would grow up to understand that I am an Indian and a Kannadiga.”
Sangliana, 69, has spent 31 years in Karnataka — he retired as DGP (Prisons) in 2003 — and his four daughters were raised in the state, studying Kannada in school and learning Kannada songs from his orderlies. “They all speak Kannada. This sense of belonging has to be there, a sense of ownership,” he says, referring to the need for people from outside to integrate into the local culture.
He says he will return to Bangalore after his NCM term ends in December and is willing to return to politics if the people of Karnataka and his party, Congress, want him to. “One day, I will be buried or cremated in Bangalore,” he said. Sangliana was expelled from the BJP in 2008 after he voted in favour of the UPA government in the confidence motion linked to the civilian nuclear deal. He contested the 2009 polls on a Congress ticket from Bangalore Central but lost to the BJP candidate.
For now, Sangliana is writing to Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and other senior officials, requesting them to improve the efficiency of the police so that it is better prepared. He also wants the state government to appeal to educational institutions, employers and landlords to take back people from the Northeast who are returning to Bangalore. “Our friendliness has been the reason for people to come and work peacefully (in Bangalore). We have a mindset of accommodating people,” he said.