Will Somnath Bharti’s ‘Khirki incident’ be what ‘Plebgate’ was for Andrew Mitchell?

27 Jan

As an NRI in UK watching the ‘Khirki Incident’ playing out on our TV screens is like déjà vu for it reminds me of the infamous ‘plebgate‘ incident which we witnessed September 2012 involving our own government minister Andrew Mitchell and the policemen guarding the entrance to Downing Street. In the end the plebgate incident boiled down to a police officers word against a government ministers word as to what was or was not alleged to have been said in the heated exchange of words.

andrew michell

Khirki Incident

In Delhi we have the law minister for the newly elected local government(AAP) Somnath Bharti taking on the local police in their failure to act against ‘unsocial’ elements in the residential neighbourhood of Khirki, which some residents alleged were involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. The local residents had complained for many months that some african settlers in their colony were responsible for these criminal activities but claimed the police was failing to act against them because the police ‘benefitted-in-kind’ from the proceeds of these crimes. The newly appointed law minister who had recently been elected from this constituency on the promise of delivering rule-of-law and justice to his constituents took it upon himself to gather supporters(closely followed by an entourage of press & media cameramen) and march on to the doorstep of alleged criminals thus demanding the Police come and raid the premises and arrest the wrong doers.  The police refused to raid the said premises without an official court warrant, accusing the law minister of circumventing legal procedure, thus resulting in a standoff with police in presence of AAP supporters and residents which got rather heated and ugly.

somnath bharti

In the repercussions that ensued from this confrontation, it was alleged that the law minister Somnath Bharti and his co-aids had apprehended a taxi carrying three african female passengers demanding to know their ‘business’ activities and reason for visiting the neighbourhood. Allegations were made later on sworn affidavit by the african women that they were detained, mistreated and racially abused by Bharti’s men forcing them to give urine sample for drug analysis.

Somnath Bharti and his supporters present at the site where the african women were detained deny molesting or racially abusing them or forcing them to give urine samples in public as alleged, instead they claim samples were in fact provided at AIIMS.

Arvind Kejriwal CM of Delhi backed his law minister and led his party on a Dharna(a sit-in protest/agitation) outside the Home minister’s residence asking for removal or suspension of the senior police officers who had refused to obtain necessary warrants and carry out the raids as was being demanded by the state law minister. The Dharna brought Delhi to a standstill for 48hours until a ‘truce’ of sorts was called, in that Delhi police agreed to send some of the police officers on home leave whilst allegations could be investigated. However the whole incident left many in the media and press as well as the opposition parties and even the congress coalition partners calling for law minister Somnath Bharti’s resignation, which he has thus far managed to resist on the basis that non of the allegations made in the press have been proved, and furthermore has asked the media to produce the CCTV footage, which he claims will vindicate his version of events.

Plebgate

The infamous plebgate incident that took place in September of 2012 involved the then government Chief Whip(akin to a ‘minister’ in other governments) Andrew Mitchell who was involved in a verbal altercation with a police officer as he arrived on his bicycle at the gates to Downing Street.

downing street

News had been leaked to the press that Andrew Mitchell had been involved in a verbal altercation with a police officer as a result of the policeman not opening the main gate to Downing Street as he cycled towards it but asked the minister to get off and walk his bike in through adjacent pedestrian entrance. Andrew Mitchell did not take kindly to being stopped and asked to get off, as he had been used to cycling in to Downing Street on past occasions. He is alleged to have exchanged some heated words with the police officers guarding Downing Street and according to the policeman’s version was alleged to have called him a “pleb” in a derogatory manner.

Andrew Mitchell however insisted to the press that he had not used the word “pleb” and the PM David Cameron stood by his Chief Whip that a minor exchange of words has been blown out of proportion by the press and that was that. However, the story took on momentum of its own as an alleged witness in the vicinity of Downing Street on the morning of the incident emailed a newspaper to say he had overheard the minister using the “pleb” word. The furore that arose from this revelation made it untenable for Andrew Mitchell to carry on as Chief Whip without causing damage to the reputation of David Cameron’s coalition government so he offered to step down still insisting he had not accused the police officer of being a “pleb”. It has to be said that relations between the metropolitan police and Downing Street were rather frayed leading up to the incident, as the MetPolice was unhappy because David Cameron’s government was unfavourable in recommending wage rises for police officers under its austerity drive.The press and media took much delight in reporting the minister had finally resigned.

It seemed that was the end of the story, until it took a dramatic twist three months later when CCTV footage was finally released to media which threw into doubt the police version of events, not only that but investigation revealed the ‘so called eye witness’ on whose email evidence the policeman’s claim hung had in fact been nowhere near Downing street on the morning but turned out to be a serving police officer trying to back his colleague and frame the minister by giving false evidence.

A report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) concluded three officers had given a false account. The police officers concerned faced a parliamentary Commons Home Affairs committee in which their version of events looked far from convincing.

Whereas the CCTV footage could not completely vindicate Andrew Mitchell’s version and disprove the Police version, because it has no sound footage, however the police version of events did not fit in with a frame by frame analysis of the CCTV footage and left a very dark cloud hanging over them.

However the end result was that a minister lost his post in Downing Street on the say so of police and pressure from media. This may not be the case for Somnath Bharti at this stage because his party leader the CM of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal is sticking by him, however I feel we may not have heard the last of this yet until CCTV footage vindicates one version or the other!

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