Srinagar: A fresh spring or 'Basant' is sweeping Jammu off its feet these days. Its breeze has left many in the corridors of power numb and others shocked, surprised and even angry. Meanwhile, ordinary commuters allergic to rash driving, road stunts, congestion, red light jumping and VIP culture are celebrating.
Basant Rath, the new Inspector General (traffic) of Jammu and Kashmir is maverick but uncompromising to traffic violations no matter who the violator is. 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."
A few days ago, a police car was caught in the middle of a busy road in Jammu and a senior traffic police officer — much to the surprise of the officers and bystanders alike — challaned the police vehicle for not having a number plate.
Twelve days old into his new job, Basant Rath, has already earned a name for being Jammu’s 'Singham' after the Bollywood movie by the same name, thanks to his uncompromising attitude towards traffic violations, no matter who the violator is.
Meanwhile, the common man on Srinagar roads, who are allergic to rash driving, road stunts, congestion, red light jumping and VIP culture are jubilant. However, his “out of the box” ways often earn him both bouquets and brickbats — more of the latter because he is a strict disciplinarian that annoys people who are on the wrong side of law.
Videos and photographs of Rath managing traffic at busy junctions in the winter capital have become a hit on the Internet.
Unbridled corruption and traffic mess in both the cities and Jammu-Srinagar highway particularly, prompted Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to bring in an officer who has new ideas, is tough and upright. The search stopped at Rath even though top officers warned Mufti of his “antics and aggression”.
Rath, many agree, fits the bill of managing traffic in the state but it is his unstoppable “bold and witty” outbursts on social media that is rubbing the powerful on the wrong side.
Dear friends, if you see me working the street and working on the street, please ignore me. If you try to engage me in a conversation, you must know you end up wasting my time and disturbing my focus and irritating the kid in me.— Basant (@KangriCarrier) February 21, 2018
Congress legislator Usman Majeed recently called him “mad and a fit case for psychiatric treatment’’ when Rath compared condoms to helmets in order to urge commuters to use both for “protection”. He even faced criticism from leaders of National Conference and the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) but went on to cite a cricket analogy to silence them.
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”.
If you are rich enough to own a vehicle, you should be intelligent enough to know the traffic rules.— Basant (@KangriCarrier) February 21, 2018
For calling spade a spade, Rath 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.
Twelve days into his new assignment as the traffic in-charge, Rath is often seen directing traffic on the Jammu streets by himself.
A man of a small frame and unique style, Rath likes to keep his head shaved “so that people remember his unique appearance for a long time”.
But it is his significant Twitter activity in past few weeks that has made him both popular and controversial. His witty one liners and thought provoking tweets – some where he jokes on his baldness – generate lot of response. Ironically, he tweets from a handle @kangricarrier, which means one who carries a Kashmiri indigenous fire pot wrapped in a wicker willow frame.
His appeals to commuters are also full of puns and warnings. He pricks the politicians and higher-ups with a regular ease.
“My Dear Senior who thinks I’m all gas on FaceBook and Twitter and no guts. 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 (sic)”: read one of Rath’s tweets.
In another tweet he says, “I give them only two options either to buy good quality helmet or pray for my transfer by tomorrow”.
Rath challans a police Gypsy.
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,” says the 2000-batch IPS officer.
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.”
“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.