TRYSTS AND TURNS

India’s J’accuse moment in Covid times

The Home Minister ordered the DGP in writing to obtain a leave application from the officer and send him on compulsory leave as punishment. The previous BJP government, headed by Devendra Fadnavis, wouldn’t have taken such a whimsical decision, though I would have thought that a BJP dispensation would be more partial to the saffron-clad than this coalition one.

India’s J’accuse moment in Covid times

Helping hand: Police personnel have been in the forefront of the war on the virus and have been classified as corona warriors.

Julio Ribeiro

Alfred Dreyfus, a Captain in the French Army, was falsely accused of treason and imprisoned. Now, Dreyfus happened to be a Jew and, consequently, a soft target for the army establishment when it was confronted by a leakage of critical information.

But Dreyfus was innocent. Anti-Semitism was rampant in the Europe of those days. It is still prevalent, though below the surface. A leading French intellectual and author, Emile Zola, took up cudgels on behalf of the wronged officer. His article, J’ accuse, in a leading daily shocked the conscience of a predominantly Catholic France. Dreyfus was absolved of the charge and freed.

In our beloved country, injustices are heaped almost on a daily basis on government officers doing their duty, according to the Constitution, the law and their own conscience. In my own state of Maharashtra, a Home Minister named Bhujbal hounded two upright senior officers, the then DGP of the state, Arvind Inamdar, and the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, Ronnie Mendonsa, for the simple reason that they were not ready to sign on the lines he would dot!

There is constant pressure on the DGP and the CP to transfer junior officials to assignments where unaccounted monies are more easily acquired. Remembering an important lesson learnt from one of my first bosses in the IPS, Vasant Vinayak Nagarkar, the best mentor I ever had, I refused to concede. Nagarkar had told me when I was an Assistant Superintendent under training that I should be ready to move rather than be privy to corruption, which is the basis of the demand for ‘lucrative’ postings.

In the days of the lockdowns, a sad instance of injustice has come to my notice right in the midst of the war on the coronavirus. Policemen have been in the forefront of the war and have been classified as corona warriors by the Prime Minister and also by the Chief Minister of my state. Yet, the state’s Home Minister has forced the Superintendent of Police of a tribal district adjoining my city to go on an unwanted privilege leave for an incident that the officer could not have anticipated!

Two sadhus were lynched to death by tribals who thought they were thieves or child-lifters. These sadhus were travelling by car from Mumbai to Surat in the state of Gujarat. They were turned away at the border check post because they did not have the permission to travel. Instead of turning back to the city, they decided to take a circuitous route via the reserved forest in Palghar district. The villagers surrounded them and beat them to death.

An inquiry by the Range IGP had absolved the young IPS officer, Gaurav Singh, of any blame. In fact, the officer rushed to the spot as soon as he was informed and arrested more than a hundred tribals. Yet, the Home Minister ordered the DGP in writing to obtain a leave application from the officer and send him on compulsory leave as punishment, though such a punishment is not prescribed in the All India Services Rules.

Gaurav Singh was personally immersed in mitigating the misery of hungry migrants thrown out of employment by the Covid lockdown. In the midst of this mission of mercy, he was humiliated by an insensitive Home Minister who cared little for justice, fair play and the consequences of his whimsical action on the morale of an overworked police force!

I refuse to believe that the lynching was the reason for the Home Minister’s irresponsible action. The young officer must have offended the minister in some other matters, as is often the case. But should the public accept such whimsical behaviour from its elected representatives when the officer at the receiving end is, in fact, performing his duties professionally?

Like the people of France two centuries ago, the people of India should insist that their elected representatives should exercise their powers in a responsible manner. The action taken should be for the greater good of the people they govern and not on personal whims.

The previous BJP government, headed by Devendra Fadnavis, had not come to adverse notice on this count. I would have thought that a BJP government would be more partial to the saffron-clad than this coalition one. But I still feel that Fadnavis would not have taken such a whimsical decision. Fadnavis was more focused on development and building infrastructure than demoralising the police force.

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