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Making light of the law

The police have to be depoliticised if they have to fulfil constitutional mandate

Making light of the law

POLITICAL TOOL: No government wants to release its hold on the police. PTI

Julio Ribeiro

THE former Home Minister of Maharashtra and the former Police Commissioner of its capital city, Mumbai, are wanted by the keepers of the law! The twist in the tail is that both are not to be found. They are absconders! At any other point of time this would have been sensational news. But in today’s India people do not bat an eyelid. Why is it so?

If people threaten to not vote for parties that do not give operational freedom to the police, the politicians will come to their senses.

A showdown between a senior IPS officer in a crucial cutting-edge position in the police hierarchy and his political boss would be unthinkable even a few years ago. But times have changed very rapidly. Competing political parties at the Centre and in the states use, or rather misuse, the police under their command to dethrone or embarrass the opponent. And there is never a dearth of ambitious police officers willing to oblige!

In the bargain, the people suffer. Both politicians and police leaders of this inclination do not seem to care for the people, who are entitled to the security of their lives and property. Do they get it? Do they feel safe in an environment where the top politician in charge of providing a secure atmosphere and the head of its police establishment, charged with upholding the rule of law, are busy quarrelling over the spoils of office and accusing each other in public?

How did we arrive at this pass? The answer is simple. Over the past few decades our brand of democracy at work has allowed money power to decide who is going to rule. Politics has been criminalised and, simultaneously, the police have been politicised. To cut this Gordian knot the police need to be depoliticised before the process of decriminalising politics is attempted.

The police are the agency tasked by law to prevent crime and bring criminals to justice. When police leaders join forces with venal politicians to replenish party coffers and their own, the end result of such an unholy alliance is easy to predict. A glaring example of this phenomenon is unravelling before our eyes in Mumbai, the ‘urbs prima in Indis’.

The man who occupied the chair of Mumbai’s Police Commissioner was shifted from his exalted position when his pet policeman, an Assistant Police Inspector, was found to have placed a car with gelatin sticks outside the residence of Mukesh Ambani. It was an obvious case of connivance with the offender, or, at best, a clear evidence of inability to control the tendencies of his own pet official who, incidentally, reported directly to him, ignoring the intervening levels of supervisors.

But when he was removed from office the disgraced top cop was not amused! The pact he had obviously made with his political boss had been breached by the latter. And so he did the unthinkable. He decided to expose the nexus between the politicians and the police. He alleged in a letter to the CM, released to the Press, that the Home Minister had called the inspector to his residence and ordered him to collect many crores of rupees every month from dance bar owners to replenish his and his party’s coffers! The letter hit the newspaper headlines. The politician-police-criminals nexus was out in the open. Till then, it was only mentioned in ‘top secret’ reports prepared by a former Union Home Secretary, NN Vohra, and in drawing-room conversations in society circles.

The nexus has to be severed if the people are to breathe freely. The nexus is invariably weakened when the police leader is a man or woman of the highest integrity and competence. Police leaders can exert no influence on the politicians but they can compel their own men to keep the criminals in check. That ensures that criminals can operate only clandestinely. When such activities are confined to the covert the scale automatically contracts. The criminals stop flouting their importance and the public is relieved.

Mumbai police have had the good fortune of having largely good Commissioners. It was not long ago that officers like Datta Padsalgikar (now one of the three Deputy NSAs) and Subodh Jaiswal (now CBI Director) were placed there. But why can’t the people always be favoured with such men of integrity? There is certainly no shortage in the IPS! Possibly some political parties have no access, or very little access to electoral bond money and are tempted to collect funds even from crime and criminals!

The National Police Commission of 1977, headed by Dharma Vira, a retired civilian, had made certain recommendations to address this anticipated phenomenon. The Supreme Court in its 2006 Prakash Singh judgment endorsed the commission’s findings and directed the Centre and states to implement them. The core recommendation was the depolicisation of the police by selecting correct men or women to lead the force and leaving it to the chosen leaders to manage their own men. The rank and file must acknowledge its own seniors as their final arbiters. If politicians, or even bureaucrats, are to decide their fortunes confusion will prevail, as it is at present.

No state government nor the Central government wants to release its hold on the police and the various units it mans, like the CBI and the NIA. They want to use them for political purposes to pull down opposition governments. This self-destructive interference in the internal management of the security apparatus has to be stopped by enlightened public opinion before more harm is done. The political class, traversing all recognised parties, will listen only if their electoral chances are jeopardised. If people threaten to not vote for parties that do not give operational freedom to the police, the politicians will come to their senses.

The politicians have ensured that the Prakash Singh judgment was turned on its head. The laws passed to comply with the judgment actually put more power to interfere with police performance in the destructive hands of venal politicians. But my friend, Prakash, battles on. I admire his persistence and his tenacity. I wish him success and have offered to help him to fight on. He should concentrate on collecting live examples of the insidious interference by politicians in security management to prove to the public that the police have to be depoliticised if they have to fulfil their constitutional mandate.

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