Siddhartha Deb’s profile of Narendra Modi for The New Republic has generated a predictable Twitter storm among predictable camps.
But one portion jumped out for me. It was not about Hindutva or Muslims or 2002, the usual trigger points for outrage.
Government officials seen as loyal to Modi, and under whose watch some of the worst killings took place, were rewarded with promotions and cushy posts. Those who provided evidence that raised questions about his role in the massacres found themselves subject to disciplinary measures, legal prosecution, threats, and scandals.
He then gives examples.
Police officers who gave the National Commission of Minorities a transcript of a public speech by Modi where he called camps for displaced Muslims “baby-producing centres” were summarily transferred. R Sreekumar, a senior police officer, who testified to a commission set up to investigate the train fire and massacres was denied promotion and charged with giving out “classified information”. Police officer Rahul Sharma who gave the commission records allegedly proving the killers had been in touch with politicians and police was himself charged with violating the Official Secrets Act.
That’s bad news about police. Here’s some good news, the other side of the coin.
In West Bengal, the Assembly elections are being hailed as an example of the local police finally discovering their spine. Lack of spine is a degenerative disease. It does not happen overnight. It’s a long and systematic process. While everyone else was congratulating the police and Election Commission for a largely free and fair phase of polling in Bengal, an irate Mamata Banerjee was slamming the newly energized police for going beyond the call of duty.
The police are safe as long as they toe the party line. Otherwise they are seen cowering beneath their desks as a mob led by angry Trinamool activists rampaged through Alipore station in Kolkata.
"The Trinamool government described itself as the government of 'Maa, Maati and Manush' (Mother, land and people). But neither Maa, Maati nor Manush is safe. No one is safe in Bengal. Even police are not safe here,” said Home Minister Rajnath Singh earlier this year.
The police are safe as long as they toe the party line. Otherwise they are seen cowering beneath their desks as a mob led by angry Trinamool activists rampaged through Alipore station in Kolkata. When police officer Damayanti Sen cracked the Park Street rape case which the CM had dismissed as “sajano ghatana” (fabricated incident) she was promptly transferred. Calcutta commissioner Ranjit Pachnanda was also shunted out when he refused to dilute the FIR against a Trinamool leader implicated in the murder of a sub-inspector.
And politicians have no interest in having it any other way. Soumen Mitra, the Election Commission-appointed police commissioner in Kolkata apparently told his demoralized forces “Do your job. I am there” and they lived up to it. But Mitra’s pro-active stance drew a barb from the CM otherwise eager to bask in any successful Bengali’s glory.
“If someone thinks that have received responsibility for 15 days, he’ll be awarded a golden crown, then he’s mistaken,” said Mamata at a rally signalling Mitra’s days are numbered. While ordinary citizens were happy the police rediscovered their spine, Mamata called them “bhitoo” or cowards bending to the orders of masters other than her. A “brave” police force apparently is one that reacts with promptness in hauling in a Jadavpur University professor who forwards a cartoon mocking the CM.
For the first time, I’m able to move about with my head held high. Suddenly everybody has started respecting me and my uniform.
“For the first time, I’m able to move about with my head held high. Suddenly everybody has started respecting me and my uniform,” a sub-inspector who joined the force in 2011 tells The Times of India. Until now, an officer-in-charge’s main duty seems to be to wait for orders from higher ups if anyone associated with a ruling party is to be charged with any crime.
The great tragedy of Indian politics is politicians do not care about this or only care about it in an opposition-ruled states. Thus Rajnath Singh will stand up for the police in West Bengal. But in reality all of them want the police at their beck and call and completely pliant. India Today reported in 2015 that since the Samajwadi Party came to power in 2012, there had been 622 incidents of goons attacking policemen in the state.
Minister Azam Khan admitted that such incidents were on the rise. Meanwhile the UP police showed great alacrity in responding to Khan’s missing buffalos and arresting a student for a Facebook post about him. In Delhi the police has been part of a political turf war between the Home Ministry and Arvind Kejriwal’s government with the police commissioner refusing to take orders from the CM in 2013.
A Human Rights Watch report in 2009 said “Many Indians avoid any contact with the police, believing not only that they will not receive assistance but that they risk demands for bribes, illegal detention, torture, or even death.”
It’s not like we are not aware of the problem. In 2006, the Supreme Court directed central and state governments to enact new police laws to reduce political interference. They gave seven binding directions. Alok Prasanna Kumar at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy writes in EPW this year “Ten years after these directions were issued by the Supreme Court, most state governments have not implemented them, seeking, on the other hand, modifications to these to suit their needs.”
Our lack of faith in our own police force is one of the greatest failings of Indian society today. The assumption that police are puppets controlled by politicians corrodes the very notion of a civic society.
The governments of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra argued in 2013 that the SC directives violated the Constitution interfering with their prerogative when it comes to police appointments and transfers even though that prerogative has been abused over and over again. The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra was accused of punishing a traffic police sub-inspector by transferring him to the police training academy for asking an MLA to pay a fine for speeding.
Our lack of faith in our own police force is one of the greatest failings of Indian society today. The assumption that police are puppets controlled by politicians corrodes the very notion of a civic society. But politicians, focused on short term gain, do not care at all and in fact, are more intent on tightening their control.
Deb concludes in his New Republic profile that in Gujarat, “Modi engineered a hybrid vigilante-police state, one in which the righteous were punished and perpetrators rewarded.”
What is truly chilling here is that this might be the real Gujarat “success story” that other leaders are happy to emulate, irrespective of party affiliation.
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