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Monday, January 3, 2011

With the unremitting media focus on 2G, Arushi case, and now the nth resurrection of the Bofors, the CBI is drawing flak from all and sundry. But as Jean Paul Sartre said in a different context “they are half victim half accomplice, like everyone else”. I am posting an article that I wrote for the Indian Express way back in 2004 .Though a little dated, it has not lost its general relevance. A couple of words have been changed and some connecting words have been supplied.

                        That Pantomime Artist Known as the Police 
The growing ineffectiveness of state police forces in the face of powerful offenders creates a demand for CBI investigation. This occurs even in cases which are well within the professional and logistic competence of the state police. The CBI itself becomes eminently vulnerable to charges of bias once the affairs of the Central Government become the subject matter of enquiry. The state police forces are well on way to being reduced to a level where they will be good for nothing but ceremonial parades and watch and ward duties and a day may come when the CBI too may face an erosion of credibility. Who shall we turn to then? Interpol, the FBI, or Scotland Yard?

In public perception, the police are regarded as partisan and prone to unlawful behaviour. The Dharamveer Commission (1978) had among many other things recommended the selection of top police leadership by a representative and impartial body to guard against opportunistic or expedient transfer and insulate police officers from undue executive influence. It had also called for a fixed tenure.

The political context within which the police functions has changed dramatically. Criminals with political clout and politicians with criminal connections have an increasingly large say in the system. The fate of political leaders holding responsible positions in governments sometimes depends on the outcome of the investigation of a criminal case. Hence for the political elite the control of the police has become more urgent than ever. Theoretically the police are independent in matters of investigation but by using the carrot and stick policy of transfer it can be made the handmaiden of the government.

Whether an officer will stay for three months or nine years at a particular place is entirely the employer’s privilege and “public interest” is invoked to justify arbitrary actions against which there are no forms of redress. Transfer and postings should not matter to an officer, but sadly in prevailing situation, they are all that matter. In the less developed states where even the barest amenities such as electricity, connectivity, medical facility and good schooling are available only in few places, a premature transfer can be a fate worse than suspension because the fate of an entire family is placed on the line. Benefits and opportunities often accrue to the same individuals. Some remain in perpetual disfavour and are consigned to redundant post while trusted ones are assigned several important assignments. Cadre rules simply become esoteric texts to be interpreted according to convenience of favoured groups; personnel policy, a sieve to create a committed following of believers. In these circumstances it is foolish to go on believing in the myth of independence and neutrality of the police.

The options in some states are stark. Either you are a man of the establishment or you are on the hit list of the establishment- you have to choose between co-option and outright rejection. It needs courage and conviction of heroic proportions to resist the temptation or ignore the risks. In the context of the police, a group of not more than a few score of ‘committed’ Indian Police Service officers can secure the control of a police force of several thousand officers and men. By selective posting of these pliant police leaders at various strategic levels, it is possible to convert the rule of law into rule of men. These puppets, jiggling on the strings of political patronage, command the obedience of their subordinates nevertheless, and are in a position to enforce obedience to improper orders. And if the due process of law is interfered with on a regular basis to suit the requirements of a particular individual, group or clique, the pretence of the rule of law wears thin. Incidentally or perhaps significantly, the All India Services Act has rules governing every service condition of an Indian Police Service Officer except his transfer! The counter factual however must also be stated. Immunity from fear of unseasonable transfers will not make saints of police officers but it will certainly make the saintly among them, and there are some, immune from needless interference.

Policing is increasingly being depleted of public spiritedness and accountability. The powerful can command the service of police, the rich can purchase it whenever, wherever they can. It is the poor, the weak and the vulnerable that are not welcome to the party. The developing asymmetry—police vis a vis the extremist groups, police vis a vis the crime syndicates—is among many other things, rooted in this lack of credibility and moral authority of the police. Public opinion, an important institution of the open society, ineffectual at best of times, rather than feeding the reformist agenda in institutional forums actually colludes in its anticipation of such behavior from police.

Large-scale transfers of police officers and costly deputations of the CPMF are made on election to eve, ostensibly, to neutralize the bias of local police and to ensure that those who want to cast their vote should do it without let or hindrance. But it appears that the citizen is useful only for his vote and once his vote has been extracted out of him his other rights are not cause of much concern to the ruling political elite because for the protection of his other rights he is left to the tender mercies of this same police for the rest of the five years? Democratic politics perceives it that way, because every shade of political opinion has had the opportunity to initiate reformist measures to insulate the police in the light of many recommendations. So when political parties make ritual pronouncements of misuse of the police by the ruling party, actually it is a coded message from one power group to another seeking an assurance that this highly versatile legal construct called ‘the police’ shall be available for illegal use when it is their turn to wield power .The instrument which was fashioned to uphold the colonial rule suits them fine , thank you very much.