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Monday, December 3, 2012

What Law? Whose Order?

The acts of lawlessness by the miscreants in the funeral procession of late Brahmeshwar Mukhiyajee in Patna, last June, raised some issues which any detailed theory of police inaction needed to address: how does the concept of police function in our polity? What is the relation between the government and its police force? In a situation of conflict of interest between the people and the government where should the police position itself? But Mr Abhayanand, DGP Bihar, who is one of the finest officers we have - articulate, innovative and clear headed - has come up with something which obliterates the difference between innovativeness and heresy and, therefore, it must be refuted.

His theory is rooted in the curtailment of the role of police merely to its detective functions of collecting evidence in the form of videographing the vandals and arsonists and prosecutes them later. (What if they are masked?) Do not people have a stake in public property? Would the citizens be put to notice that they should mind their own lives and property? Will police now abjure their preventive responsibility in law to “interpose”, in order to prevent the commission of a cognizable offence?

If there are groups within the state whose antics must be forced to suffer for fear of greater trouble - unacceptable political cost would be closer to truth - this is no cause for celebration either because theoretically the state is the sole repository of coercive violence within the territory. The power of deterrence belongs to the state; it is not for the state to feel deterred. Worse still, it is an open invitation for militarization of various groups in our fractious society. The non interventionist role of police may appear as a welcome innovation for people removed from the unique density of its context or ignorant of the massive scale of disturbances; it may perhaps enthuse human right groups or the intellectual outriders of the society for a while, but as a manifesto for future action, it will just not do.

Law and order is a tricky business and the best of us are sometimes tested and found wanting largely because of the ambivalence of the mandate of police. Law is codified, made formal in various acts-the IPC, CrPC, evidence, etc. But what is order? Is there a permanent, ordained, immutable order? A preferred order? An ideal state of order? The construction of the meaning of order is exclusively the area of police expertise.

The law obligates a police officer of appropriate rank present on the scene of trouble to do everything within his legal means to prevent trouble and disperse the mob. It is a responsibility, not a privilege and powers to discharge this responsibility inhere in him; he does not enjoy it during the pleasure of somebody. Now the DGP says it was on his orders that the police force did not react. That says it all. Law must take a bow before the dictates of order.
Ruling orders throughout the country approximate in their invocation of law and order as a pretext for using police for partisan, political ends. Allegedly, the police abdicated their responsibility in law in protecting the Sikhs against pogrom sanctioned by the ruling order in Delhi, in Godhara in Gujarat the Muslims were at the receiving end of police inaction, in the Marxist West Bengal there were credible allegations of police harassing or denying protection to those opposed to the ruling order, etc. Law and order is Janus faced - the police can kill on law and order duty to suit  the interest of the ascendant order just as in some other situation their passivity to people being killed, maimed or looted, serves the cause of the order. Their primary responsibility of maintaining law and order at any cost, if need be by bending, violating or abdicating their responsibility in law altogether, comes with an unstated guarantee of ex post facto sanction of their conduct. Whenever the powers given to them under law threaten to engulf the ruling order any excess or abdication of their responsibility is underwritten. Forbisganj and the handling of situation born out of Mukhiyajee’s murder are the two sides of the same coin.

I would have used this occasion to make the honest confession that policing is about keeping the governments and other powerful groups happy; people are incidental to policing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Resurrected from Retirement

For the last several decades ambitious political leaders have sought to create fiercely loyal battalions of bureaucratic palace guards who, if they pass the loyalty test, are exempted from every other. The idea of the neutrality of civil service has long since been jettisoned in practice and the civil servant and political masters often show the internal cohesion of predatory gangs. Occasionally civil servants reveal themselves to have been secret party moles by seeking elections at an appropriate juncture on party ticket or being nominated to legislative bodies. Governments, regardless of political persuasion, are now ruthless even palpably unjust and vindictive in their approach when it comes to dealing with those who do not have the talent to please  or have nothing but their professionalism and commitment to fall back upon. The perils of independence are unacceptable, the rewards of collaboration unimaginable.

 The very best of civil servants – assuming that those who reach the top are the best –acquire a ‘”palimpsest identity composed of a series of snap shots painted one over the other.” It comes in handy in passing the loyalty test of mutually hostile regimes and speeds up their upward journey. By reaching the top they become doubly blessed. The ripe old age of 60 opens for them the opportunities for the various sine cure assignments, carrying huge responsibilities and countervailing powers, privileges and immunities. In some measure on their efficient and impartial functioning depends the strength of our democracy.
Montaigne who died at the relatively young age of 59 felt that, “aging diminishes us each day in a way that, when death finally arrives, it takes away only a quarter or half the man.” At sixty the ravages of time and the effects of fighting many a succession battles  reduces the successful civil servant to one quarter of a man and three quarters of moral vacuum. His outward appearance however is closer to Levi Strauss’s description who felt like a ‘shattered hologram’ that had lost its unity but still retained an image of the whole self. The image of the whole self of the civil servant also hides the evolutionary miracle of his regression to the stage of invertebrates.  Rendered intellectually supple and morally maneuverable, he is a handful of putty in the hands of governments who appoints them.

The political class is in a win win situation .On paper they can boast of the most progressive and forward looking oversight agencies. Central Vigilance Commission, Information Commission etc which are tools of empowerment for the people, but one supplicating incumbent heading such a body actually works to disempower the people.  Just one instance of the scandal relating to the recent appointment of a CVC will jog the public memory about the general malaise. There were credible allegations against the Chief Information Commissioner of a state, a compulsive post retirement office grabber, of having killed the RTI. The political class laughs all the way because by placing one reliable pawn it can have at its command one whole compliant institution. And should someone like the present CAG, who heeds to the call of his conscience and does what his charter commands him to do, e a general murmur of disappointment and betrayal is heard all around in the corridors of power!

By the way has anyone ever wondered that despite an overwhelmingly large population of young men and women why do we end up having a whole geriatric community, comprising of decrepit civil servants, presiding over the crucial institutions on whose performance the health and hygiene of our democracy depends? Would a young and conscientious lawyer make a worse CVC than, say a retired telecom secretary? What special skill does he bring to a job that a young and politically uncommitted lawyer cannot? Is a social activist or a teacher less suitable than a cabinet secretary who may have engineered several palace coups to head the Election Commission? This is where the civil service comes in handy. Making of rules is a typically bureaucratic industry; unmaking it or finding a suitable exception to suit every contingency is an art form of which they are the greatest exponents. The inbred system resists injection of fresh blood and stifles creative possibilities.
 The appointment of even class four employees is strictly regulated but the governments have arrogated to themselves huge powers to appoint such functionaries many of which do not require any parliamentary oversight or consultation. This is an ideal situation for breeding political and bureaucratic corruption and the likes of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare would be equally well occupied in ensuring that what is given to the people by the right hand by various progressive legislations etc is not taken away by the left hand of the government.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Rusted Steel Frame

The occasion for this piece was the open admission of helplessness, by a chief secretary in putting up the file to the government for its order, on my submission, in a matter of grave public importance. 
I wrote this the same evening, in a state of emotional overdrive.  There are many statements which, on more sober reflection, I would like to modify, but I am posting it as it is, to commemorate the integrity and depth of my emotions.  I shall revert to the matter which triggered this meditative piece in due course of time.

The disappointment with the degenerate world is a necessary accompaniment to the process of ageing.  What many of us – retired, or about to retire, civil servants – often fail to see, or deliberately overlook, is our own contribution to the deterioration.  The de rigour refrain – things were different in “our time” – begs the question:  who is responsible for leaving it different.  Did the rot set in overnight?   How did we occupy ourselves while the grass was growing right under our feet? 

This post tries to lend some clarity to my own muddled, confused thoughts on the issue of abdication of both courage and responsibility at the highest level of civil service. 

Intellectuals have a major role to play in the civil society – by civil society I mean that area of intellectual independence and political neutrality where issues are deliberated for their intrinsic worth.  In Bihar, in a limited sense of the term, the higher civil service was also an extension of the civil society; the official file was both a crucible for intellectual honesty as well as a site for resistance.  The opinions of the civil servants, which often ran contrary to the wishes of the chief political executive, expressed fearlessly and with conviction became part of the folklore.  Their careers were as important to them as anyone else, but there was a certain detachment and stoicism about it in the best of them. 

The Indian Administrative Service consciously modelled itself after its more illustrious predecessors in the ICS whom Philip Woodruff described as, “a ruling class, a class apart.  They were hard working in a debilitating climate, incorruptible in a society riddled with bribery, celibate until middle age in a subcontinent which married at puberty.  Above all they were intellectuals. 

Being an intellectual brought in its wake the responsibility to speak "truth to power", in the famous phrase of Julian Benda.  And in the early years of independence, many did conform to these ideals .  They were the Praetorian guards, defending the public service against the onslaughts of corrupt elements from below and above.  Incrementally, but not imperceptibly, the service has lost its independence of thought and, thereby, its identity. 
The steady process of diminution has been noticed by all, but no collective effort has been made to stem the rot.  The service not only rubbishes well-founded criticisms of servility and capitulation, it felicitates itself loudly even though it is aware of the merit of the criticism all the time.  The other strategy to deflect criticism is to outwit and silence the critic with a more vehement self-critical diatribe, an anguished self-loathing of their own, as if the act of advertising could, in itself, absolve the service of all the sins that were being advertised. 

For the Guardians – that is how the ancestor service had been conceived, and the descendants are quick to flaunt their lineage – moral and ethical standards were the first line of defence.  Peer opinion came next.  The deterrence posed by laws figures at the bottom of the pile.  But there are no gold standards now. 

The pursuit of that “bitch-goddess  success” has become part of a collective, coercive creed, so much so that anyone who refuses to believe in it finds himself ostracized. 

The new role models are also the new power brokers in our society, whose non-traditional ascents to key positions in government have challenged the established orthodoxy honesty is the best policy or professional competence can take you to the top.  Stripped of their moral authority, they nevertheless still strut with a phony majesty.  Many of them, their egos already inflated past safety level, are generally a deluded lot who think that they cast a shadow on the world stage, disproportionate to their size and importance.  (Disproportionate wealth would be nearer the truth, but we invariably miss that point.)  

There are, of course, still some – I would not expose them – who have resisted the temptation, in a tragic, almost masochistic, adherence to values which the rest of the service has long since jettisoned.  They are so rare that you have to have the instinct of an archaeologist or the skill of a scuba diver to prise them out.  Or go about in the darkness at noon, like the Athenian cynic Diogenes, lantern in hand looking for courageous civil servants.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Freedom at Afternoon

The question that is being asked of me by many of my well wishers, friends and admirers is how do I feel, now that I have retired. Well, to be honest serving for close to four decades in one of the most coveted services of the country has many disadvantages. You tend to forget the use of your limbs. There is someone connecting and picking up the phone for you, you are driven around, your engagements, your tour, and your other quotidian worries- from filing tax return to paying your utility bills- are someone else’s concern. In higher echelons of the government someone even thinks your thought for you. You just have to be!

After you retire all that elaborate support system, all those rites of pride and protocol disappear. It is like someone who does not how to swim is thrown in a pool without a lifebelt. Or you are left to navigate in a totally unfamiliar city. Many of us tend to show unmistakable withdrawal symptoms. Jostling for paying electricity bills, or booking a railway ticket (if you are not into net transaction) doing things as others not so spoilt do, can make you maladjusted for a while. I was warned – not that I could not see it for myself –but I had some more worries.

To add to the standard quota of uncertainties of a retiring officer, I have been trying to renovate my house to make it livable. It was empty for quite some time. It is no point trying to explain the hazards and the frustration of such an activity to someone who has not undertaken such an expedition himself. There are so many liars, thugs and swindlers in this line of business that it can easily turn you into a misanthrope. All in all, my prospect in the near future looked like a perfectly scripted plot for a black, neurotic drama! Anticlimactically, it is my date of retirement that kept me buoyed up, gave me hope and sustenance. And when it actually came it was such a relief!  All the uncertainties did stare me in the face as it does any one of us. The prospect of my house becoming livable had receded a few more weeks into the future. But hell is a relative habitation. The comfort zone that I seem to have left behind was no comfort for me given that so many knives were out for me and danger seemed to be lurking at every corner.

 So much has happened in the dying years of my service, so many distressing things-vilification, show cause, disciplinary proceeding, supersession, a complaint case and much more- that they remind me of Lenin’s famous remark about politics, “There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." It was only God’s infinite grace that I survived several attempts to frame me up in order to harm me in my career and ruin my reputation. I have never considered the denial of opportunities, postings, medals, etc as acts of disfavour because the government giveth and the government taketh away. (For the record, I was overlooked for the post of DGP on four occasions and I have retired in a lower grade of pay than officers four years my junior. I never even made a grievance of it.) But my reputation is not a matter of an executive fiat, or a government notification; it has been hard earned and paid for in hard currency of an unwavering faith in the values of probity in public life. The worst thing is that on every occasion personal malice was dressed up as considered government decision. Since an officer cannot challenge every order in a court of law, the government can play havoc with his life and career. I felt like the French philosopher who spoke during disturbingly unsettled times  in France,  If today I were to be accused of having stolen the Church of Notre Dame I would have no option but to run away from France.”

Now that I am past the hump all these precious years of my life which vaguely leaked away in worries and anxieties seem but like a transient twitch. I am in a celebratory mood reveling in my migration from the ranks of Helots – Helots were a class of people halfway between slaves and citizens in ancient Sparta-to that of an independent citizen. This freedom is worth years of the lives of any number of tongue tied, terrorized and fear stricken civil servants. Like any liberated serf I am going to exploit to the utmost my freedom to speak my mind. Earlier on my conversations with the government were subject to conduct rules, elaborate courtesy, and the unbreakable code of never mentioning facts that could bring disrepute to the government however disreputable its conduct. Never to speak truth to power except in such a term that the unpalatable truth became an error of your own judgment. (I violated that rule on several occasions and paid the price for it. So we are quits!) In fact, when I was addressing the Home guards who had lined up for inspection on the eve of  my farewell parade on the 30th of June at Bihta I kept concentrating hard so that I did not shout from the podium itself : azadi , azadi azadi.  Decades of conditioning, however, was a surer guarantee and my uniformed self behaved exactly as it was supposed to.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blowing Hot and Cold on Mafia

This piece was written after I heard the news of  the suicide of an esteemed junior colleague, Rahul Sharma.  Rahul Sharma was, by all accounts, an intrepid fighter against entrenched criminal elements.  I had come across the story of his persecution in a news item "Officers Mess in which I had  also figured.  The community did not reach out to him while there was still time.  Another young IPS officer, Narendra Kumar, who visited me in my office briefly when he had come for training to Bihar was brutally done away with at around the same time.  Media accounts suggest that he has also left behind a legacy of selfless struggle against politically connected mafia in the briefest tenure.  

In the meanwhile I was approached by a newspaper to write a piece for them on the mafia and their links etc. So I sent it across to them. But I find that the  paragraph, "These deeds 'reveal' the perpetrators to us, and us to our own selves..." missing; a section which  brings home to me, personally, the tragic futility, even the absurdity, of the fight for these "mini-states" and the ambivalent stand of the community on this issue. So, I am putting the original piece on my blog.  

I also wanted to know whether the fiendish asymmetry is brought home to me only because I am a police officer, or are there others also who share my views.
We simply cannot wish away our mafia.  There are so many of them, active in areas which affect each one of us deeply.  The resource mafia, illegally exploiting coal, timber and other forest produce, wildlife or sand, depredates our environment.  Or the development mafia bagging contracts for roads, bridges, railway lines and other projects takes away from us the fruits of planned growth.  Or the land mafia, or the education mafia or the health mafia, the electricity mafia, or the co-operative mafia.  One could go on and on.  And we live with them all the year round, relegating their activities to the basement of our brains. As a token of our appreciation, we sometimes elect the Mafiosi to the various legislative bodies, sometimes several times in succession.  

One wonders whether we could do without them. 
A legion of decentralized dictatorships, these neighborhood mafias mediate a host of functions of the state.  We do not find anything unnatural about it.  Because we have come to accept the political culture where a politician is expected to provide avenues for his "caste men" and cronies for looting the resources of the state.  At the ground zero of politics, there is a consensus that this is an absolutely democratic method of rewarding political support.  We do not seem to protest.
They are not the anti-heroic outlaws hounded by police, marked by the enemy’s bullet, as popularized by movies.  The one sure-fire formula of political patronage earns our Mafia the homage of the law enforcement officials.  Their control of the institutional environment allows them to enjoy the fruits of their crime and die in bed of old age.  But some day things do slip and go out of hand.
Regrettable though it may be, sometimes it becomes necessary to remove a Yashwant Sonawane by the simple expedient of pouring some kerosene on him and igniting him.  Or to bludgeon the nosey activist Sister Valsa John for agitating against the peacefully profit making enterprise of illegal coal mining in Jharkhand.  Swami Nigmanand was similarly removed from the scene by a combination of intrigue and heartlessness. Shehla Masood, the RTI activist; Arup Kalita, the Assam environment activist; Satyendra Dubey, the engineer in the Golden Quadriateral project; Manju Nath, the Indian Oil officer; Ajay Kumar Singh, SP of Lohardagga; the divisional forest officer Sanjay Singh of Kaimur; the journalist  Dey, to name a few allegedly lost their lives because they refused to peacefully co-exist. 

Then the dirt comes to the surface.
These deeds “reveal” the perpetrators to us, and us to our own selves, compelling us to stage a mass ceremony of innocence, make a communitarian plea of alibi.  That is why we are revolted by the bomb-and-gun variety, because his deeds disturb the even tenor of life.  If the outrage were in support of the cause championed by the martyred enforcement official, the community would regularly rally behind those many harassed and victimized officers and activists who are trying to rein in these self-same elements.  Towards them, while they are alive, their attitude is of the audience watching a daring stunt. Will they, or will they not carry it off?  Before they fall victim to the assassin’s bullet, they may have knocked at the door of their superiors, may have sought for the amplification of their voices in the media. But all in vain.  Their deaths are like the deaths foretold.
Why are we reaping such a bountiful harvest of mafias?  The answer must lead us to the nature of our politics, which has now completely rid itself of its ideological baggage.  Even the rhetorical tenors of its emancipatory pronouncements barely hide its annoyance at being forced to pay lip service to all those high ideals.  In the absence of passion in the field of politics, the pursuit of political power is less about mobilization and more about managerial enterprise.  Governance is about providing the middle class the security to visit malls and cinemas, and the poor some doles – endlessly.  The rest is easy.  A deft coordination of interests, a hard bargaining skill for the spoils and a keen eye for keeping things at sub-crisis level is all that it is about.  In an environment where the political tenure is short and uncertain, brutish and nasty Mafia is the obvious mode of entrepreneurship.  

After all has it not been said that Mafia is illegal capitalism, capitalism legal Mafia.