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Sunday, October 6, 2013

People get the Police they Deserve

After DG Vanzara’s letter claiming mere agency for himself and scores of his colleagues cooling their heels in the jails for all the gory deeds that are being attributed to the police in Gujarat comes the allegations of Police that they were forced by UP administration to wink at communal bloodbath.

Ambitious police men often betray their calling in pursuit of the strange gods in whom they repose total faith and the gods in turn absolve them of all their sins. It is only when their gods fail that the world comes to know, through the testimony of the apostate, what it knew all along intuitively. Those who stand up are summarily dealt with and the community is in no position throw a lifeline is equally true.

If we start retracing the history of Independent India, sooner or later we reach the fateful conclusion that the abuse of police appears to be, in Rawlsian diction, part of an overlapping political consensus. Thus the simple personalisation misses the point. It would be a mistake to view it as a problem of police brutality; the political class that abuses police is the greater problem.

The foundational principle of the Indian police involves a punitive use of its power under the garb of rule of law, without let or reserve. By locating the source of exploitation and tyranny in the "native police” the colonial authority sought to displace the awareness of the oppression to a third party, and maintained its facade for fairness and rule of law. The Indian politics found this instrument far too valuable for their purpose to dismantle it.

Once crime is linked to the state, then it summons to the mind weightier judgment like mass murder and genocide. But even then the issues are discussed because of the criticality of the political ramifications. There is a cacophony of hypocritical and opportunistic pronouncements, over determined by immediate political gains and it is the competitive opportunism – who got away with more- is clearly evident behind the fake moral outrage.

The endless disclosures of complicity of administrations in cold blooded killings and of corruption in governments have exposed the opaque relations between power and privilege, and the hidden continuities between the legal and the illegal. But, like spectators up in a pavilion, we are watching the gladiatorial contests between mutually hostile political formations. We seem to have no stakes in the mater- only a prurient interest. Was Vanzara’s disclosure engineered by rival political factions? Are the UP officers sending out signals to their former patrons or is it a counter for blackmail? There are no signs of a broad emancipatory movement developing to counter the abuse of police. Most of us have already accepted with diligent apathy the inability of democratic politics to produce viable solutions to social and economic problems. We seem to be now well on our way to accept the all-encompassing control of the state security apparatus over our lives.

Secularism and eradication of corruption, the two avowed goals of contemporary politics would best be served by urgent police reforms. An independent police acting independently in accordance with the dictates of law would not have let politicians turn their constituencies into a communal cauldron nor would corruption in public life have metastasized to engulf the entire body politic. Prakash Singh’s writ in the Supreme Court stands defeated by sheer delay; there is more than a hint of systematic deception in the affidavits filed by the various state governments before the Supreme Court. Earlier, on occasions like this at least a lip service was paid to these concerns. Now it is not even mentioned and everyone seems to have given up on the reformist agenda.

Karl Marx once said that “force is the midwife of change.”  It is us the politicians fear and us they court and it is within our powers to force them to change. So it is unfair to solely blame the politicians because it does not bother us to have a police which can be the sole arbiters of our lives and liberty, or a police which is an equal stakes partner in a kleptocratic state.