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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1203, 10 November 2003
The Police and the Example of the Armed Forces Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security affairs
Two recent instances of Police partisanship reveal the politicization of India’s police forces. The acquittal by the Delhi High Court of SAR Geelani from life sentence awarded by a fast track lower court, based on trumped up charges after incarceration under POTA for 23, months indicates that the Delhi Police were playing to the gallery even in a case of such national importance as the Parliament attack case. Likewise the record of the Gujarat Police in the acquittal of the twenty one accused in the Best Bakery case, again by a fast track lower court, reinforces the suspicion of penetration of the Gujarat police force by rightist ideology.
Should this continue it is likely that growing violence will define politics based on identity. The performance of the Police elsewhere earlier, as in Delhi in 1984 and Mumbai in 1992, compels the conclusion that its complicity in breakdown of law and order is politically instigated and causes deterioration in law and order situations threatening national security itself. Since the Police are the first line of internal defense, a movement towards apolitical professionalism is in order. The malady and its solution are well known. The problem is in belling the cat. Political masters loathe giving up political control they exercise over the force, while its hierarchy has been chosen for the suppleness of its spine.
The lesson drawn by civil society from this bias in Police conduct is that the state is not neutral; hence they can be either suborned or targeted. That intelligence agencies in the neighborhood like the ISI would take advantage of the situation is only natural. Once this external linkage gets established or is alleged, police partisanship gets legitimized as action to ensure ‘national security’. The Home Minister’s tally of ISI ‘modules’ neutralized has risen from 92 to 200 over the last few months. This downward spiral can best be countered by the state reclaiming its neutrality by a reversion of its armed agencies to apolitical professionalism in keeping with their constitutional obligations.
Several reports on these lines are gathering dust including Dharma Vira Committee and the Vohra reports. A suggestion made in a recent book dealing with the sociological makeup of India’s armed services by Omar Khalidi (Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India: Army, Police and Paramilitary forces in communal riots; Three Essays Collective, New Delhi, 2003), an Indian writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommends a balanced composition of the police forces to include fair proportions of minorities. This will go far in rectifying the image and behavior of the Police. The idea here is not only positive discrimination but also greater focus on these categories of citizens in recruitment and information drives to get larger numbers of volunteers for service.
A second suggestion is with citizens groups playing the watch-dog, such as the reported feed back to the Maharashtra Home Minister by concerned retired police officers led by a former DGP, Julio Ribeiro, on the ills of the Mumbai Police. These groups could draw on the numerous eminently workable suggestions put forward on a fortnightly basis by a former IB chief, Mr. RK Raghavan, in his column in Frontline, to pressurize the government. The meaning and implication of secularism must form part of the curriculum of the SVP Academy, Hyderabad and the LBS Academy, Mussoorie. Acculturation of political parties along these lines should begin at the district level where ‘democracy’ implies meddling with the civil administration and law and order agencies by elected officials. Short courses could be organized for parliamentarians, legislators and councilors about the role of state agencies and the relationship of political parties with the state. In this way both sides will better appreciate the distinction between subservience and responsiveness.
The key element, as demonstrated by the Armed Forces, is to be apolitical. Where the Police has been permitted autonomy of functioning it has acquitted itself well, be it in Punjab under KPS Gill or in Ayodhya recently under Mulayam Singh. To the Police the ‘khaki vardi’ must spell its own philosophy that does not draw from the ideologies of political formations. A top down approach, beginning with an exercise of visionary leadership by the Home Ministry is the answer. Mr. LK Advani could live up to his Iron Man image.

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