Police Leadership in India has Failed Standing up to Political Masters
Sanjiv Krishna Sood
January 16, 2019
It was disconcerting to see a Minister of Uttar Pradesh Government claim that the law and order situation in the State had improved after the Adityanath government took over. The statement, coming to a couple of days after the brutal killing of a policeman in Gazipur by an unruly mob, is bizarre and shameful, especially considering that this is the second murder of a policeman in the State within one month. The Director General UP Police also has similarly claimed improvement in crime situation in the state in 2018 over 2017.
Claims made by the minister and the DG(P) are no consolation to the son of the deceased policeman, who raises a valid question when he tearfully asks how will police, that cannot protect itself, be trusted to protect the common public?
This tragic state of disregard for the law and law enforcers has been in the making for some time and has been accelerated by the highhandedness of the police themselves on one hand. On the other hand, active encouragement and liberty that the supporters of the ruling party receive from the government in illegal acts have created an environment in which the party workers consider the police to be subservient and browbeat them with impunity to give in to their illegal demands. Police also has surrendered abjectly to the whims and fancies of the ruling party. Resultantly, whatever respect or fear the common public had for them, has vanished completely.
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Few months ago, a video of a young woman police officer being threatened by a crowd led by a person claiming to be a local leader of BJP, had gone viral. The police officer handled the situation firmly and did not give in to the illegal demands of the crowd; yet, she was summarily transferred a few days after the incident.
The police leadership failed in standing up to the political masters in protecting the officer. The DG Police should have taken up the matter with the government in the above case and prevented the young lady from being punished for no fault of hers.
The police, especially in the states ruled by the BJP, appear to be under pressure to go soft on crimes committed by lynch-mobs against minorities in name of “gau raksha”, “love jihad” etc. Lynch-mobs, secure in the knowledge that their political masters will protect them do not hesitate to attack them with impunity. Inaction by the police in cases of mob violence by self-appointed protectors of Indian culture, and protection accorded to them by politicians, further encourages them to take law into their hands and disregard the authority of the police.
Humiliation of the authority of police in the manner discussed above disincentivises and creates a defensive mentality amongst them. They thus prefer to play safe, lest they invite wrath of the government.
Politicians have always used the police to advance the cause of their followers and to protect their own. This is true for almost all the States of the Union, in varying degrees. However, it is the police leadership, which has failed in standing up to illegal pressure and demands of politicians.
Politicians, especially in Uttar Pradesh, appear to have let the lynch-mobs lose. In an interview to India TV in June 2017, UP chief minister Adityanath said, “Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge (If they commit crimes, they will be shot).” Adityanath boasts of 63 killed and 500 seriously injured in 1,500 encounters since he took over as a proof of his resolve to ensure proper law and order.
This is a mockery of the Supreme Court order in a landmark 2012 case, in which the Court held: “It is not the duty of the police officers to kill the accused merely because he is a dreaded criminal. Undoubtedly, the police have to arrest the accused and put them up for trial. This Court has repeatedly admonished trigger-happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognised as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State sponsored terrorism.”
Killing fields of UP
The police in UP after 2017 has been a willing tool in the hands of government in spreading this kind of state-sponsored terror. This highhandedness is one cause of them slowly loosing respect of population.
Responsibility for this dismal state of affairs lies squarely on the shoulders of the police leadership. Lacking courage of conviction, they take an easy way out and kowtow to the whims and fancies of politicians, or resort to subterfuge to deal with them. I recall a prominent TV anchor telling me that he was flooded with calls from senior officers to raise the issue of attack by mob on the residence of a District SP (superintendent of police) in UP in 2017. The police did not have courage to lodge FIR against the mob, even though the lives of the family members of the SP were at risk. The SP was conveniently transferred, or he perhaps thought it prudent to seek transfer and the matter appears to have been quietly buried.
Police leaders continue to display abject incompetence in leading the police from front. This is apparent from the overall image of the police in the minds of the common public, which is formed through their interactions with them. The level of operational efficiency (or lack thereof), overall law and order situation, rate of conviction, etc., are hardly anything to be proud of. The working and living conditions of policemen remain subhuman in most states. Their training and lack of camaraderie are apparent from the shameful manner in which the murdered Inspector, Subodh Kumar Singh, was abandoned by his subordinates when surrounded by murderous crowd in the Bulandshahr incident.
Need for professionalism
The police leaders talk passionately of police reforms and blame all ills of policing to lack of implementation of Supreme Court orders in this regard. However, except for some honourable exceptions, they are not willing to take any initiative to implement whatever is within their powers for the wellbeing of either the policemen and policewomen in the country, or the police system as a whole. For example, there cannot be any justification for the low standards of training of a policeman. That they need to inculcate soft skills amongst them is something that every citizen realises but the police leadership appears to be oblivious to this requirement. The case of a policeman shouting “thain-thain” when his weapon malfunctioned during an encounter recently in UP is indicative of their inability to use and maintain their equipment properly. How can the police leaders not be able to carry out even this essential command function properly?
Police leaders at the very first available opportunity are keen to abandon their primary role and look for greener pastures on deputation to public sector companies and central paramilitary organisations.
The police, in order to become an efficient arm of governance, needs to run like a business. “Like a business” should not be construed to mean that it has to earn revenue for the Government. What is implied is that the organisation has to copiously adhere to a set of laid down procedures and practices with the aim of ensuring a crime-free society.
A couple of examples from practices adopted in United Arab Emirates should bring about clarity.
The police chief of Dubai invited a young expatriate boy to familiarise him with their functioning after he heard him expressing fear of police on a radio programme. It turned out that the fear of boy emanated from his experience in his own country. It is difficult to imagine such thing happening in India. The concept of community policing continues to languish on papers
Another practice that they adopt — for example, in case of an accident — is that the person in the control room, after gathering all information about the accident from the person reporting, including asking for any additional help, like need for a doctor or evacuation, etc. dispatches a patrol immediately to the site. The patrol leader, after site examination, gives a clearance report, indicating whether the person concerned was at fault or otherwise. Even if at fault, he still gets the clearance report with direction to deposit the fine imposed – which generally is heavy. The individual thereafter is free to pursue his case for claims etc. In the entire transaction, the police personnel display highest standards of politeness, something unimaginable in India. This is a totally hassle-free system and the police person does not have any discretion. Discretion breeds corruption and is the reason for widespread feeling among people in India that any police person can be bought.
In India, one rarely expects to find a police person behaving in a pleasant manner. They are either arrogantly drunk on power, or submissive if you happen to be someone in position of authority.
Justification of senior police officers going abroad to study the policing systems in USA and other advanced countries is only if what they learn there is implemented in India for better policing.
Good Law and order and safe environment is a precondition for progress of any society. The police leadership must wake up to this reality and do whatever is within their capabilities to improve police functioning without waiting for the so-called police reforms. The leaders have to work towards creating a better image of the police, which is well within their realm of authority.
The police leaders also have to learn to tell the truth to their political masters for the general good of police and the country. Failing this, India faces a bleak future.