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Not above the law

Somnath Bharti must step aside if AAP wants to redeem credibility from a sorry episode.

Published: January 22, 2014 11:30 pm

Somnath Bharti must step aside if AAP wants to redeem credibility from a sorry episode.

A police officer has been asked to go on leave for refusing to cooperate with Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid, until a judicial inquiry gets to the bottom of what happened that night in Khirki village. The police official, it has been pointed out, may interfere with the investigation into his conduct. By that logic, Bharti must not continue as law minister. The January 15 incident implicates him much more seriously.

Bharti ordered the police to raid a home, rumoured to be the site of a drug and prostitution racket. When the police said that they needed warrants to enter and interrogate, he insisted his word as law minister was enough. Then he proclaimed that the Ugandan occupants of the house were “not like us”, and had been harassing the good citizens of Khirki, and that the police’s refusal to go in without a warrant revealed their complicity and corruption.

The Malviya Nagar SHO was merely following the letter and spirit of the law, which makes it incumbent that substantive justification be provided before trespassing on a citizen’s property, except in special cases of hot pursuit, which this clearly was not. Bharti, on the other hand, could be said to have been inciting action based on a crowd’s prejudices, freely generalising about prostitution and drug use, drawing on the worst racialised assumptions, holding the illiberal consensus of a neighbourhood above the inalienable rights of human beings. Meanwhile, instead of distancing the party immediately and wholly from Bharti’s behaviour, top AAP leaders defended it, and even went on a dharna demanding action against the policemen.

The AAP’s stand in the last two days may or may not pay off in terms of extending its political footprint and shoring up voter support. But it has certainly stoked sharp concerns about the party’s philosophy and method for those who place a premium on the constitutional responsibility of the state to be non-arbitrary in the use of its powers, and to be seen to be so. If it wants to repair the damage to its own image, and if its ambition is to mature into a responsible alternative, the AAP must ask Bharti to step aside. He personifies the contempt the new party has displayed, disturbingly often, towards due process and has become a serious liability for it. The AAP needs to prove that it is committed to meaningful change rather than this troubling form of street theatre, and that it aims to strengthen police accountability to the law, not erode it.

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