For some time now, and in full public view, Delhi’s government has trained its guns on Delhi Police, which reports to the Union home ministry. The latter has returned fire, with constables to the police commissioner taking pot shots at the government. The state government has embarked on an advertisement blitz, in print and on radio, that frames the police force in poor light. In an open letter to the prime minister, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has highlighted the gruesome murder of a teenage girl in the city to underline his complaint, while pushing his campaign for gaining control over the force that is denied to the elected government under the capital’s power-sharing arrangement. His disparaging remark about policemen had earlier caused some heartburn in the force.
Kejriwal’s strategy of going public in a bid to distance his government from policing failures in Delhi intends to be smart politics, but actually reveals a lack of maturity. There is a systemic price to be paid if a chief minister ridicules officials, especially law enforcers, in public. Reprimands, when necessary, must be served behind closed doors and without disrespect to the institution. To be sure, Kejriwal’s frustration with the multiple centres of power in a state he rules is understandable. As the head of an elected government, he also has to address the complaints and concerns of citizens. Yet, the reality is that he has only partial control over the executive in Delhi and till the arrangement is altered through due process — which will involve negotiation with the Centre — he must function within its limits and constraints. The lack of a working relationship with the Centre can hurt the efficiency of his government and jeopardise the developmental agenda it so fervently promises and proclaims. As chief minister, moreover, Kejriwal is expected not just to publicise and highlight the problems but also to come up with the solutions. And while his government’s efforts to identify and isolate corrupt elements are commendable, he also needs to recognise and make the distinction between the institution and its rogue members. If he is not careful, his headlong rush into confrontation with institutions and with the Centre could take the sheen off his government’s more radical initiatives, like subsidised canteens and health centres.
The Delhi fracas has raised another question: Should police officials publicly lock horns with the head of the elected government? The Union home minister must caution Delhi Police personnel against commenting on the state government’s conduct in public.
A spat between the government and the law enforcement machinery can only benefit law-breakers.