Pankaj Choudhary, the IPS officer who was shifted from Bundi, a district in Rajasthan whose police he was heading, to an Armed Battalion, appears to be surprised that the BJP government has targeted him for doing his duty. Pankaj Choudhary has fifteen years of service in the police, having joined the IPS in the year 2000. I am surprised that he should not have expected the government to frown on his decision to prosecute the VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders of Bundi who had been arrested by him and charged for fermenting a communal riot in the town.
Congress functionaries were notorious for supporting criminal elements who could provide money and muscle, both of which are required for fighting elections in our democratic polity. The BJP governments may not support such lawless elements but will use the muscle of the Bajrang Dal and the inflammatory rhetoric of the VHP to achieve their ends. Pankaj Choudhary would surely have known this and should have anticipated the consequences of doing his duty.
Yet, my advice to young officers like him is to continue to do their duty as enjoined by the Constitution, the law and their own conscience. If the price to be paid is a transfer, so be it. Police reforms being pursued by a determined Prakash Singh have not been accepted in spirit by any State government, be it Congress, BJP or a regional player. Politicians still control the police and will use officers like pieces on a chess-board to be moved around whenever they sense a kill.
I have dealt with numerous communal disturbances during my career. With long experience I concluded that most conflagrations are contrived and if the police is keen to finally put an end to such riots they would have to arrest and detain VHP, Bajrang Dal and other extremists of the Hindu right and on the other side of the communal divide the underworld dons who are predominantly Muslim.
The 1985 riots in Mumbai abruptly stopped when the police swooped down on Shiv Sena Shakha Pramukhs one night and detained them under the prevalent detention laws. Simultaneously, Muslim underworld dons like Karim Lala and Haji Mastan were also incarcerated because they were the ones who provided the muscle and the weapons to their co-religionists.
A similar tactic was employed by me later that year in Ahmedabad when I was sent there to quell the communal disturbances that had affected the life of the city for many months. The VHP activists used to scribble scurrilous slogans on walls against the Indian Army Commander of the area who was a true professional and a military thinker of renown, but who happened to be a Muslim. Congress leaders patronized the major bootleggers who were all Muslims. These big bootleggers were also the ones who provided the weapons and the manpower to their co-religionists. When both these elements were put behind bars the rioting stopped.
Congress governments were in power in Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1985. I had to contend with their soft corners for the underworld dons. Today the BJP is in power in both States, as they are in Rajasthan. Any police chief will have to contend with the BJP’s soft corners for communal elements with whom they are ideologically aligned. The young IPS officers of Gujarat who controlled rioters in their respective districts in 2002 were all summarily transferred. Pankaj Choudhary should have been aware of the realities of governance in changing times and different equations.
As long as the political class dictates the transfers and appointments of police chiefs and police officers at different levels politicians will continue to play their games. Politicians are bothered about their votes and their power struggles. Policemen are supposed to bother about the law and the Constitution. But as long as the politician dictates the terms of service IPS officers should know that their goose is cooked if they do not toe political lines.
I was able to resist because I had the people and my own policemen firmly on my side. Perhaps Pankaj Choudhary had not reached that stage of acceptability which could deter the politicians from ejecting him. I am sorry for him and for all officers who are serving today in such difficult circumstances. They may believe in the ‘Rule of Law’. But the politicians who control their destinies have not yet understood this concept.