The public spat between Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij and the lady IPS officer Sangeeta Kalia has generated considerable debate. Most people have come out in support of the police officer. There is no doubt that the minister was boorish in his behaviour. He had no right to ask the officer to “get out” of a meeting where the performance of the district police in dealing with the sale of spurious liquor was being questioned. Another mistake committed by the minister was to talk harshly to the officer not only in public but also in the presence of the subordinate staff, thereby undermining her authority. The earlier generation of politicians would always talk to officers in private whenever they felt like giving them a piece of their mind. But times have changed. Politicians have become loud-mouthed and arrogant.
However, the police officer’s behaviour was equally truculent and confrontational. She showed her immaturity by unnecessarily arguing with the minister, who is after all the people’s representative and had every right to listen to public grievance. In this case, an NGO had complained that the police was not doing enough to prevent the sale of spurious liquor. Instead of asking the NGO why it brought the complaint before the minister, the officer should have tried to explain the actions taken in this regard. Instead, she indirectly blamed the government’s policies.
Sale of spurious liquor is an important concern not only for the public but also for every state government. There have been many incidents in different states, where the sale of illegal liquor has caused deaths and the police officials have been found complicit in allowing the sale.
Much like in every other state, the Haryana Police Act of 2007 — Section 24, to be precise — gives the superintendence over the police to the state government. Further, this section allows the state government to “intervene in the exercise of the powers of administration” by the police officers “in accordance with the prescribed rules, regulations or in exceptional circumstances involving urgent public interest”. As such, the minister had the authority to exercise superintendence over the police and to ask the head of the district police to explain their actions. He was not giving an illegitimate order.
The state government did what all state governments do in such cases — transfer the officer. It was puerile on the part of the state government’s representative to defend the transfer as a routine administrative decision. The transfer was nothing but a slap on the wrist, a warning to the officer to behave. The Congress lost no time in slamming the state government over the transfer, forgetting the number of times its own government transferred Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer in Haryana, over flimsier excuses.
The opposition also attempted to turn the incident into a gender issue, which it was not. Former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said that the BJP minister should have maintained decorum while speaking to a lady officer. Congress leader Manish Tewari said the minister acted in a “crude manner”. Congress spokesperson Shobha Oja went a step further, and said it reflected the “anti- women mindset” of the BJP dispensation. Actually, gender had nothing to do with it.
Other opposition parties also tried to politicise the incident. The INLD took out a protest march in Fatehabad and burnt an effigy of the minister. A student organisation in Bhiwandi raised slogans in support of the officer. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes also jumped into the fray, seeking a report on the incident from the government.
The tendency to politicise such incidents reflects our inability and unwillingness to analyse the relationship between political leaders and police officers in an objective manner. Since, in general, we have a poor opinion of our politicians, we tend to view their actions with suspicion. This is not healthy in a democratic society. Questioning the political control over the police, irrespective of whether the interference was legitimate or not, militates against the trust that both parties must share.