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The slow execution of the police as an institution continues. Who will save it?

Meeran Chadha Borwankar writes: While politicians de-construct and destroy institutions, we the citizens are mute spectators

Now the naive are bound to ask “but how does police as an institution still work”? To them, I say look out for Sisyphus-like characters in the police. They will find many from beat constable, to sub-Inspector, inspector, Dy SP, SP and senior police leaders, foolishly working honestly and tirelessly.

Since I worked in state police for many more years than in central agencies, I have a sure recipe for “killing” police as an organisation, a task our politicians have taken up in real earnestness. I have observed that they prefer slow death to police as an institution, rather than the fast painless one. And that they are building up the muscle of central investigating agencies so that state police organisations become irrelevant and defunct.

Some of them, in any case, have lost their sheen to recent scandals. In the federal structure, states must be shown their proper place, especially those led by the Opposition. And no better strategy than “picking up” those voicing dissent while making meaningless noises about healthy relations between Union and state.

Having risen from the ranks, the political “masters” know that the best way to “strike” at police is through police stations. It is in these precincts that most of them have cooled their heels at the start of their careers and later lorded over with seamless ease. Police stations and outposts are the forums where maximum citizen-police interactions take place.

If the officer in-charge is impartial, efficient and compassionate, then who will approach the local member of legislature (MLA) or parliament (MP) for “divine” intervention? The strategy commonly used with considerable finesse is to have a police station “manned” by an officer of choice who, in turn, pays daily obeisance to the mighty politician along with a bag that the officer does not bother to conceal. Neither does the self-serving narcissist politician.

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The officer in-charge would naturally allocate “beats” to constables who give more time to local “dadas” belonging to the ruling party instead of investigating crime or maintaining order. One need not worry if there is mid-term change in the ruling party as the same modus operandi will be adopted by the new wearer of the crown. The collection is redistributed without any eyebrows being raised as the system has been well oiled and understood by all. If you think that the Crown and Zamindari system ended with the British, I can only pity you for your naivete.

After ensuring an “efficient” beat system and police station in the district, one has the onerous task of getting men and women of choice as chiefs of district police and their deputies. Instead of spending energy on a number of selections, one chooses the district police chief who is then advised to get cronies of his choice — the team that comes after making due payments to the politicians, reimbursing their “personal expenditure” and simultaneously collecting from street hawkers, traders, merchants, restaurant and bar owners. Maximum funds are raised through the power of arrest and settling of disparate disputes. Victims of crime and the accused both have to shell it out. Money is needed by the officers to secure “good” postings, by politicians for their life-style desires and their parties for election purposes.

While conducting all these “operations”, due care is taken to remain visible during local public meetings, “poojas”, family functions of party workers, amid hyperbole about citizens’ welfare. Though unashamedly false, they nevertheless elicit some applause from the gullible and the innocent.

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The next step of posting of zonal Inspectors General of police is not a big deal. There are not many senior officers and many of them would be knocking at the door for “right” postings. A word to the top bureaucratic echelons ensures that the chosen one is posted at the earliest and that the wheels move smoothly.

Talking of the top, maybe I should have started with the topmost police leaders. They are much fewer in number and selection is not difficult at all. The one who either joins the “operation collection” or is ready to turn a Nelson’s eye to it, is selected. Preference is, of course, given to the former but the latter can be considered provided the officer can bully the dissenting voices with phone tapping, criminal action or through measures which are discussed only in private.

And if nothing else works, air drop the top leader from Timbuktu. Get him favourable media coverage and install him with such great fanfare that the ranks think that they have the best leader and citizens applaud the “bold action”. Media, in any case, is either bought over or scared and who cares about the non-existent independent media? It can always be dubbed as anti-national. Local police leadership, demoralised and unhappy about the air-dropping, cannot speak out as the service conduct rules do not permit them. Besides, they have notoriously lost one vertebra each in every year of their service.

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Now the naive are bound to ask “but how does police as an institution still work”? To them, I say look out for Sisyphus-like characters in the police. They will find many from beat constable, to sub-Inspector, inspector, Dy SP, SP and senior police leaders, foolishly working honestly and tirelessly. All this, while the politicians of all hues are busy collecting crores and dividing the country on caste and communal lines. These characters, though few in number, are equally adamant at salvaging the criminal justice system.

They are tragically oblivious to their own irrelevance and to the fact that political executives won hands-down long back. The judiciary, encumbered under the weight of its mounting pendency, notices their fruitless efforts, makes an occasional sharp, acidic comment and resumes its slumber. Besides, many of its members are busy looking for post-retirement avenues for which they are totally dependent on the all-powerful executive. Throwing crumbs, beguiling citizens – the slow tortuous execution of the police as an institution thus continues unhindered.

The Indian Penal Code defines conspiracy as an illegal act and holds each conspirator to be equally responsible, but it does not define “killing of an institution” as an offence. It has emboldened the executive to strike at not only the police but at the criminal justice system as a whole. While politicians de-construct and destroy institutions, we the citizens are mute spectators. I desist from labelling us as reluctant conspirators or active participants in destroying the institution of police because many of us have put our hopes on those toiling on the tough path with their honest commitment to serve. Can we strengthen those hands and save the institution, I wonder?

The writer is former Commissioner of Police, Pune

First published on: 12-08-2022 at 03:59:02 am
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